Abbott Elementary was one of the biggest hits and biggest surprises of 2022 television. ABC’s sitcom about a group of stressed out but very sweet Philadelphia teachers in a low-income school has won a lot of hearts, and it’s all thanks to Quinta Brunson. She’s the show’s creator and stars as our hero Janine Teagues, an incurably optimistic second-grade teacher who never fails to rally her friends and colleagues to look ahead, even on difficult days. But in a lengthy, thoughtful sit down with the New York Times, Brunson revealed that Teagues doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, she’s entirely undecided on the big one.
“Without spoiling anything, can you give me a nugget of Janine’s back story that hasn’t been shared before?” asked the NYT’s David Marchese.
“She’s agnostic,” Brunson replies. The question followed an interesting conversation about the increasingly popular role trauma is playing as a thematic device in shows like Ted Lasso, and Brunson not-too-subtly hints that she’s not a fan of such plots. But she does hope to reveal more about her cast of characters in the just-announced second season, including Janine’s spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof).
It’s something we talked a lot about in the room that has not come up. We had talked about her being atheist, which I thought would be hilarious. It would give Barbara a heart attack if she found out. But as of now she’s agnostic. I honestly don’t know if we would be able to present that on ABC. It may not seem a big deal, but for a Black girl in Philadelphia — there are very few agnostic people. There’s a lot tied into why a person becomes agnostic. What is the relationship with the family? How are you treating holidays? So I think it’ll become something that we get to do some great storytelling with.
Barbara, who Brunson mentions, is Abbott’s supremely self-confident and very devout elder stateswoman Barbara Howard, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph. The show has had great fun teasing out Barbara’s unshakeable religious faith, which has so far gone mostly unchallenged by her co-workers. But Brunson is right — Barbara would not approve of Janine’s agnosticism. Stay tuned.
The rest of the conversation Brunson has with the NYT is equally illuminating, with lots of interesting observations about how much modern television seems to mine Twitter and other social media for topics to discuss, and why she thought it was important that Abbott Elementary look elsewhere. “People may sit on Twitter and debate all day, but they don’t want to see that on TV,” she says. “One reason I wanted to make this show was that in a school like Abbott, you’re doing your job and the topics of the day are these kids. The teachers have to keep these kids fed and alive, and teach them. That mess is enough for you to be tuned in.”
Bring on more mess, Miss Teagues!