Abbott Elementary, and all sitcoms, should ditch the mockumentary

It’s been 19 years since The Workplace premiered on NBC and ruined my life. Not as a result of I hate the present — I like all the good episodes and detest all the unhealthy ones — however as a result of its large, still-ongoing success has meant a lot of sitcoms in the ensuing a long time have adopted its mockumentary format. I’ve appreciated loads of these reveals, from the sitcom-y What We Do In the Shadows to the extra straight-faced Cunk on Earth. However typically the limits of the format are extra pronounced than the advantages. That’s how I’ve felt about Abbott Elementary currently, and its third season premiere continued to make me want that the cameras weren’t a personality in the present.

There’s an argument to be made that the mockumentary construction provides Abbott an air of authenticity, complementing the cautious work set designers put in the direction of making a energetic but resource-starved college, populated by children in uniforms and academics styled in apparel finest described as “comfy professionalism.” These speaking head asides let the characters be trustworthy about one another and the establishments that frustrate them, a straightforward venue for jokes about funding in addition to the secret lifetime of the janitor, Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis). Abbott’s writers, nonetheless, deeply care about the present’s characters in a really conventional sitcom approach, with their private lives bleeding into their skilled ones in methods each humorous and uncomfortable, and that is the place mockumentaries pressure themselves the most.

Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Disney

“Career Day,” the two-part premiere, skips forward 5 months after “Franklin Institute,” season 2’s huge finale that had protagonist Janine Teagues (creator Quinta Brunson) and fellow instructor Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams) confess their emotions after two years of awkward flirting. The time skip is dealt with fairly clumsily; whereas it’s a good way to remodel some characters and introduce new ones — like district rep Manny (light king Josh Segarra) — it largely looks as if a tool to place off answering the Janine/Gregory query. (Albeit with a nice joke about the digital camera crew getting robbed, as a proof for the time skip.)

It’s in Gregory and Janine’s scenes the place Abbott’s mock digital camera crew is pushed to the limits, as Brunson, who scripted the episode, rightly intuits that the pair wouldn’t work out what occurred between them with a digital camera crew current. As an alternative, we witness the scene through Ava Coleman’s “hidden cameras.” This hidden digital camera gag isn’t actually that humorous, however worse, it strains credulity, undermining the uncooked earnest vitality of the present. These are two characters which can be straightforward to care about as a result of they themselves care a lot. Watching them kind by how a lot they do or don’t care about one another is one thing that, satirically, a documentary crew can’t get shut sufficient to seize. Good jokes come from characters; unhealthy jokes undermine them.

Abbott Elementary is a terrific comedy about resilience and optimism, about what it’s prefer to not simply make the better of the unhealthy hand dealt to you, however the best way to encourage others to do the identical. In the present’s finest moments, the solid of academics features as its personal neighborhood, supporting one another in a system that’s hostile to their occupation, or the care essential to do their jobs effectively. It will be extra poignant — and funnier — if there wasn’t something getting in the approach of that.

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