Whenever I discuss the current season of Abbott Elementary, the most consistent statement I hear is: “I want more Ava!” Well, ask and you shall receive because we got an entire episode of Ava’s attitude and antics. Her latest business scheme is selling skin care products that she’s been keeping cold in the teacher’s lounge refrigerator. To make room for her Ava Coldman eye masks, she’s moved the mayonnaise, milk, and Janine’s leftover tuna melt to the windowsill, where they’ve been marinating in the direct sunlight. She also used all of the school’s printer paper to make flyers for her upcoming “pop-up pop-out” for her business.
Disregarding Jacob’s cautionary tale about the tapeworm he got in Zimbabwe, Janine eats the sandwich, claiming the sun heated it up for her. Ew. Obviously, she gets food poisoning and ends up having to stay home the next day. Initially, Ava doesn’t even notice that Janine is out and she keeps ignoring the unknown number that keeps calling her phone as she works on fulfilling Ava Coldman orders. Business is lowkey booming — though some customers say the products smell of “old fridge and stale condiments,” people are coming back for more. Irritated that her phone is blowing up, she finally answers the FaceTime and is met by a sweaty and feverish Janine.
Though she’s practically projectile vomiting, Ava tells Janine she’ll see her in an hour before succumbing to the idea that she needs to find a substitute. She treats it like she’s recruiting for her own Love Island episode, requesting that Venus, her secretary, find a six-foot-two Gregory Eddie type to fill in. Venus reminds Ava that there’s a county-wide substitute shortage, something she should’ve known from the district’s memo last week. Not that we should expect Ava to read anything work-related. She goes down her list of potential subs for Janine. Her usual backup is already filling in for Mr. Morton, Melissa’s aid Ashley is helping for another class, Mr. Johnson “has a janitorial emergency,” a.k.a. he doesn’t feel like it, and the tall person she found in the hallway was one of Jacob’s students.
Forced to teach Janine’s class, Ava lets the kids have an 8:30 a.m. recess, then once back in the classroom, tells them they can “do whatever they do” as long as they don’t leave the room. And if they need anything else? Ask each other because “it takes a village.” Gregory alerts Janine that Ava is in charge of her class, prompting her to immediately call Ava to check that she isn’t having a medication-induced hallucination. She informs Ava that there’s a binder in the bottom drawer of her desk that contains everything she needs to get through the day and emphasizes that the students need to take a spelling test. Ava blithely brushes off this request, but Janine insists it needs to be done to keep the students on track.
Ava tries to go along with Janine’s meticulous plans and opens up the binder. Step one: Write the date on the board. Of course, Ava wouldn’t dare get her hands chalky so she skips to step two: Turn on the lights. Step three: Play the DVD Janine left. Ava inserts the DVD into the player and watches Janine’s ridiculous video, telling the students, “If you’re watching this, it means it’s too late for me … to come in today.” Ava shuts it off, proclaiming that “nobody wants some creepy ghost Janine crawl through that screen,” and flips to the next most interesting step in the binder: to play Janine’s Creativity Mix while the students draw. In lieu of the “Kidz Bop beats” Janine picked, she turns on Jazmine Sullivan’s album Heaux Tales for the children and directs them to do their spelling test.
The kids are all over the place after so much deviation from the normal routines. They’re confused and disoriented, with even Gregory’s class next door distracted by the music seeping through the walls (I loved his student who was jamming out). Gregory marches in to get Ava to turn down her music, and he sees how badly off-track the students are. One little girl turns in her spelling test, but instead of a list of words, her paper contains a drawing of her mom. Ava asks her why she would draw on her test, and the student replies, “You played music. That means we get to draw.” Fed up with the kids, Ava leaves them alone to take a phone call regarding her skincare hustle. Apparently, the eye masks have been giving customers freezer burn causing an influx of bad reviews. She has Mr. Johnson tap in and teach the kids. Naturally, he embarks on his lesson plan about the alleged lizards the size of humans inhabiting the Denver airport.
