The school year just got more intense for the folks at “Abbott Elementary.”
During the ABC comedy’s first year, creator Quinta Brunson had the luxury of crafting the episodes before any started airing.
“This year, we will be in a different situation where we will still be filming and writing when the show starts airing,” she says. “What we learned from last year was to trust what we did.”
Living in a sitcom bubble, producers, writers and actors were able to tweak their work. Now, because it’s an Emmy-winning series, Brunson and her fellow actors are pulled in many directions for things like promotion.
In the writers’ room, the blinders are on. “The writers’ room is trying to stay focused…continuing to write the show that we know and love,” Brunson says.
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To flesh out the characters, Brunson and company will introduce the teachers’ family members. Stories also will take place outside the school.
“If it is not something that we can truly bring humor to or that has humor in it, then we try to stay away from it,” Brunson says. “We don’t really begin with feeling a responsibility to portray the teacher crisis. What we do is start with the reality of our situations. The more we focus on our characters and the four walls we have at Abbott, the more we wind up talking about those major issues,” Brunson says.
In the new season, teachers look at how extra money can be spent and what would be in the best interests of the school. They also get a look at a more affluent school nearby. Some relationships end; others blossom and quirks unique to Philadelphia emerge.
Brunson, who writes, produces and starts in the series, says she will step away from serving as the showrunner.
“I really have downgraded to just creative and nothing else,” she says. “It’s all I can do.”
Luckily, the cast is large enough to give her a break from appearing in most of the scenes.
Co-star Tyler James Williams says the kids in the show add something special to the stories. “They’re not hyper professional – they do a very good job – but they’re not trying to chart out their careers immediately,” he says. “We get a lot of really fun energy here.”
Co-star Lisa Ann Walter says Williams often answers questions for the children playing students. “But they have nothing to do with (show business). They’re asking about the worksheet that’s their prop or something going on. And Tyler calmly answers them.”
One of the children in Walters’ scenes started talking about interdimensional worlds and conflicted anti-heroes. “I’m like, ‘How old are you?’” Walter says. “And he said 10. I said, ‘Everybody is going to work for Preston one day. They’re amazing.”
A romance between the school principal and one of the teachers could happen, but Janelle James, who plays the principal, says she hasn’t heard anything. “No one tells me what is coming because I talk too much,” she says.
Brunson says it’s likely “Abbott Elementary” will do things this year viewers haven’t seen. “There are no guarantees. If I was at home watching this show and not making it, I would be really excited to just see what happens.”
Her guiding philosophy? “If you put a $5 bill on the ground, each character in your show should pick it up differently. So, I’m always thinking, ‘What is the $5 bill and how does that affect everyone?’”