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The Rundown: ‘Abbott Elementary’ Might Fill The ‘Parks And Rec’-Shaped Hole In Your Life

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Listen to me

Maybe you, like me, have had a Parks and Recreation-shaped hole inside you for the past few years. A hole that can only be filled by another similar show, a feel-good endeavor about public servants trying hard to make things better in the face of slow-moving government and lunatic citizens and all of it. Maybe, like me, you are also a lifelong resident of Eastern Pennsylvania and get a little excited when anyone on the television references Philadelphia or Philadelphia-adjacent things. (Go Birds, etc. etc.) If so, or even if not, allow me to recommend ABC’s new sitcom Abbott Elementary.

The concept, in short: A new second-grade teacher (Quinta Brunson, creator and star) starts working at a Philadelphia public school and tries — sometimes successfully, sometimes less so — to make a difference in the lives of her students. There’s a love internet brewing with a substitute tester. There’s a crazy and mostly incompetent principal. There’s a South Philly Italian lady who knows a guy who knows a guy who can get you anything. There’s Sheryl Lee Ralph as a kindergarten teacher given it the full Sheryl Lee Ralph. There’s a ton of adorable kids. It’s a good start. We can build from here.

The execution is the key, though. It uses the same mockumentary format as shows like Parks and The Office and Modern Family to drive home the message and give the characters a chance to tell the audience their fears and dreams and motivations. There is heart here. It can be very sweet in places. And also very funny. And at one point, this happens, in a touching moment that I will not spoil and which I point out mostly so I can once again say “Go Birds.”

ABBOTT BIRDS
ABC

It’s been a little while since we had a fun, smart, good network sitcom that we can all wrap our arms around. We’ve had other options, for sure. There are so many shows so many places. Some of them have a network sitcom vibe, to one degree or another, even if they’re only available online from a website that sells you books and kitchen appliances or an app made by a company that makes computers and telephones. (Ted Lasso would fit in on a network if Roy cussed less, which is unacceptable and therefore a non-starter, but you get my point.) But even then, they’re freed from the constraints. They can blow past 22 minutes. They don’t have to write for commercial breaks. It’s not that one is easier or harder than the other, they’re just… different.

And it’s kind of cool to see someone take a swing at this again. At making a smart and fun network sitcom in 2022. In another universe, this show ends up on a streaming platform and dumps its whole season on a Thursday and gets bumped from the home page in a week or two by 300 new releases. That would be a bummer. Now, it’s rolling out once a week and building steam through word of mouth and articles like this one. That’s kind of cool. A little throwback. You can still go get caught up on Hulu, too, if you missed the first three episodes on ABC. Best of both worlds, really.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Reese… what are we doing here?

big-little-lies-reese.jpg
HBO

Social media is weird. I know that’s not some grand revelation or anything, but still. It’s true. And social media is weird in a bunch of different ways, too. It’s weird that we all sort of know a lot about some people we’ve never met in person. It’s weird that you can wake up and eat breakfast and then just tell, like, Martha Stewart what you had for breakfast. But mostly it’s weird because you can just be sitting around minding your business and then THWAP Reese Witherspoon is tweeting about crypto and NFTs.

I need you to do something here. I need to read that tweet out loud. Every word of it. “In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?” Okay, now read it a second time, this one just in your head, but in Reese Witherspoon’s voice. Give it the full Elle Woods. See what I mean about social media being weird?

It gets weirder, too. Turns out this wasn’t Reese’s first tumble into the world of crypto and/or NFTs. Turns out she has kind of a lot of opinions about them. Opinions like, for example, this one…

… and this one, too.

There are two equally important things going on here. The first is that this is very, very funny to me. I haven’t figured out exactly why yet. I think it’s that it’s Reese Witherspoon. I don’t know why but I would have had her way, way down the list of celebrities who are Way Into Crypto. It just doesn’t fit. Again, read these tweets in her voice and tell me I’m wrong. Maybe I am. But I don’t think so.

This brings us to the second thing, which is going to be a problem: I read this last tweet earlier this week and I don’t think I’ve gone more than an hour since without “REESE WITHERSPOON SAYS CRYPTO IS HERE TO STAY” shooting to the front of my brain unprompted. Like, sitting around, driving a car, trying to get back to sleep at 2 AM, pretty much any situation can be interrupted by this. If I can’t push it out soon, it could haunt me for years. This is just how my brain works. It’s all fun and games until you can’t remember your cousin’s name because Reese Witherspoon’s crypto takes are hogging up bandwidth in your noggin. “Hey, there… buddy. How is… your… school… or job?” Not ideal.

