Our favorite ‘Abbott Elementary’ cast pairings

Two male schoolteachers talk in a corridor.
Chris Perfetti and Tyler James Williams in “Abbott Elementary.”
(Gilles Mingasson/Disney)

Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who loves “Abbott Elementary” for much more than just the love triangles.

As Screen Gab editor Matt Brennan and senior TV writer Yvonne Villarreal discuss in this week’s Break Down, the third season of ABC’s Emmy-winning comedy has given us an ensemble’s worth of brilliant comic pairings along with its will-they/won’t they romances.

Also in this edition, the writer of Netflix’s Jennifer Lopez vehicle “Atlas” picks his favorite JLo performance, plus streaming recommendations for your weekend.


ICYMI: Summer Preview

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Jeremy Renner.
(Paul Yem / For The Times)

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The 14 TV shows we’re most excited for this summer: Say hello to revivals of “Orphan Black” and “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” mystery miniseries, music-centered docuseries and more.

The 15 movies you need to see this summer: Our staffers select a highly opinionated list of their most anticipated titles: Hollywood fun machines, indie big swings and the truly unmissable.

We strap in with director George Miller, the ‘Mad Max’ mastermind, back with ‘Furiosa’: Australia’s leading exporter of postapocalyptic mayhem reflects on 45 years of action, the lure of digital and the summer’s most anticipated blockbuster.


Turn on

Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times

A man leans on the edge of a building in front of a shop window.
Andrew Scott in “Ripley.”
(Stefano Cristiano Montesi/Netflix)

“Ripley” (Netflix)

Whether you’re a member of the film industry bidding adieu to Cannes, or simply dreaming of your summer vacation, no tale conjures the seductions — or dangers — of leisure quite like “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Patricia Highsmith’s tale of a con artist who insinuates himself into the lives of a playboy and his girlfriend on the Italian coast, has, perhaps unsurprisingly, attracted the interest of some of the most beautiful people ever filmed, including Jude Law, in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film adaptation [Max], and Alain Delon, in 1960’s “Purple Noon” [Criterion Channel, Kanopy]. What Steven Zaillian’s black-and-white TV adaptation loses in such midsummer sprightliness, it makes up in painful, almost Gothic beauty. Starring Andrew Scott as Tom, Jonny Flynn as the dissolute Dickie Greenleaf and Dakota Fanning as his deeply suspicious girlfriend, Marge, “Ripley” turns its lens on the less dignified aspects of infidelity, fraud, murder, like the lower levels of a Venice palazzo slowly lost to the sea. Its greatest feat, however, is to avoid the fate of so many streaming series, which tend to stretch two episodes to three and three to six simply to feed the beast known as Continue Watching. Zaillian luxuriates in the time but never, ever wastes it, as exemplified when Tom and Dickie go boating. Tense, terrifying, bleakly funny, uncannily beautiful and, most important, wholly unexpected, it’s one of the best TV episodes of the year. Bon voyage! —Matt Brennan

READ MORE: Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning say their ‘Ripley’ characters aren’t rivals, ‘they’re frenemies’

A man in a blue suit and a woman in a purple dress.
Leslie Odom Jr. and Kara Young in “Purlie Victorious.”
(Marc J. Franklin)

“Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch” (PBS)

Whether you know Leslie Odom Jr. from “Hamilton,” “Glass Onion” or “One Night in Miami,” you’ve likely never seen him as a fast-talking, passionate Southern preacher with a very unique idea for how to gain ownership of a local church. The actor produced and starred in the Broadway revival, which has been filmed for PBS and just nabbed six Tony nominations. Even though Ossie Davis wrote the play in 1961 (while understudying Sidney Poitier in the original production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” by the way!), the show’s satirical punchlines feel so fresh that it almost feels written for today’s audiences. It’s only available to stream on PBS’ website or app through July 19. —Ashley Lee


READ MORE: ‘Plays still matter to the health of Broadway’: Leslie Odom Jr. on ‘Purlie Victorious’

