Janelle James and Chris Perfetti Talk About the Response to ‘Abbott Elementary’

Janelle James and Chris Perfetti play Ava Coleman and Jacob Hill in Abbott Elementary. Season 2 premieres tonight at 9 PM ET on ABC. New episodes will continue to air Wednesday and are then available to watch on demand and on Hulu the following day.

A workplace comedy following a group of dedicated, passionate teachers — and a slightly tone-deaf principal —as they navigate the Philadelphia public school system. Despite the odds stacked against them, they are determined to help their students succeed in life, and though these incredible public servants may be outnumbered and underfunded, they love what they do — even if they don’t love the school district’s less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children.

During a roundtable discussion, I asked the actors about the most rewarding feedback they’ve received so far and their favorite character dynamics. Keep reading for everything they shared!

ABC/Matt Sayles

What has been the most rewarding feedback that you’ve gotten from viewers so far heading into the new season?
Janelle James: Mostly that the show brings them so much joy, that it’s their comfort show, that they watch it with their whole family, that they have something to talk about with their mom finally.
Chris Perfetti: “I’ve reconnected with my mom after 20 years…”
James: I mean, I’m sure! Yeah, “we have nothing in common and now we both watch the show,” I’m seeing people say that so that’s been amazing.
Perfetti: For me, yes and I feel like the most meaningful among the tsunami of good feelings that come in, are the teachers who are like, “that is real,” the teachers who are like, “that is what it’s like,” that it’s an authentic, genuine representation of what they go through. In a way, you know, the teachers for whom it is meaningful, I feel like is the tops.

One thing I love about the show is the different dynamics between the characters, they’re all so unique. Do you have either a favorite to portray or one that you want to see more of for your character?
James: I mean, I haven’t really done much with Chris yet, except insult him, so that’d be cool for us to have an adventure.
Perfetti: It was an honor.
James: It’d be cool to have an adventure with Tyler’s character when he stops being afraid of me. There’s actually a lot of people that I haven’t had a one-on-one with yet, so that’s exciting cause I know what’s coming. I like the interactions that I have with Barbara because she’s maybe the only person I respect in the school. Ava also knows that when things go wrong, Barbara will know how to fix it, so why not have her in your corner? So yeah, I like all the interactions. My favorite person to play against though is Quinta. She’s my nemesis and we have good moments. She’s very small and I’m very tall so that’s just funny on its face.
Perfetti: I don’t know. I feel like the genius of Quinta Brunson is that she has drawn six very specific people and so any combination of any of them is a recipe for, hopefully, disaster and comedy. I mean, I feel like I was very lucky in the first season, Jacob had opportunities to kind of do that with each character. I spent a lot of time with Barbara and I spent a lot of time with Melissa in one episode.
James: Just say me! I don’t know why he’s making it…
Perfetti: No, it’s not that. You would think that it would be, but it’s not for me.
James: Imagine the fun we’ll have!
Perfetti: Fine, Janelle.
James: Thank you!