Gregory urges Ava to give them a chance to retake their test, but Ava doesn’t care and says they can just take the test another day since one day won’t matter. Gregory disagrees; Janine puts in a lot of work to ensure her students are prepared for their tests, and beyond that, it’s crucial for students at that level to see their progress. Everyday matters in school. Once he finds out that she didn’t even put the date on the board, he lectures her about how important routine is for education. He actually gets through to her, and she begins to abide by the steps in the binder. She writes the date on the board and leads story time, though when a student suggests Eloise she starts to share about her own escapades at the Plaza hotel with Ghostface Killah, but she reels herself in and reads the book. Next, she has the students retake their tests but realizes she needs to reprint them since they drew all over the original copies.
Upon seeing that the printer doesn’t have enough paper, she makes the ultimate sacrifice: She uses the backs of her pop-up shop flyers to make new copies of the test. She even assists students who need help. The experience brings out Ava’s empathetic side, something that isn’t always shown on the surface. It inspires her to be more proactive at her own job and order the school more printer paper. She starts reading her memos and becomes caught up on the comings and goings of the school. Not so much to do her job better but so that she never has to be in a predicament where she has to fill in for a teacher again. To solve the problem of her business, she destroys all evidence of Ava Coldman and tells Jacob, whose under eyes are severely swollen and irritated from her serum, that the corporation responsible for his problems has since been dissolved. Ava will always be Ava.
While on her sick day, Janine struggled at home to control her digestive tract. She tries numerous times to muster enough energy to get up and give her students their spelling test, but the tuna melt has taken control. She’s never taken a sick day before, even when she got a migraine from Tariq spending 48 hours straight playing Call of Duty because “if the good guys do nothing, then the terrorists win.” Finally, she takes an insane cocktail of medications: Imodium, melatonin, Pepto Bismol, and something her friend Erika brought back from Mexico. She deliriously tells the cameraman she’s fine, but she’s convinced Space Jam is based on a true story … they just don’t want us to know.
Janine’s absence not only creates an obstacle for Ava but also disrupts the delicate equilibrium of personalities in the break room. With Janine gone, Tasha, another teacher at the school, reappears in the break room after being driven out by her coworker’s excessive talking. Melissa and Barbara agree that they’re also relishing in the newfound silence, but Jacob stands up for Janine, claiming she “puts gas in the conversation tank” and is incredibly helpful and industrious — always looking for solutions. When Melissa burns her hand on the leaky coffee pot, Jacobs says, “If Janine was here, she would not only fix that coffee maker, she’d give you aloe for the burn.” Melissa and Barbara scoff at this, with the former saying, “Yeah and then we’d have to have seventeen meetings so we could discuss how getting burnt made us feel.” Meanwhile, Tasha says she lives by the acronym WAIT, as in, “why am I talking,” and that the issues in the break room merely sound like a Mr. Johnson problem. This earns her an invitation to lunch with Barbara and Melissa, an honor that hasn’t been bestowed on Janine, who was told the restaurant refuses to seat tables of three.
Returning from their off-campus rendezvous with Tasha, Melissa, and Barbara find a trail of ants in the break room from the broken coffee pot to the refrigerator. They start to panic, and Tasha nonchalantly shrugs and leaves the problem for someone else to solve. Jacob taunts them, saying, “You can say it. You wish Janine was here to solve the problem.” And when she returns to Abbott on Monday, that’s exactly what she does, effectively restoring the delicate energy balance of the break room … and driving Tashsa out again. Gregory embraces Janine’s return, and he asks her on a date as everyone files out of the room to start their day. Just kidding, I can only dream, but he does gift her a bottle of electrolyte-enhanced water to keep her hydrated.
• Okay, if there was ever a time that we needed a supplemental web series for Abbott, it’s to see Ava in the ’90s with Ghostface Killah and Redman doing whatever they did.
• As someone who lives in Denver and has flown into the Denver airport a handful of times, I can confirm that there is, in fact, some very weird energy in the building. Could it be the lizard people? I don’t know, but I’m speaking my truth.
Usually, I would round up my favorite lines from the whole episode. But since we got so much great screen time for Ava, I had to dedicate it all to her:
• “It’s only a scheme when you’re at the bottom of the pyramid … and obviously, I’m at the top.”
• “Filling in for Ms. Teagues? It’s no Christopher Wallace … no Biggie.”
• Explaining why she doesn’t have Janine’s number saved: “What if I meet a better Janine?”
• After refusing to read Amelia Bedelia: “Who wants to read about an annoying woman who can’t follow simple instructions.”
• When Gregory uses ‘unmoored’ in a sentence: “Stop using fake words.”