Abbott Elementary is known for its perfect comedic timing and storytelling with a diverse group of characters. The series is a mockumentary with a Black lead and is pushing the envelope in Hollywood to not only diverse Black stories, but also the genres we decide to tell them in.
Actress Janelle James and Chris Perfetti play the roles of school principal Ava Coleman and awkward history teacher Jacob Hill in the series. These characters bring a certain flare to the show, creating the perfect dynamic of quirky and out-of-the-box comedy, which makes a perfect Emmy-nominated series.
BET.com chatted with James and Perfetti about the series showing the characters outside the school, how they deal with a breakup, and how vulnerability affects their characters in season two.
BET.com: The comedic timing that Ava and Jacob display in the series is top-notch. Are there any moments where ad-libbing occurs between you two?
Perfetti: I feel like we’re always doing variations on a theme. I’ve been so excited and tickled by what is already written that anything I can come up with now isn’t as funny. The cast is constantly tweaking things to make the characters more relatable or finding the right piece to fit into the scene we’re building. The energy is very improvisatory, but the words come to the cast well-baked.
BET.com: Ava may not do her job the best, but she does relate to the kids and stays on-trend. Does Janelle keep up with the latest TikTok trends and dances?
James: Not at all [laughs]. I don’t have a TikTok account or even visit the app. I’m glad you asked this question because the answer is I am not Ava [laughs]. I am not with the trends or with the kids. The only thing we have in common is being hilarious. She’s not me but she is someone that exists. The good thing is we can see people like Ava all over the internet now wanting to be famous or find fame through TikTok. I know who she is, who this Black lady is outside of wanting the viral famous — her personality is not made up because she is someone who exists. This is what makes people excited because she is someone who exists, but you’ve never seen her on television before.
BET.com: Viewers dipped into Jacob’s life a bit, and we met his boyfriend last night. As we head into season two, how much more of Jacob’s life can we see unfold?
Perfetti: I think that’s the beauty of season two as hopefully after you watched season one, you’re invested in these characters, and now we get to dig deeper into their lives. This season, the characters will leave the school for a bit, and you’ll be able to see their lives outside the building. It was always Quinta and our producers' intention to do something authentic, which is why it’s a mockumentary and flesh out well-rounded characters, specific human beings. We need to show the different sides of who these characters are to sustain.
BET.com: Since we’re stepping outside the school, what aspects of Ava’s life are you most excited for fans to see?
James: These are hard because then I would be giving spoilers, but I’m most excited because you’ll be able to see an idea that I pitched. I will say you will find out something surprising about Ava early on, and it will surprise you [laughs].
BET.com: A breakup occurs in the second season and a character doesn’t handle it well. If you can share a piece of advice to a viewer at home whose dealing with a breakup, what would you tell them?
James: It happens. There are a billion people on the earth. That wasn’t your one and how exciting you get to meet others.
BET.com: I felt that because you were speaking to me just now.
James: His loss [laughs].
BET.com: Vulnerability is a theme this season for Janine, especially in her personal life. In what ways do Ava and Jacob show their vulnerability this season?
James: For Ava, it may be coming as we only shot a few episodes thus far, but so far she is back to proper form. It’s no vulnerability in her as of yet as she’s firing all cylinders in herself and that’s how I like it [laughs]. As we move on with our 22 episodes, I’m sure you’ll get more layers of Ava.
Perfetti: In the third episode, there’s a natural cathartic, “come to Jesus” moment for Jacob with lots of recognition. Hopefully, the audience understands why he is the way he is, and this episode will shift how Jacob will exist in the rest of the show. Without giving too much away, Jacob knows he’s the butt of jokes occasionally, and I think he will make peace with that.
Sounds like we all need to tune in as Abbott Elementary airs on Wednesdays at 9:00PM ET on ABC.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers pop culture, music, and lifestyle. Follow his latest musings on Twitter @IamTyCole.