Quinta Brunson knows how to use Twitter to her advantage. Like her predecessor Shonda Rhimes, the Abbott Elementary creator and her team use the online platform to amp their audience up before the sitcom airs. To illustrate, when Brunson recently tweeted that she loved the last two episodes of her hit ABC workplace mockumentary series, her fans waited for them to drop with gleeful anticipation. Fortunately for the Abbott Hive, the star delivers. While “Sick Day” finally gives master schemer principal Ava (Janelle James) the spotlight, the Season 2 midseason finale will get the fanbase tweeting for weeks. With its quickfire jokes, unexpected sizzling moments, and delightful stunt casting, Brunson crafts one of the best holiday episodes to date with “Holiday Hookah.”
For those sitting under a rock—or not on Twitter—Abbott Elementary follows a group of dedicated teachers at an underprivileged elementary school in Philadelphia. Throughout the first two seasons, ambitious second-grade teacher Janine (Brunson) and her fellow cohorts try to provide the best for their students despite working with little to no resources. Though the staff manages to secure funding for their school towards the end of Season 1, a nearby successful charter school threatens its existence as a public institution. So, it is only fitting that staff and students alike put their troubles behind them for their well-deserved winter break in this holiday-themed episode.
“Holiday Hookah” begins on the last day before the holiday break at Abbott Elementary. As a newly single woman, Janine steps outside her comfort zone by getting her “hoe on” at a hookah bar with her new best friend Erica (Brooklyn Bailey). However, before she sheds “teacher Janine” for “turnt up Janine,” the Abbott Elementary educator participates in the annual gift exchange at the school’s library. During the festivities, Janine gives Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis) a sculpted bust of his head, noting that the janitor once told the teacher against her will that he moonlighted as a nude art model. As the rest of the teachers exchange gifts, total baddie Ava rigs the event in her favor because she assumes three mediocre presents equate to a regular one (stay classy, Ava). Later, Janine dips out early to party like an adult.
Janine’s foray into singledom does not go as planned when she runs into first-grade teacher Gregory (Tyler James Williams) and Ava at the hookah bar. Erica tries to convince Janine that it is acceptable for her to have fun as she is a grown woman, but the teacher is still nervous. Thankfully, Gregory makes the situation less weird by offering to dance with Janine. Initially, their courtship is awkward as Gregory hates dancing to songs he does not like, and Janine is still in teacher mode. Eventually, the coworkers find the right vibe as they groove together. Yet their moments of intimacy break when Ava separates her “work husband” from her “work nemesis” due to petty jealousy.
Since Janine nor Gregory wants to deal with their annoying boss, they head to the exit for fresh air. As they step outside, it begins to snow in that romantic comedy sort of way. Then Greg looks into Janine’s eyes and says, “It’s beautiful.” Suddenly, their bodies inch closer together, smothering stares and all. Sadly, their holiday spark disintegrates once Gregory’s girlfriend Amber (Nate’ Jones) sends him a text message. Knowing their tender moment is in the rearview, Janine and Gregory go their separate ways. Fortunately for Janine, Ava invites the second-grade teacher to hang out with her at another club. She even introduces Janine to her boyfriend, four-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala.
Back at Abbott Elementary, Jacob (Chris Perfetti) acts like a grinch. Since he has no plans for the holidays, longtime teachers Barbara (the incredible Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) invite the history teacher to their annual teacher lounge holiday party. Unfortunately, Jacob spends more time espousing facts on capitalism than enjoying himself. Noting the tension in the room, Mr. Johnson tells Jacob he is ruining the party for everyone. Thankfully Jacob realizes the errors of his ways and apologizes to Barbara and Melissa for being a party pooper. For Jacob, his Christmas means arguments, fights, and utter despair, so he appreciates them for giving him the best experience he has ever had.
“Holiday Hookah” may not be a game changer for the series, but the workplace sitcom does move the needle forward with Abbott’s teachers. Like Dwayne and Whitley from A Different World, the chemistry between Janine and Gregory is electrifying. The knowing glances, secret knocks on the doors, and, yes, even their heated arguments over their teaching pedagogy build up to the moment the pair almost kiss. Brunson keeps the audience on their toes by dragging out the “will they, won’t they” by setting the characters up with different love interests like Amber and Gregory’s friend Maurice. Of course, we want the couple to be endgame, but as we learned with Bridgerton Season 2, the slow burn is worth the ride. So, here’s to the multi-season conflicts that will prevent Janine and Gregory from ever becoming the internet’s new favorite couple.
Jacob’s character arc in “Holiday Hookah” is not as strong as the main plotline, but it still makes for a hilariously good time. This story works because Jacob is the most optimistic character of the bunch, only second to Janine. So, it is intriguing to see him act like a grouch during Christmas dinner. Yet, the writers give Jacob a solid reason why he despises the holiday cheer. As an openly queer character, it is not surprising that Jacob may have an estranged relationship with his family. Despite his tragic past, the history teacher has his newfound family to help him celebrate the holidays. It is a relatable moment that wraps up nicely at the end of the episode, perhaps a little too neatly.
With its equal mix of steamy and comedic moments, “Holiday Hookah” will make the list of best holiday episodes for years to come. It will be interesting to see what Brunson and her merry team of writers will have in store for their other festive-themed episodes, as they have a real knack for writing them. If anything, the return of Janine and Gregory next year will bring tension—and fireworks.
Feature image courtesy of ABC
‘Abbott Elementary’ season 2 midseason finale: "Holiday Hookah" - 10/10