Ahead Of Emmys Night, Quinta Brunson Talks What Makes Abbott Elementary Unique Among TV Shows With Black Leads

Quinta Brunson as Janine in Abbott Elementary Season 1
(Image credit: ABC)

I think it’s safe to say that Abbott Elementary was one of the many shows that took the TV world by storm this year. Created, written and produced by lead star Quinta Brunson, Abbott proved to be one of TV’s best comedies, earning strong viewership and critical acclaim. So it wasn’t too surprising when the alphabet network renewed the show for a second season. At present, the mockumentary is the recipient of several big 2022 Primetime Emmy nominations and, ahead of tonight’s awards show, Brunson spoke about what makes the comedy unique amongst other shows with Black leads.

Quinta Brunson has been navigating the choppy waters of the entertainment industry for quite some time now and finally managed to break through with Abbott Elementary. The show is incredibly personal to her, as it takes great inspiration from her mother’s teaching career. So Brunson put a lot of thought into how she wanted to approach the mockumentary series, which has been compared to The Office. One thing that Brunson aimed to do was to not put a heavy emphasis on race. This is mostly due to a trend that she’s seen as of late: 

Shows with white leads just get to be about the topic. Friends, for example, was about a group of friends. But a recent phenomenon, here in America, has been that the TV shows featuring Black leads are about race, and not just about these people living life. That was becoming frustrating to me as a viewer. The most prominent show that went against that was Insecure. And it landed, too. But I think America was in a real push-and-pull place with that, because Black people were wanting representation, and we had really got over a hump and had a lot of it, but then everything was exploring Blackness. I just wasn’t interested in doing that with Abbott, because I think we deserved a show that wasn’t about exploring Blackness.

There are plenty of shows on the air that tackle race and the Black experience in nuanced ways (looking at you, Atlanta), though I can understand Quinta Brunson’s point here. A number of shows that feature mostly Black characters sometimes tend to make race a focal point and, as a result, other aspects of the show can feel like they’re secondary.

Going into its second season, Abbott Elementary has five African American actors in its main cast. The show does indeed speak to aspects of their characters’ personal experiences, both unique and shared, at times. However, the series doesn’t focus squarely on the Black experience but opts to shed light on their work as educators. Quinta Brunson later told The Independent that she found this refreshing and explained why this creative route makes sense for the purposes of her show:

It felt good to not talk about race all day – not because we want to avoid it but because it’s not the focus of these characters. When I thought about being in schools, or somewhere where working-class people are, who are not on Twitter, they’re just trying to do their jobs. Despite my mom being an extremely pro-Black person, a woman who used to work with the Black Panthers, she would just go to work and get things done. Clearly, there’s some value to that. I think it’s why people have taken to Abbott. It’s a true workplace comedy.

This approach is likely to remain intact in Abbott Elementary Season 2, which revealed a fun first look recently. The season, which has a 22-episode order, should allow the show to spread its wings even further. I expect to see the likes of Janine, Barbara, Jacob and the lovable Mr. Johnson put in a number of new situations that will allow them to evolve further. The both creative and business savvy Brunson has cooked up a recipe for success with this lovable workplace comedy, and I’m excited to see how it continues to grow.

Abbott Elementary returns to ABC for its second season on September 21 as part of the 2022 TV schedule. You can also see if Quinta Brunson and any of her co-stars take home any gold statues by watching the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.