‘Abbott Elementary’ Taught an Important Lesson on Corny Allyship

Gilles Mingasson/ABC
Gilles Mingasson/ABC

ABC released a handful of stills from Abbott Elementary’s highly anticipated Halloween episode earlier this week—but don’t get your hopes up too soon. Halloween is still over three weeks away! This week’s episode involved neither Janine’s (Quinta Brunson) James Harden costume nor Barbara’s (Sheryl Lee Ralph) spelling bee get-up. But it did feature costumes of a different sort.

The so-called “Story Samurai” paid Abbott a visit in the third episode of Season 2, gracing the students with play performances based on their own ideas. The whole Abbott faculty revels in the cheesiness of the visiting glorified improv troupe, excited to laugh at their wonky representations of Meek Mill and Malcolm X.

“I don’t condone violence,” Jacob says, “but it slaps.”

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Abbott goes totally off the rails after Jacob (Chris Perfetti) proudly announces he used to be one of the Story Samurai, participating in their goofy antics. He once starred in a stunning production of “Rosa Parks and Rec” with the samurai, he gloats to Janine. Jacob relishes his days as a part of the Story Samurai, though he’s glad to be a teacher now. He even applauds them for their lackluster acting.

Suddenly, the opportunity of a lifetime is brought to Jacob: the Story Samurai would like him to perform in their afternoon show. What a blessing! What a gift! Jacob seizes the opportunity to be with his cherished family once more, agreeing to sport the samurai robe for one final performance with the group.

The Abbott staff, now in hysterics, plan a big soirée around Jacob’s grand reunion with the stage. Ava (Janelle James) will livestream the event to thousands of folks on Instagram, while an uncharacteristically giddy Barbara can’t stop mentioning it in the hallways. Janine, however, isn’t so certain. As a close friend of Jacob, she feels the need to shut the whole thing down to save himself from further embarrassment.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Gilles Mingasson/ABC</div>
Gilles Mingasson/ABC

While Janine admits that she, herself, is quite corny, she says she’s accepted her corniness and embraces it in the classroom. But she worries about Jacob edging on white savior territory—like Hilary Swank in Freedom Riders or, worse, Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. While this behavior doesn’t hurt anyone, Janine tells him to be more aware of his incessantly corny teaching style.

“You are a white teacher in a Black school,” Janine says. “My point is, you cannot do this performance. You will never live it down. You don’t want to be a corny legend.”

At first, Jacob decides to sit the performance out, ruminating on his tone as a teacher. But once he’s fully accepted his corniness, Janine encourages him to go on stage. If he’s excited, and he understands why the kids are laughing at him, no one loses. Finally, he realizes that quips about segregation (via a tiger who doesn’t love his stripes, and a father who tells him he’ll never sell cereal) and Shaun King are incredibly foolish.

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It’s a short, quick takedown of corny activism. No, Jacob isn’t acting out of malice—Janine even feels bad telling him off, because he’s so kind, proud, and excited about the samurai—but he does need to be put in his place. Now, Jacob will probably think twice before sharing that bubbly infographic about the Civil Rights Movement to his Instagram story.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Gilles Mingasson/ABC</div>
Gilles Mingasson/ABC

To really put the cherry on top, Abbott ends the episode on our dearly beloved will-they-won’t-they pairing, Janine and Gregory (Tyler James Williams), gossiping about the Story Samurai as they practice (and nearly break their arms) some sweet samurai moves. Are they virgins? Do they have any life at all? Who knows—but they did make for perfect guests on Abbott Elementary.

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