Monday, July 15, 2024

Abbott Elementary’s Mr. Johnson Teaches Us an Vital Lesson


Of all of the characters on Abbott Elementary, there’s one who by no means fails to make me chuckle. I’m speaking about Mr. Johnson, the janitor whose dry humor and droll facial expressions make him one of many funniest personas on ABC’s hit comedy. Right here’s what we learn about Mr. Johnson: He’s in all probability in his 70s. He’s labored at Abbott without end, his institutional information rivaling that of the longest-tenured lecturers. He has alluded to previous lives as an Olympic athlete, a nude mannequin, a champion rib eater, and Dorothy Hamill’s paramour. He thinks that lizard folks stay underneath the Denver Airport and that the Illuminati run the world. He doesn’t consider within the moon (not the moon touchdown—the precise moon). All of that is to say that Mr. Johnson’s origin story is generally a patchwork of jokes: We don’t know something substantial concerning the man, not even his first title.

In a lesser comedy, he’d be a two-dimensional character who floats by the background, peppering in laughs as vital. Not so with Abbott. Even with out a absolutely fleshed-out previous, Mr. Johnson has turn out to be a core a part of the present, a personality who appears to exist totally within the current tense. He’s essential sufficient that the actor who performs him, William Stanford Davis, was promoted to a sequence common in Season 2. As the college’s janitor, Mr. Johnson is the gatekeeper to Abbott, bringing us in and contextualizing the on a regular basis interactions inside the college.

In up to date English, janitor refers to somebody whose job it’s to care for a constructing, normally a hospital or a faculty. The job entails cleansing and preserving a spot orderly by sweeping flooring, wiping down counters, and taking out trash. However that’s not all janitors do. The phrase comes from the Latin janus, which suggests “arch” or “gate” and can be the title of the two-faced Roman god of doorways and portals. This etymology is smart when you think about that individuals like Mr. Johnson are additionally ushers and area definers: They put together a constructing earlier than we even enter it, take care of it whereas we’re there, and proceed to take care of it after we’ve left. A part of their job is to concentrate—to the buildings they oversee, sure, but in addition to individuals who go by their doorways.

Mr. Johnson encapsulates this position completely. He’s seemingly in every single place inside Abbott’s partitions, which means he notices the emotional climate of the lecturers and college students inside. In Season 1, he’s among the many first folks to detect the romantic emotions between the lecturers Janine and Gregory, elevating his eyebrows at what seems like a lover’s quarrel. In Season 2, when the historical past trainer, Jacob (Chris Perfetti), has no thought why his college students are obsessive about a present about speaking socks, Mr. Johnson seems within the classroom doorway and begins talking this system’s indecipherable language with bewildering fluency. He is aware of what the younger persons are as much as simply as a lot as he is aware of what the adults are pondering. Typically he’s the college’s protector: He additionally is aware of that if the scoreboard within the fitness center goes above a sure quantity, it’ll come crashing down. When the smooth-talking businessman Draemond fails to persuade a gym-full of fogeys that Abbott ought to turn out to be a constitution college, it’s Mr. Johnson who sweeps him off the stage, bodily enacting everybody’s disdain.

It’s not simply that Mr. Johnson sees all the things; everybody sees Mr. Johnson too. In a late Season 2 episode, the lecturers at Abbott vote on which ones ought to get two free tickets to an NBA recreation. The prize is meant to go to an educator, as a paltry present of appreciation from the district. However the principal, Ava, proclaims Mr. Johnson because the unanimous winner, to his delight. When somebody complains that he’s not a “actual trainer,” he retorts, “You understand how many lessons I subbed?” He is aware of he deserves the tickets—he might not have the credentials, however viewers have seen him known as to “train” class after class, filling within the cracks of a damaged (and broke) public-education system.

Ava asks the apparent query: Why did everybody vote for Mr. Johnson? One trainer, Melissa, responds that she selected him as a result of she was aggravated with everybody else. However his landslide victory exhibits simply how enmeshed he’s in Abbott’s cloth. He’s the particular person each trainer considered first, moreover themselves, to placed on the poll. He is an important a part of the college, a lot in order that he’s virtually synonymous with it. Abbott Elementary is a present that places the hilarity, grossness, frustration, and pleasure of public faculties on full show, so audiences can see how a lot power and love goes into these establishments. They’re locations the place kids study, locations of labor, locations the place the group gathers to deal with crises and maintain celebrations. Wry, hardworking, and slightly bit quirky, Mr. Johnson embodies the many-faceted world of Abbott in all its splendor and stumbles.


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