Luckily, for me, and less so for Reese, who had a real freaking whirlwind of a week on social media, this happened, too.

ina reese
INSTAGRAM

The takeaways here are as follows:

  • Social media, once again, is very weird
  • Crypto is here to stay
  • Ina Garten rules

This was a nice chat.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Oh, look, it’s things for Brian to watch

The first episode of Atlanta came out in September 2016. That is, to use the official term, so freaking long ago. Over five years. Think about where you were and what you were doing in September 2016. Obama was still president. The Philadelphia Eagles had not defeated the New England Patriots thanks in large part to a trick play called The Philly Special. Reese Witherspoon didn’t even know about crypto. It was a different time.

Anyway, since then, there have been a grand total of 21 episodes of Atlanta. None since 2018. That’s kind of crazy, right? I can’t think of another show in the same period that has permeated pop culture so deeply in so few repetitions. Think about the Teddy Perkins episode. Think about how that took over the world for a while. That’s why I’m so excited about this teaser. Atlanta is the rare show where almost literally anything can happen. Like, there’s almost no limit to what these new episodes could be. That’s a little thrilling. It’s good. I like it.

Speaking of things that are thrilling and that I bet I’ll probably like…

This is the trailer for the next Steven Soderbergh movie, Kimi, starring Zoe Kravitz. It looks cool, which should not be a surprise because Soderbergh has been making cool-looking stuff for decades. The Ocean’s movies are cool, Haywire is cool, Logan Lucky is cool, Out of Sight is cool. There’s a track record here. And the description is fascinating as heck.

An agoraphobic tech worker discovers recorded evidence of a violent crime but is met with resistance when she tries to report it. Seeking justice, she must now do the thing she fears the most: she must leave her apartment.

Zoe Kravitz seeking justice from a cruel and unkind world she is basically terrified of? Yeah, that’s a premise I can dig. Let’s go ahead and pencil this one in as mandatory viewing.

Let’s do one more. Let’s add this one, too.

This is delightful. I always appreciate when the entertainment industry works together to produce a slew of things best categorized as Stuff For Brian. It’s nice.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — This is exactly how you do casting

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Getty Image

The White Lotus was a good show. It took a bunch of attractive people and put them up in a luxurious Hawaiian resort and then made them just as miserable as all hell. It was almost like a magic trick, making the show so enjoyable while putting all of its characters through emotional chaos. The only real complaint I had about any of it was that it felt almost exactly like a show Aubrey Plaza would — should — be in, and yet, against truly staggering odds, she was not. At all. Not even a little. It was troubling to me.

Thankfully, finally, this historical wrong has been righted.

The six-part original series followed visitors vacationing at the White Lotus, an exclusive Hawaiian resort. The second installment — also written, to directed by and executive produced by White — will leave Hawaii behind for a new location and is expected to follow a different group of vacationers at another White Lotus property.

Plaza will play Harper Spiller, a woman on vacation with her husband and his friends. Imperioli plays Dominic Di Grasso, a man traveling with his elderly father and recent college-graduate son.

Harper Spiller. Aubrey Plaza in season two of The White Lotus as a character whose name is Harper Spiller. Something just feels cosmically correct about that, like the stars had been out of alignment but are now pulling themselves back into order. I don’t know if any of this will actually work, if the magic of the first go-round can be bottled and re-created a second time, but I do know that we appear to be off to a decent start.

That wasn’t even the only bit of borderline-perfect casting that was announced this week. There was also, well, this: Sharon Stone is going to play Kaley Cuoco’s mom in the next season of The Flight Attendant.

Stone will play Lisa Bowden, Cassie’s (Cuoco) estranged mother who would prefer to stay estranged. After a lifetime of dealing with Cassie’s alcoholism, she no longer has any patience or goodwill to spare.

The Flight Attendant was a blast in its first season. It was fizzy and fast and devious and, at one point, Cuoco’s character kicked her shoe at someone to try to evade them. Go watch it on HBO Max if you haven’t yet. It is a wonderful winter weekend binge-watch. Just make sure you finish in time for season two, because…

Season 2 finds Cassie Bowden living her best sober life in Los Angeles while moonlighting as a CIA asset in her spare time. But when an overseas assignment leads her to inadvertently witness a murder, she becomes entangled in another international intrigue.

I hate being entangled in international intrigue. I mean, honestly. Domestic intrigue? Yes, fine, sure. That’ll happen. We’ve all been to New Jersey. But international? No thank you. It does make for good television, though.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Hey, let’s check in with 9-1-1: Lonestar

911 low
FOX

Two things you need to know about the current season of 9-1-1 Lonestar, the Texas-based spinoff of the California-set show where Angela Bassett reacts to various calamities and on at least one occasion ask a teenage delinquent to hotwire a cement truck:

  • There was a massive ice storm
  • Rob Lowe looks like this now

Perfect. No notes.

