Do Janine and Gregory End Up Together? newsusface

Abbott Elementary’s second-season finale has a lot of heart—literally. This week’s episode, “Franklin Institute,” sees the kids and teachers venturing off to Philadelphia’s famous science museum, where they’ll spend the night in rooms full of dinosaur fossils, starry galaxies, and the Giant Heart.

If you’re not from Philadelphia—like the museum tour guide, much to the dismay of Philly native Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter)—you might want a little background heading into the season finale. The original idea to head to the Franklin Institute came from creator and lead star Quinta Brunson, who plays Janine in the show, because it’s a field trip that most local elementary schoolers go on. On the museum’s website, visiting the Giant Heart is listed as a “rite of passage for school children in the Philadelphia area.”

Which made it the perfect spot for Janine and Gregory (Tyler James Williams), the show’s exhilarating slow burn couple, to have their final confrontation of the season. The finale’s writer, Brittani Nichols, says the Franklin Institute and that iconic monument were always in play, in a more general sense—especially since another episode she wrote this season, “Fundraiser,” featured Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Ava (Janelle James) scraping up funds to pay for the trip.

“Throughout the planning of the season, we knew when we were going to the Franklin Institute that there was going to be a big scene in front of the Heart,” Nichols tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed over Zoom. “We really didn’t land on exactly what that conversation between [Janine and Gregory] was going to be until we were there shooting in front of the Heart, because we really wanted to feel like it was paying homage to everything that they’d been through this season.”

Below, Nichols unpacks the romantic fate of Gregory and Janine, writing for larger-than-life characters like Jacob (Chris Perfetti) and Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), and how a possible Writer’s Guild strike might affect the third season of Abbott Elementary.

What was it like to write the culmination of this season’s romantic arc?

That scene got a lot of attention, I will say that! [Laughs] We wanted to make sure we got it right. It’s the scene that has to justify them not being together, which is something that a lot of people want. [With] Quinta and I both, [and] the addition of Tyler bringing his gravitas and emotional magnetism to the scene on the day, and our director Randall [Einhorn] as well, it was truly a team effort. That’s where you want to be: in a place where we can feel good about it, and say, “We think that this justifies how the show is going to operate, moving forward,” and hope that the audience isn’t too mad at us.

What inspired you when crafting that slow-burn romance?

Our room has a lot of people that are huge fans of television. We have this internal compass about slow-burn romances in sitcoms, because so many of us have seen them. There were things that we liked and things that we didn’t. We want to A) make sure we’re not doing the exact same thing somebody else has done, and B) do enough of the things that people have done, so that people are able to identify it as a slow-burn romance and group it in with the storied romances of sitcom history.

And also, [we wanted to] bring our current vision to it and emotional reality to it. Because a lot of the time, what bothers people about those relationships is that something feels emotionally false. From what we’ve seen of the characters, we go, “Wait, I don’t really think that’s how that person would act. This feels more like a decision was made than what the story dictated.” We really wanted to abide not by a decision that we made as a room, but by what the story itself presents to us as how this relationship is continuing on. That guidance comes from our own lived experiences of our own relationship successes and failures.

Photo by Robyn BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Who was your favorite character to write for in this episode?

Jacob. The Gregory-Jacob scene from “Fundraiser” was a lot of fun, and it stood out to me this season as another show of progress in a relationship that doesn’t get as much attention because it’s not romantic. I’m sure that Gregory himself would never call it a bromance.

But there is this side effect to the Janine and Gregory relationship of Gregory letting down his walls with other people as well. It’s not just Janine who’s getting more access to him. Jacob is one of those people as well. The moments that they share are just as much a jumping-off point for next season as the Janine and Gregory stuff. I hope that people are really excited to see what a more open Gregory looks like, in terms of friendship as well.

I love the shot of those three walking arm in arm. What’s going through Jacob’s head there? Does he still think he’s playing matchmaker, or that they’re all just buddies now?

