Janine and Gregory in 'Abbott Elementary' looking cute

‘Abbott Elementary’ Is Nailing the Slow Burn

Abbott Elementary has been filling the hole left in my heart by some of my favorite comedies when they ended. The workplace mockumentary, which premiered its first season in 2021, shows us the inner-workings of an elementary school in the Philadelphia area. Quinta Brunson’s series has been a massive hit, and it continues to do one thing in particular so right that I just want to cry—and that’s the slow burn.

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There’s nothing quite like watching two people who you know should be together as they try to figure out how their relationship could work or deny their feelings for one reason or another. And Abbott Elementary gives us just that with Janine (Brunson) and her fellow teacher, Gregory (Tyler James Williams). Throughout the first season and in the first half of season 2, we’ve seen them both in other relationships and just going through the motions of their “friendship,” when it’s been clear to us all that they should be together. The mid-season finale that aired earlier this week really highlighted why this slow burn relationship is working so well.

When Janine goes out to a club and finds both Gregory and school principal Ava (Janelle James) there, it becomes one of those awkward moments when the two people who don’t really want to dance are left looking like the weird kids at the table. So Gregory and Janine decide they’ll go dance with each other to seem normal. That was already pushing my limit on cuteness, but as they’re dancing with each other (which Ava hates because she has a crush on Gregory), they both come to realize how close they are … and then Janine wants to go outside.

Out in the snow, with the two of them staring at each other, it seems like we might get a first kiss before Gregory’s phone starts ringing, and you realize he still has a girlfriend. And these two characters in particular wouldn’t hurt other people like that. So, Gregory quickly leaves and we’re left yelling about how these two characters need to get it together.

And that’s why I think Abbott Elementary is so successful with the slow burn. They’re not just giving it to us without a fight. Gregory and Janine have had so many opportunities, and yet they’re constantly pushing each other away; it’s what makes their relationship so good.

Nothing works quite as well as the sitcom slow burn

As someone who has a long list of “OTPs” centered around couples in television comedies, I am uniquely qualified to talk about why the slow burn works. In Parks and Recreation, Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope took their time figuring out if their relationship was worth one of them losing their jobs. On The Office, Jim and Pam took three seasons to figure out their feelings for each other. The Good Place‘s Eleanor and Chidi went back and forth in their relationship, and don’t even get me started on Friends‘s Ross and Rachel.

The point is, the slow burn is a staple of TV comedies because the minute you rush a couple to get together, you’re stuck with figuring out what to do next. Parks and Recreation was a rare case in which the show didn’t manufacture conflict to pull their couples apart in the way The Office did, and that’s something we’ll have to explore with Abbott Elementary when we finally do get to see Janine and Gregory together.

But for right now, we’re still in that lovely slow burn phase, and god, do Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams love to tease us on this show or what?

(featured image: ABC)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.