Guest spot

A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching

A sweaty, bedraggled woman in a spaceship.
A scene of Jennifer Lopez in “Atlas.”
(Ana Carballosa/Netflix)

With Hollywood labor unions eager to secure protections against artificial intelligence, and Silicon Valley wunderkind Sam Altman suddenly in hot water with Scarlett Johansson over it, Netflix’s new sci-fi actioner “Atlas” may seem counter-intuitive: Jennifer Lopez teaming up with AI to save the world? For writer (with Leo Sardarian) Aron Eli Coleite, who worked with a consultant from UC Berkeley, tackling AI requires understanding that it comes with both opportunities and risks — depending on where, and how, it’s used. Coleite stopped by Screen Gab before the film’s premiere on Friday to discuss his annual “West Wing” re-watch, his JLo performance he can’t get out of his head and more. —Matt Brennan

What have you watched recently that you are recommending to everyone you know?

My current obsession is “X-Men ’97” [Disney+]. Not just because of my massive and decades-long love of the X-Men, but because it is the best drama on right now. The most groundbreaking storytelling is all being done in animation. Check out: “Scavenger’s Reign” [Max]. “Carol & the End of the World” [Netflix]. “Blue Eye Samurai” [Netflix]. (I’m slightly impartial on that one because I helped [creators] Michael Green and Amber Noizumi out a little.)


What’s your go-to “comfort watch,” the film or TV show you return to again and again? [Explain why.]

My wife, Tracy, and I do an annual rewatch of “The West Wing” [Max]. It’s been almost 25 years since the pilot aired and the show is still as timely as ever, a comforting dose of sanity in our insane world. I’ve also started re-watching movies with the sound off to both inspire me while I write and to learn how to be a better visual storyteller. “Mad Max: Fury Road” [Max], “Licorice Pizza” [MGM+], “Lady Snowblood” [Max], “Fantastic Planet” [Max, Criterion Channel] and “Annihilation” [Paramount+, Fubo] are on a constant rotation.

“Atlas” forces a skeptical data analyst, played by Jennifer Lopez, into a reluctant partnership with AI. What, to you, would be the scariest outcome of AI’s use in the next five years? What’s the most exciting?

To write “Atlas” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to consult with professor Michel Maharbiz from UC Berkeley. He was working on a technology called Neural Dust, which are AI sensors the size of a grain of sand that could be used to discover all kinds of medical treatments. My father passed away from ALS so the possibility of using AI to eliminate pain and suffering for families around the world deeply resonated with me.

What I fear most is that AI is adding rocket fuel to propagate lies in our conspiracy-fueled digital town squares. When so many people get their news from social media, the ability to mimic video and voices erodes trust and truth.

Name your favorite JLo performance in a project that’s not your own.


My favorite is “Out of Sight” [Prime Video]. I saw it three or four times in the theater. It’s a near-perfect movie. The way that Jennifer absolutely sticks the landing on a difficult blend of humor, romance, action and humanity is a master class in acting. She makes it look so damned effortless, which is the best magic trick in the world, because naturalism and believability are the hardest things to get right. Honorable mention goes to “The Cell” [VOD, multiple platforms] because her performance permanently messed up my brain in the best possible way.

Break down

Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between

Two schoolteachers smiling in a corridor.
Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter in “Abbott Elementary.”
(Gilles Mingasson/Disney)

“Abbott Elementary” (ABC, Hulu) has spent the last three seasons crafting a sweet and heartwarming will they/won’t they dynamic between co-workers Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) amid the daily chaos and absurdities of working in education. But when I spoke with Williams recently — for my piece on Chris Perfetti, who plays socially awkward history teacher Jacob Hill — something he said struck me:

“Everyone asks me about Janine and Gregory and I’m like, that’s not nearly as interesting as Gregory and Jacob. That’s the will they/won’t they I am most invested in. Gregory likes and wants to be with Janine; Gregory does not want to like Jacob and yet Jacob breaks him down over the course of two seasons. And that, to me, from an actor’s perspective, gives me the most to play. My characters wants to not like you. You had a conflicting objective to the point where the season finale of Season 2, I remember breaking that script down and there’s that big moment between Janine and Gregory, when they talk about what their relationship should be. And I remember looking at that and flagging, I was like, “OK, I’m gonna have to really break this down.” But the bigger moment to me was the moment of the bro hug after the fact. Because Gregory needs a place to be vulnerable. And that’s what Jacob allows him to be. Whenever we have scenes together, whatever that is, it’s some of the most exciting things for me, because I have just as much to play here as I do with Janine.”

