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Inside Janine and Gregory Romance

Inside Janine and Gregory Romance

[This story contains spoilers from the Abbott Elementary season three finale, “Party.”]

If there’s one issue viewers have had with the beloved ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary over its three seasons, it’s that Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) have yet to take their working relationship to the next level, as fans have been shipping the pair since its season one debut.

After a painstaking episode 13, “Smith Playground,” in which Janine and Gregory’s plans to tell each other how they feel are thwarted by fellow teacher, Mr. Hill’s bitter warning to “never date someone you work with,” audiences began to lose hope. But in the final minutes of the season three finale episode, “Party,” which aired Wednesday night, the two share a passionate kiss at Janine’s end of the school year bash, putting an end to the tortuous will-they-won’t they dynamic between the teachers.

“I think this season with Janine at the district and Gregory with his garden goofballs program, vocationally, they have gotten their affairs in order,” says Abbott co-showrunner and executive producer Patrick Schumacker of finally making the highly anticipated moment happen. “It felt like, now they have the bandwidth to really focus on what they want with their relationship.”

Below, Schumacker and co-showrunner Justin Halpern further delve into why this was the right time for that budding onscreen romance to come to fruition and talk about Kevin Hart’s episode 12 cameo and why the series might dial down the celebrity guest star factor in season four.


Janine and Gregory finally lean into their feelings for one another in the season three finale. Why now?

JUSTIN HALPERN We felt like they were finally in a place where it would happen. We always try to chart their personal growth, first separately as characters. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, Gregory would be ready right now and he would make a move, but Janine wouldn’t be,” or, “Janine would be ready right now, but then Gregory would be feeling some kind of way about the last time they interacted, so he might not be ready now.” They’re two really, really measured characters. They do not act rashly. They’re not Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis) or Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter). So we wanted to get them to a place where they couldn’t deny it. We almost made them as frustrated and kind of exhausted by the will-they-won’t-they as maybe some people in the audience feel. And then when we get them to that point, they’re like, “I just like this person so much. I don’t feel like there’s any other way to do it.”

So that was for sure not a dream sequence?

PATRICK SCHUMACKER No, it’s a documentary! They don’t do dream sequences in documentaries.

Janine working for the school district was the big shakeup at the beginning of the season. It was somewhat surprising she decided to return to Abbott so soon in episode 10, “2 Ava 2 Fest.” Why did you decide not to carry that storyline through the entirety of the school year?

HALPERN We always knew from the start of the season — even when just Pat, me and Quinta [Brunson] met before the writers room started — that we wanted the idea that the character needs to be the one to make large systemic changes be put to bed a little bit. Large systemic changes need to be made, but is Janine the one to make them? She sort of bangs that drum for the first two seasons, so we wanted to have her get this opportunity to do that and see if that’s what made her happy. I think when you’re somebody who’s trying to make the world a better place, and sort of how selfless a teacher is in general and how difficult that job is, you do that kind of thankless job because there are these small parts of it you love so much. We wanted to show that Janine was thinking very pragmatically, but that, emotionally, her heart was at Abbott Elementary and with these kids. That’s why that moment when she reads Barbara’s card, it reminds her, “Oh, I actually do know how I feel [about returning].”

Tatyana Ali returned for the season finale, and we also saw Cree Summer appear in multiple episodes this season. Any chance their characters will be recurring?

HALPERN Cree is so crazy talented. Just a really underrated performer, because she has so much animated work that people don’t know it’s Cree. She’s incredible and the same with Tatyana. We have fun with people when they come and perform on the show, and then we’re kind of like, “Well, they were great.” We don’t necessarily go, “Let’s build another episode around that character,” but we think, “Oh, this would be a great place to add them in.”

Is the same true for Tariq (Zack Fox)? Audiences have loved seeing his character remain in the show after his breakup with Janine.

SCHUMACKER Any opportunity that we have with Zack we try and take. This was a function of only doing 14 episodes this season, but the way that it was set up early on in season three was that Zack was going to be around a lot. If we had done 22 episodes, he probably would’ve been around even more. He’s such a joy to work with and he’s so talented.

HALPERN He’s so funny. A performer who never comes at a line the way you think he’s going to come at it, puts a spin on things in a way that you never would’ve thought, and it’s so much funnier than whatever you were thinking in your head. And aside from that, we just, as a person, really like him so much. He’s such a good guy that it’s just fun to have him around.

