[The following story contains spoilers from Abbott Elementary‘s season three premiere.]
Abbott Elementary is back and, for season three, the hit ABC series did something different.
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The Quinta Brunson comedy picked up five months into the school year, only flashing back to the beginning of the year at the show’s central school, in order to sync up with real life.
“Abbott is a show where we try to go by the school calendar,” creator Brunson, who stars as Janine Teagues, explained during a late night visit on Jimmy Kimmel Live! following the show’s season three premiere Wednesday. “We start in September, along with teachers, and we like to stick with that calendar. This year, we had to make some adjustments so we got creative, so to say why we’re starting in February instead of September.”
The delay in Abbott‘s return was due to the months-long production halt caused by the 2023 writers and actors strikes, and with the series premiering midseason, there will only be 14 episodes, instead of the usual 22. For Brunson, she says she actually welcomed the lighter load.
“I’m not mad at it right now,” the multi-Emmy winner joked of doing fewer episodes. “Twenty-two was a lot … but it’s fun! Everybody has fun, right? But you know, 14 has been great.”
To kick off the new school year, Abbott Elementary places Janine (Brunson) outside of the classroom and inside the Philadelphia School District, where she takes a new job. The flashback to the beginning of the school year for Development Day, five months prior, showed how she was enticed to participate in the fellowship program by guest stars Josh Segarra, Kimia Behpoornia and Benjamin Norris. Series regulars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Chris Perfetti and William Stanford Davis all return.
Focusing on the district was always the plan for season three, co-showrunners Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern explained in a premiere chat with THR. “Then, of course, the strike happened, and we had to rethink things as far as timeline is concerned. That’s how we landed on the time jump of it all,” Schumacker explained.
“Season two being a fall show and doing 22 episodes was such a gift, because you could have the actual calendar year for the viewers match up exactly to the school year for our teachers,” he continued. “So when the strike happened and kind of pushed everything back about five months, that’s how we ended up coming up with the stolen equipment storyline and the time jump.”
The biggest challenge in the writers room, he said, was plotting out the jumps. “You’re talking to a room full of comedy writers who mostly understand linear storytelling. So you’re up at the board with multicolored arrows pointing to other dimensions and things like that. And it was like, ‘OK, this is actual rocket science,'” he added.
The episode also saw surprise cameos from Philadelphia Eagles players Jalen Hurts, Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham, which happened on Zoom because the team was preparing for the NFL playoffs.
Given Abbott‘s popularity, the showrunners say Brunson fields calls from “very, very famous people” wanting to be on the show. But, Schumacker said it always has to make sense within the context of the Philadelphia-set school: “I think all of us are in agreement, and this comes down from Quinta, that if it can’t make sense in the context of what we’re treating as a real documentary about a real school in Philadelphia, then 95 percent of the people who want to be on the show and play themselves, like their real-life counterpart essentially, it doesn’t really make a ton of sense. We don’t want to break that sort of precious truth that we’re trying to seek out with the show. That said, sometimes it’s very hard to resist.”
During her visit with Kimmel, the late night host almost forced her to spoil an upcoming “big, surprise” guest star, when he prodded her with guesses like Vice Principal Beyoncé or Dean Morgan Freeman.
“What kind of budget do you think we have?” she replied. Then adding, “Honestly, I’m afraid you’ll guess it, so I want you to stop. I’m not saying anything to you right now!”
She said this season’s guest stars were a mix of the celebrities reaching out to them and vice versa. “There are some really fantastic, fun, big guest stars that I can’t believe are on our show, but they are. We filmed with one of them today, actually. I’m really excited.”
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