But let’s talk emergencies. That’s why we’re here. To see what kind of wild stuff this sucker can get up to. Don’t let me down, buddy…

911ICE
FOX

To be clear, what we have here is:

  • An idiot on a snowboard being towed down a frozen Texas highway by one of his idiot friends
  • A chunk of ice breaking off of a passing truck
  • The chunk of ice damn near decapitating the snowboard idiot

Did they have to pack him with snow to prevent the ice from melting so he wouldn’t bleed out from his slashed throat? Friends, you know they did. Other stuff happened in the episode, too. Character stuff. Talk-y stuff, to be technical. But you’re not concerned about that. You want the action.

I have you covered here.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Amanda:

Need your thoughts on something — I have just started watching a small, little known TV program called Succession (I’m way late to this, I know, which feels like something I should never stop apologizing for) and I was wondering if you had ever given thought to which role you’d like to see played by former Olympic high-diver Jason Statham.

This is no slam on the existing cast, which is uniformly excellent. But I am aware of your long-held theory that nearly every piece of pop culture would be better with Jason Statham, and it got me thinking.

I believe the obvious call here is Logan, as it’s canon that Statham is good at swearing, but the more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to see His Statheness as Kendall.
The answer is simple — I want to see Jason Statham perform an improvised rap while wearing a baseball jersey. Also, I want to see him sing Billy Joel. I feel like either of those things would weirdly delight me.

I would also not be opposed to a storyline where Statham plays himself, after someone appointed him to be part of Colin’s security team.

This is a wonderful email. Just checks all the boxes. Statham and Succession and… hmm. Actually, it checks two boxes. But that’s all there was anyway. So… yeah, checks all the boxes. Look at that. We did it.

The answer here, from a purely chaotic standpoint, is that Statham should play Roman. Everything else remains exactly the same. The character is still a little weasel and turd and everyone makes fun of him, the dialogue and action are unchanged, but now, instead of Kieran Culkin slinking his way through the action, Jason Statham is striding around. Statham does his own voice, too. Think about this scene, again, exactly the same in every way, but with Jason Statham…

roman dick pic
hbo

I started picturing this moment after Amanda sent this email and I’ve only stopped briefly to think about a crypto-obsessed Reese Witherspoon.

Weird week.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Washington D.C.!

The Association for Dressings and Sauces’s decades-long battle to revoke the standards for French dressing has finally come to an end, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreeing to deregulate a label the group said “restricts innovation.”

Two notes:

  • I am absolutely ecstatic to learn there is an organization called “The Association for Dressings and Sauces”
  • We have a French dressing controversy

This changes everything.

The decision from the FDA revokes the so-called “standard of identity” on the books since 1950 that dictates what ingredients manufacturers must include in order to market their product as French dressing.

I like to picture one guy who was behind this and it’s been his life’s mission for decades. Like, for the past 30 years, he’s been working at the Association for Dressings and Sauces to lobby the FDA and just banging his head against the wall. I have this image in my head of him coming home and throwing his briefcase on the table and grumbling to his wife about the damn government bureaucrats and the French dressing lobbyists.

“How was your day, honey?” she says.

“Another defeat, Gladys,” he replies.

The group has since 1998 sought to eliminate the standard for French dressing, arguing that the “nonstandardized pourable dressing” world had seen an explosion in products to meet consumer preferences and that French dressing “no longer serves as a benchmark for other dressings because of the wide variation in composition to meet consumer interests.”

I am barely joking when I say that I want to see a feature-length film or maybe even a loosely-fictionalized limited series about the 24-year struggle to deregulate French dressing. Make a whole season of Fargo about it. I am joking even less as I keep typing. Greenlight this by Monday.

The rule noted that the proposal received just 20 comments, including some comments that “​​appeared to have been submitted as part of a university course assignment.”

“One comment said that the standard of identity for French dressing was ‘unnecessary red tape,’” the FDA noted.

God, I love this. Imagine being this passionate about salad dressing. Imagine you wake up and the first thing you think about, right after “turn off that damn alarm,” is something like, “these goddamn fat cats are stifling salad dressing innovation.” Imagine living that life.

The 1950 definition for French dressing wasn’t particularly specific, even noting that tomato-based ingredients were “permitted, but not required.” Low-fat varieties, however, were not meeting the standard that 35 percent of the product by weight must be vegetable oil.

I repeat: I need this television show. Cast David Harbour as the dressing warrior and Stephen Root as the person at the FDA who keeps thwarting him. I’ll watch every episode.

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