SCHUMACKER Before landing on the PTA of it all, we racked our brains about how can we work him in because he was somebody that right from the beginning, like you said, was a fan favorite, but also he was a favorite amongst everybody on the show. That was one [character] where oftentimes we just led from, “Well, we need him. So how can we shoehorn him in?” But then we would have to stop ourselves because it would be like, “Oh no, this is so convoluted,” so thankfully the PTA presented itself and it felt like the organic way of bringing him back, and it didn’t seem like we were trying too hard.

HALPERN With every character, we’re always trying to look for a performer who brings something that no one else in the show is bringing, but it still lives within the world. Lisa Ann Walter brings something to the show that no one else in the show is bringing. Sheryl [Lee Ralph], Mr. Johnson, everybody does. So when we find a guest star who also is operating from some different point of view and some different angle and energy than what we have in the show, we’re like, oh, this is just another complimentary spice to the stew.

Tyler James Williams, Courtney Taylor, Karan Soni and Chris Perfetti in the Abbott Elementary finale.

Disney/Gilles Mingasson

Episode 12 gets into the lore of Kevin Hart being Janine’s dad. How did that concept come about and getting him on the show?

HALPERN Kevin had talked to Quinta about it, and we had never really figured out the right way to do it. We try to be careful about putting big celebrities in the show if there’s not a reason for it. Even with the Bradley Cooper thing, we knew we wanted to do something splashy because we were right after the Oscars and he’s from Philly. So it’s like, could we buy this scenario happening?

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SCHUMACKER This was a serendipitous thing. People had been talking about that generally, not Janine, but like, if Quinta does a movie. There were vibes floating around in the ether about Kevin Hart [starring with her]. Obviously, we lean into the height thing. That’s the crux of the whole conspiracy or theory that they’re related.

HALPERN And he’s from Philly. Quinta always talks about how Philly, even though it’s a big city, it’s a small town, and I think if she feels like they’re within the Philly orbit and they make sense, then that’s great. We turn down a lot of people who want to be on the show who are famous when we can’t think of a way that they would actually come across Abbott Elementary.

SCHUMACKER The juice has to be worth the squeeze too, because when you do start to work with these movie stars, they obviously all have very busy schedules, so just to do the gymnastics — and mostly this is our line producer, Scott Sites, who’s taking care of all this stuff. He makes our lives so much easier by shouldering the lion’s share of the workload. But sometimes right up until a day before shooting, you’re like, “I hope this works out,” and that stress is so not worth it unless you’re getting somebody who, one, is credible like with Bradley and Kevin, but also somebody that also makes sense within the world of the show. Can you buy this very unlikely thing? Could it happen? Is there a possibility? And if you don’t have to do too many mental gymnastics about it, then we’re usually game.

It does feel like you upped the ante with the guest stars this season. Logistically, did it feel harder pulling these episodes off?

SCHUMACKER One hundred percent, yes.

HALPERN You might see less famous people in the show next year. I can’t say that for certain, but you might.

SCHUMACKER With the Bradley Cooper thing, he was right in the middle of doing all of the FYC campaigning for Maestro, so it literally was just a function of, where is he going to be? You have this tiny window, and, to his credit, once we had it all worked out when he was on set, he was there early. He stayed the whole time, and never left set. We were doing lighting setup, and he’s just observing the whole thing, kind of geeking out about all things filmmaking. I thought that was really, really cool and fun to see. I think he’s just a fan. And when I say fan, I don’t mean of Abbott specifically, although he does like the show. But he’s just a fan of storytelling and filmmaking. He took sort of a geek’s interest in how we do things on our show and he, himself is a very talented filmmaker. So it was cool to see that.

Speaking of fan fiction, people are looking for Mr. Johnson to have a love interest soon. I believe Halle Berry is his leading lady of choice.

HALPERN: If you talk to Stan for three minutes, you’re going to get him to throw out Halle Berry. I love Stan. There’s no romantic situation I wouldn’t put past Mr. Johnson. All I know is he’s got a lot of love to give.

Season three of Abbott was shorter due to the writers and actors strikes. How are you expecting season four to pan out?

HALPERN Hopefully we’ll have a longer runway and a longer episode order. When you get 22 episodes, you can have some of those smaller episodes that just focus on one character or one aspect of one character and just meditate on it and have fun with it and dig into it in a way. When you have less episodes, you kind of have to [hit it every time], like boom, boom, boom. We’re all looking forward to having a little space to maybe do some weird ones next season.

Abbott Elementary’s third season streams on Hulu.

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