Abbott Elementary Recap: Janine and Gregory Sitting in a Tree

Abbott Elementary

Teacher’s Conference
Season 2 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Abbott Elementary

Teacher’s Conference
Season 2 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Vulture; Photo: ABC/ Gilles Mingasson

One of the best ways to get a fuller look at any onscreen character is to take them out of their home environment. For Real Housewives, this means cast trips. Pulling the women out of their comfort zones to a foreign place where they can’t easily retreat back home brings out a more raw representation of their personality. This is also true for sitcoms. Though they may not result in screaming matches over long dinner tables, the antics it produces are just as fun, especially when alcohol is involved.

The staff of Abbott Elementary go on their version of a cast trip with the annual Pennsylvania Educational Conference for the South East Area, or PECSA, rolling around. Janine and Jacob are ecstatic about traveling to Allentown and swapping ideas and knowledge to help them “grow into the greatest educators of all time.” Barbara and Melissa, on the other hand, are keener to get pool time and sip on margaritas (or, as PECSA calls them, “math-aritas.”) Similar to the Northeastern Mid-Market Office Supply Convention on The Office, PECSA is an obnoxiously realistic depiction of a corny conference. Filled with mid-level employees in their best business-casual khaki pants with a lanyard haphazardly thrown around their necks, the teachers enter the large conference space as an EDM version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” blasts from the speakers.

Amid the booths containing tables with free pens and other “swag,” the teachers prepare for their day. Jacob heads to a seminar called “White Teacher, Black School”; Melissa and Barbara make their presence known before slipping away to the pool; and Ava is giving her own talk about handling problem teachers like her hypothetical example “Janina,” who has “a bubbly personality and deep-seated mommy issues.” Noticeably missing is Gregory, who is off on a romantic weekend in the Poconos with Amber. Well, “romantic” is debatable, and they never actually make it to the Poconos. For Gregory, his idea of a romantic weekend with his girlfriend is a jam-packed schedule filled with activities like coal jewelry-making and a firewood-harvesting forum, while Amber wants to relax by doing absolutely nothing. This disconnect is the final straw for Amber, who finally breaks up with Gregory.

Newly single, Gregory copes pragmatically … by showing up to the work conference ready to participate. Janine buddies up with him to take his mind off things. Unlike Amber, Janine understands that Gregory needs a full schedule to decompress, a trait she shares. They head off to try to fit in as many lectures as possible and eventually end up at the bar before getting a bit tipsy and sneaking into the Living Classroom exhibit Janine has been waiting all day for.

The longer the group stays at the conference, the more their authentic selves come out, and their problems are pushed to the surface, activating the Housewives’ cast-trip energy. Melissa gets hit particularly hard because her estranged sister, Kristin, is also at the conference (remember, her sister works at the charter school). The two first see each other at the beginning of the day and trade insults before going their separate ways, but once the end-of-the-night party commences, her sister becomes unavoidable. Barbara and Melissa come to the party after a day of drinking by the pool only to find out there are no more empty seats at the tables — except next to Kristin. It starts rocky, but when some random woman with bad extensions tries to shit-talk about Kristin, the Schemmenti sisters resolve their beef to tag-team and read her for filth.

Meanwhile, Jacob is forced to face some uncomfortable truths when he befriends Summer, a teacher from Addington. She invites him to hang with some of her colleagues. Away from Abbott, Jacob can be his full white guilt-ridden, enthusiastic-ally self. They play games and share genuine camaraderie until his new friend tells him he should work at Addington and be with his people. But the way she phrases it is off. When he expresses concern about the students he’ll leave, Summer says they’re focused on the kids who “have the best chance of making it out,” an indicator of her true character.

This belief system is the modern version of separating the Black people who perform respectability the best from the ones still deemed to be ghetto and helpless. Jacob knows this isn’t the way, and, if anything, it’s more of a form of virtue signaling than real strides for change. The Addington teachers aren’t worried about rectifying the conditions that have led to so many students being left behind. Instead, they’re most interested in cherry-picking the Black kids most capable of upholding a racist system. As a child from the hood who was labeled “gifted and talented,” I can attest that there were a lot of insinuations that I wasn’t “like the others,” which is a very anti-Black sentiment. But our boy Jacob knows better, and I feel he won’t leave Abbott for these fake-woke weirdos.

Saving the best for last, Janine and Gregory are particularly uninhibited outside of the confines of the workplace. Now, this is truly some Housewives shit: getting wasted, acting on your true feelings, and then deeply regretting it once you return home is a rite of passage. At the bar, while letting the alcohol lubricate their conversation, Janine and Gregory have a heart-to-heart about the breakup. They gas each other up, gushing about how great the other is while agreeing that dating is a game with more losses than wins — but you only have to get it right once. At this point, I wanted to reach into my screen and physically smoosh their lips together, but luckily I didn’t have to, because the two shared the sweetest kiss in the Living Classroom exhibit. The exhibit is a realistic classroom entirely made out of flowers. It’s gorgeous; the walls are completely covered in beautiful blooming flowers, and there are little terrariums growing inside backpacks.

Gregory and Janine move around the room in awe, expressing that the installation perfectly encapsulates how they feel as teachers watching their students bloom. Gregory notes how it’s like the two biggest parts of his life combined: flowers and teaching. Now, if all of this didn’t lead to a kiss, I would be outside the writers’ room demanding answers. But they finally lean into each other and kiss, with Janine pulling on his lanyard for more (okay, girl! I see you!), but immediately after, they stare at each other in horror. They try to convince themselves it was merely “two friends caught up in the moment.”

The next time everyone convenes at work, Janine and Gregory continue the charade that everything is okay, shoving down those feelings we all know are there. Kristin also pops up on Melissa now that the sisters are back on speaking terms. However, she’s there to deliver bad news: Draemond Winding wants to turn Abbott into a charter, which could mean none of their jobs are safe. Dun dun dun!

Teacher’s Notes

• Yay, we’re probably getting more Leslie Odom Jr.! What a perfect casting for the show’s antagonist. Bringing Draemond back into the mix, plus Janine and Gregory finally kissing, is obviously setting us up for the end of the season. It’s bittersweet, but I’m a big fan of end-of-the-season final rides when I know another season is secured.

• Barbara and Melissa’s hangover after the conference shows they are women after my own heart. We’ve all had so many margaritas we couldn’t find an article of clothing or an accessory. RIP to all the jewelry, lip glosses, and who knows what else I’ve lost in the name of tequila.

• I can’t even lie to you guys: When Janine and Gregory went their separate ways down the hall after agreeing the kiss meant nothing and Gregory turned around, my heart tore. I wanted him to run to her, but that would ruin this delicious slow burn.

Finally, here are the funniest one-liners from the episode:

• Ava: “What word has two Xs and no vowels? Did Grimes have another kid?”

• Barbara to Janine and Jacob: “Don’t you two ever get tired of being surprised by people’s opposing interests?”

• Kristin to Janine: “Good to see you again, Bilbo. Glad you made it out of the Shire.”

• Jacob to Summer: “Have you listened to her podcast? White Tears, White Noise: How Uganda Saved Me … there’s only one season, 40 episodes, no guests.”

• Jacob on why he never ran into Summer at Oberlin: “Well, I did make a concerted effort to build relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds.”

Abbott Elementary Recap