Jacob is surprisingly in tune with people, but also in his own world. The way that those things interact, when you’re someone who’s so—I don’t want to say “desperately,” because that seems too mean—very invested in connecting with people, it makes you feel good. It’s complicated for him, because he does want the best for both of them. As we saw with Janine and Tariq’s (Zack Fox) relationship, he has a sense of when things aren’t the best. He has reservations at times. Ultimately, he wants to do right by both [Janine and Gregory], as his friends. Just the fact that they’re coming to him with those feelings is now purely a pleasant experience for him—whereas before, he felt a bit complicated about being involved.

We get some info on Mr. Johnson’s personal life in this episode—very little, but it’s there! How do you write for a character with such an unclear backstory, yet such a distinct personality?

Mr. Johnson is great, because a lot of people who are presented as having those “out there” ideologies aren’t given the chance to link them back to their own emotional state. It’s not like he just says random stuff, and that’s a bomb that he’s throwing in the air, expecting someone else to catch it. He’s saying it because he truly believes these things, and they inform the decision he makes.

Maybe his distrust of the government and being worried that something deeper is always going on is just him being ahead of his time. A lot of the stuff he’s talking about, at the time he grew up in, it made total sense for him to hold those beliefs. He’s great, and Stan brings it all to every performance. He does not let a single line go to waste.

He’s truly the smartest man in the school.

[Laughs] It’s also this commentary on the people that exist in schools and aren’t always paid attention to, and the things they get to witness and pick up on. Those people know a lot of secrets. They’re just there, doing their jobs. When someone is omnipresent, you forget that they’re a person with ears, who listens and talks to other people. He just uses that to his advantage. Being a fixture in the school has allowed him to be privy to a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t.

Abbott has an incredibly strong fanbase online. Why do you think it’s grown to be so popular in Twitter communities and on other social media?

People miss appointment TV. It was a model that worked for a long time, and I don’t think it was broken. Now that it’s rare for a show to come out weekly, to be able to have the opportunity to build community around the show—people jumped at that chance. It’s fun to talk to people about things that you love. It’s really as simple as that.

The combination of it being a network show and the internet existing in a way that it didn’t exist previously, it gives people an avenue to connect and dissect. It’s part of the reason viewers are smarter than they’ve ever been. People know how to watch TV in a way that I don’t think that they were before. They’re catching onto things and looking up things and trying to figure stuff out. It extends the viewing experience. Of course that’s what you want! If you like something for half an hour, you want to stretch the amount of time that you get to experience it.

On the flip side, folks online have recommended some bonkers, dark plot lines—like a school shooting episode, or an episode where Ava starts a fighting ring with students. How do you react to those?

I have to think that those people haven’t seen the show. I hope that what comes out of that is that they watch the show. That’s all there really is to say about it—I hope it gets more people to watch the show and engage with it in the manner that it’s meant to be engaged in.

What are you looking forward to with Season 3?

I’m looking forward to continuing to build out the world of the school. We did some of that this season, with getting a peek into the lives of the other teachers that exist in the background and learning more about the after-school activities that happen or don’t happen and why. [I hope we’ll be] getting to see more of the teachers’ lives after school, because it’s year three of this group being there.

You’re a member of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), whose union just voted to authorize a strike if it’s unable to settle on a new contract with studios by May 1. How are you feeling about the possibility of a strike?

I am very proud of the amount of communication that the Guild has done about our messaging and why the fight is important. I’m really proud of how writers have come together to lend support to each other, even though we do know this is a hard thing to be confronted with. Nobody wants to go on strike. Nobody wants to stop working. But we’re on the same page: If that’s what it comes to, that’s what it comes to. We have solidarity, and we’re going to fight to get what writers deserve.

How would a strike affect Abbott’s next season?

I’m not sure. It depends on how long the studios are being mean to us. [Laughs] As a room, we work fast. There’s a chance that we get what we deserve, and no one really notices. And there’s a chance that we don’t get what we deserve, and everyone notices. The writers’ room is going to do whatever the Guild is doing as a whole. It’s in the hands of the studios about whether or not people get their Abbott on time.

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