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Abbott Elementary has TV's best slow-burn romance

Let's hear it for Janine and Gregory's wholesome, alluring will-they-won't-they romance

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Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams in Abbott Elementary
Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams in Abbott Elementary
Photo: Giles Mignasson/ABC

If you watched the Abbott Elementary Valentine’s Day episode last week and screamed at your screen, “Janine and Gregory, you fools, you belong together,” you aren’t alone. Less than two seasons into its run, ABC’s mockumentary sitcom has mastered the art of the tantalizing, slow-burn TV romance. The credit goes to series creator and star Quinta Brunson, her expert writing team, and, of course, Brunson’s potent onscreen chemistry with co-star Tyler James Williams.

Brunson and Williams play Philadelphia public school teachers harboring a crush on each other. Their feelings surface after a bathroom meet-cute in the pilot—Gregory has a student’s pee on his hands, and Janine helps clean up the mess ... you know how it goes. “Yeah, that was disgusting, but she seems nice,” Gregory tells the camera, igniting a will they/won’t they romance that continues to build halfway through season two. That slow but steady pace allows viewers to become invested in the relationship’s outcome, as it has with other iconic TV comedy couples, including A Different World’s Dwayne and Whitley, Cheers’ Sam and Diane, The Office’s Jim and Pam, Superstore’s Jonah and Amy, and Our Flag Means Death’s Stede and Blackbeard.

There’s no rush to pair Janine and Gregory, and that’s the best part. As we know from rom-com history, the anticipation is exciting. Brunson has said she doesn’t know if Janine and Gregory will even end up as a couple (I’ll sue her for emotional damage if they don’t), which tracks with what Brunson told The A.V. Club last year, saying “Janine and Greg’s journey will be different than what we’ve seen before. That’s what we planned out.” Another element that sets this pair apart from other romantic TV duos is that they’re a rare Black couple on network TV.

The Evolution of Janine and Gregory from Abbott Elementary Season 1

Brunson and Williams’ characters excel at the lingering looks and subtle gestures that cement the friends-to-lovers trope. Janine and Gregory don’t know what to do with their unexpected emotions in season one: She’s committed to a long-time boyfriend and he’s barely enjoying teaching when they’re introduced. They’ve got a lot of maturing to do individually as they’re getting to know each other as pals. Brunson told The A.V. Club something similar: “They have a will they/won’t they with their jobs right now.” Janine, as we know, has made her teaching gig her entire personality.


However, by this point in the show’s run, both have shown major signs of growth (although there’s still a way to go). Gregory has come around to loving his job, while Janine is exploring romance elsewhere after finally breaking up with Tariq (Zack Fox) in the season one finale. So isn’t this the perfect time to make some strides in their romantic evolution? Brunson seems to think so. The “Holiday Hookah” episode, which aired on December 7, forced Janine and Gregory to interact in close quarters outside their comfort zone. And I mean close.

They bump into each other during a night out with friends. As the only two awkward clubgoers, they decide to be “normal” and sensually grind dance it out. If nothing else, the episode establishes that they’re not just wholesome, like the other sitcom relationships mentioned above. They’re also pretty damn sexy together. The show gives us the tiniest glimpse of their potential steaminess. Gregory holding Janine by the waist as they slow dance leaves you wanting more (especially as Janelle James’ Ava hilariously interrupts their moment). So, yes, a tip of the hat to you, Abbott Elementary.

“Not my work husband grinding on my work nemesis” Gregory & Janine S02E10 [6/7] | Abbott Elementary

Season two’s “Valentine’s Day,” which aired February 8, expands this narrative. For starters, the holiday-themed half-hour proves how mismatched Janine and Gregory are with their current partners. He gifts his girlfriend Amber (Naté Jones) a Lego bouquet because she’s allergic to flowers. To no one’s surprise, she hates it. That’s because Gregory accidentally bought the perfect present for Janine, who approves of his thoughtful idea. If only her own beau, Maurice (Vince Staples), had taken the same approach. Instead, he gave her a silver Telfar bag. Now, you only need to see a few minutes of Abbott to grasp Janine’s fashion choices—that bag is not long for this world in her care.

If these details seem ridiculous to fixate on, think back to Jim and Pam’s Christmas teapot exchange in season two of The Office. It’s these seemingly inconsequential elements that add up to a meaningful will they/won’t they. Abbott Elementary’s “Valentine’s Day” episode begins with Janine learning from Jacob (Chris Perfetti) that Gregory might be crushing on her. It ends with her assuming he isn’t because, hello, look how considerate he is towards Amber (in Janine’s view, if Gregory actually knew his girlfriend, he’d buy her a Telfar bag instead).

Any hope of Janine and Gregory getting together may be squashed for now. And the show’s upcoming episodes, including this week’s “The Fire,” focus on their bond as friends (with undeniable attraction still simmering underneath, of course). They team up to help a coworker and connect over similarities in a later installment. No one’s fluttering over first kisses yet, but that’s okay. Their secret classroom wall knock will tide us over as Abbott Elementary delivers one of TV’s most charming ongoing slow-burn romances.