It had me thinking about how the workplace comedy has found ways to craft other enjoyable combinations of its ensemble cast that are just as compelling, without the angst and frustration of a beautifully torturous slow burn. Screen Gab editor Matt Brennan joined me recently to break down our favorite “Abbott Elementary” pairings. —Yvonne Villarreal


Matt Brennan: Yvonne, when you shared Williams’ insights about Gregory and Jacob’s relationship with me recently, it helped crystallize something I’ve been thinking about “Abbott’s” third season, which began with a time jump and found Janine working for the district instead of her beloved elementary school: ABC’s Emmy-winning comedy series seems to be enjoying stretching its legs. Even with an episode count curtailed by last year’s writers’ and actors’ strikes, creator/star Quinta Brunson and Co. managed to explore a wide array of unexpected or less established character pairings this time around.

I’ll start with a small shoutout: Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis) and the kitchen staff, who provided TV’s best parody of “The Bear” to date.

Is there any dynamic duo that stood out to you this season?

Yvonne Villarreal: Do you even have to ask, Matt? You know my brand. When newly single Jacob (Chris Perfetti), in need of a new housing arrangement, became roommates with Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) and they found themselves bonding over things like “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and book nooks, my millennial heart was suddenly longing for bonus content of life with the odd couple in the form of TikTok videos.

Workplace formats can often feel stifling because we’re confined to the job setting — and we all have work friends that we commiserate with over Slack who don’t necessarily function in our personal life. But the way “Abbott” has found ways to deepen the ties of its characters has been both meaningful and fun to watch. As a hardcore admirer of the will they/won’t they trope and an angsty slow burn, I think keeping us interested in the whole ensemble is a necessary foundation for any romantic story lines: Although I am rooting for Janine and Gregory and whatever heart-eyes emoji moments their coupling will bring, I don’t want it to steal the focus. It’s why I’ve found Manny (Josh Segarra), Janine’s district co-worker, to be an enjoyable addition this season.

What about you, Matt? How do you think “Abbott” can avoid the pitfalls of the love triangle? And what other pairings have you enjoyed, or hope might deepen, as the show continues?

Matt Brennan: Jacob and Melissa’s life as roommates had me LOL-ing, Yvonne — that would totally be us if The Times made us bunk together! What you point to about “Abbott” being grounded in its ensemble is, I think, exactly how it will avoid getting locked into a pattern of Janine-Gregory love triangles, which is very low down the list of reasons I tune in every week. (Sorry, I’m just not sentimental about them. I wasn’t about Pam and Jim, either.) In fact, the series’ greatest strength may be that it has a cast where you can put any two characters in a scenario together and end up with comic fireworks.


Just sticking to Season 3 examples, I’m thinking of Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa leading the charge to “reset Ava” when she returns from “the legal property lines of Harvard” with a purpose; Gregory and Ava in a “competitive” panel discussion with their doppelgangers from another school; or the recent episode “Double Date,” which uses a bar night and a book club to launch six distinct subplots at once. For any sitcom, which depends on A, B and even C stories to work, this flexibility is central to longevity, and “Abbott” has shown that it has the ability to keep firing on all cylinders as long as the creative team remains engaged.

All that said, my favorite moments on “Abbott” are still those that bring the entire cast together at once, often in the shared experience of dashed hopes or thwarted purpose. I haven’t laughed harder at anything on TV this year than the staff collectively “vetting” the school’s new namesake (“Where were you on Jan. 6?!”) only to discover that he’s a flat-Earth truther. In fact, I’m going to re-watch it again right now.