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‘Abbott Elementary’ Returns with Surprise Time Jump — and Executes It Perfectly

“Abbott Elementary” Season 3 was delayed by five months — known in our world as the 2023 Hollywood strikes, but also known and acknowledged, surprisingly, in the supersized premiere episode, “Career Day.” The explanation? The Abbott Elementary documentary crew got robbed after a teachers’ night out, returning only after they were able to save up the money for new equipment.

The episode, written by Quinta Brunson and directed by Randall Einhorn, opens not during the traditional September start of the school year, but in February — matching the audience timeline and treating them to the show’s first time jump. In February, Janine (Brunson) is working for the school district and barely speaking to Gregory (Tyler James Williams), which instantly invokes major intrigue.

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After the cold open, a title card flashes us back to five months earlier, when a changed Ava (Janelle James) assembles the teachers for Development Day thanks to her new education degree and some Harvard University WiFi. She’s joined on stage by Manny (Josh Segarra), Simon (Benjamin Norris), and Emily (Kimia Behpoornia), three district employees who take an interest in Janine and her ideas for the school.

Introducing new characters in a season premiere is always smart, but the time jump gives “Abbott” the luxury of catching treating them as familiar faces in Part 2, when Janine has been working for the district for months and established personal and professional ties to all three. In five months, giddy discoveries about reading the same teaching blog turn into handshakes and shorthand about how to change learning for Abbott students. Segarra, Norris, and Behpoornia already look at home in the halls of Abbott, effectively expanding the show’s scope outside the school itself but without taking viewers too far from their comfort zone.

And crucially, “Abbott” doesn’t withhold the answers viewers have been waiting for desperately — namely, an update on Janine and Gregory. After confessing their feelings for each other at the end of Season 2 but agreeing that it would be unwise to jump too recklessly into a relationship, the two clearly stayed friends over the summer but felt estranged after the time jump. Instead of leaving the months between September and February totally mysterious, the show uses Ava’s total unprofessionalism to reveal that there are hidden cameras all over the school which captured Janine’s appeal that she and Gregory give it a chance — and his rejection.

With Episodes 301 and 302, “Abbott” introduces a whole host of storytelling possibilities. The camera crew has always been built into the show, but could become more active players (maybe not as active as “The Office,” maybe not quite the non-entity it was on “Modern Family,” but perhaps a happy in between). Ava’s hidden cameras also remain as a deus ex machina when needed, though the writers on this show are too skilled to rely on that sort of technique too often. The missing months themselves offer a blank canvas for any retconning or upcoming gimmicks — again, the writers are mostly too smart for this, but trust them to present it in a compelling format.

Also, Career Day brought the real-life Philadelphia Eagles to Abbott. School is back in session, baby!

“Abbott Elementary” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC and streams Thursdays on Hulu.

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