Tyler James Williams on Janine-Gregory Relationship

After three years, the will-they-won’t-they couple of “Abbott Elementary” have gotten as close as ever to finally getting together. Season 3 saw Janine (series creator Quinta Brunson) temporarily step away from Abbott to work at the school district, a career move that gave her the self-confidence she needed to think more seriously about her love life, while the time apart reminded Gregory (Tyler James Williams) why he started falling for her in the first place.

As in seasons past, those feelings came to a head during “Abbott Elementary’s” annual field trip episode, this year titled “Smith Playground” and shot on a replica of a historic park in Philadelphia.

Seasons 1 and 2 featured field trip episodes set at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Franklin Institute science museum, the latter of which was shot partially on location in Philly. But during Season 3, multiple locales brainstormed by the show writers got scrapped for budgetary reasons. So they pivoted to something more “reflective of what goes on” at an under-resourced public school, says writer Brian Rubenstein. The financial constraints became a part of the script, with Jacob (Chris Perfetti) having the idea to visit the free Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse upon hearing that the school couldn’t fund something more grandiose. “We talked about how all the money was gone for the year,” Rubenstein says, “and when you think about it, kids just want to be outside and play.”


That fit well into the real park’s ethos: “We are committed to ensuring that all children — regardless of their race, family income or neighborhood — can become happier, healthier and smarter through play, and that’s why it’s important that we keep admission free,” says Frances D. Hoover, the park’s executive director. “We want all children to access Smith like it’s their very own backyard.”

Much of “Smith Playground,” during which the Abbott teachers end up in a relay race with their rival teachers at Liberty Elementary, was shot at Shane’s Inspiration, part of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Relying on that preexisting structure allowed production designer Michael Whetstone to focus on the re-creation of Smith’s most unique feature — and it was a doozy: “Where do we build a massive, 60-foot-long wooden slide on a hillside?”

Whetstone got in touch with Smith with the help of a Philadelphia-based prop master, who had worked on last year’s Franklin Institute episode, and learned that 2024 marks Smith’s 125th anniversary. Hoover and her team were eager to celebrate on screen, likening the “Abbott Elementary” shoutout to “being inducted into the Philadelphia Hall of Fame.”

Through those conversations, “we found out that the real slide was built in 1905 and the redone in 2005, and [we] got the blueprints from that rebuild. That’s how the design process started,” says Whetstone, who notes that it was Brunson’s idea to build the slide at the lagoon on the Warner Bros. backlot. “The key to the slide is getting some speed,” he adds, explaining that the real slide has a 10- to 11-foot drop, requiring the “Abbott” team to build a platform heightening the drained lagoon. “We have a lot of kids on the slide, so we started by hiring an engineer to keep it safe. Then the fun stuff came in: picking the flooring. It’s basically a bowling alley, that thing is so slick.”

And students weren’t the only ones speeding down the slide. Gregory and Janine pair up for several activities throughout the day, bonding in a way we haven’t seen them do since Season 2, before they admitted they had feelings for each other.

“They have a routine at school,” Williams says. “So when you put them in the wild, something’s always going to go left, which is a great device to show how well they handle things together and how good of a time they can have.”

“It’s almost a hangout episode,” adds Rubenstein. “They’re enjoying this day together, and he’s going to tell her how he feels. He’s looking for that right time, and they’re having these moments — and then it just keeps getting interrupted, keeps getting interrupted, keeps getting interrupted.”


At one point, Gregory gets derailed by accidentally seeing a text on Janine’s phone from her attractive friend Manny (Josh Segarra). At another, their students show up to remind them they’ve been hogging the swing set. Finally, they take a break from the noise of the field trip to go down the slide together, and at the bottom, there’s a palpable mood shift. These are characters normally seen on their feet and tending to children, and all of a sudden, they’re giggling and inadvertently lying down together at the end of a 10-foot drop.

“I always feel completely different whenever Gregory doesn’t have dress shoes on,” Williams says about the change in physicality. “He’s on the playground in sneakers. He’s walking around on foam ground in jeans. There’s something so relaxed about it, compared to his work uniform, that informs the conversation.”

There’s a level of mutual intent and maturity that wasn’t there the last time they talked about their relationship, and Gregory starts to reopen the conversation when Ava (Janelle James) finds them and angrily asks what’s going on. When she realizes that the nearby Mr. Morton (Jerry Minor) just ended a phone call with his estranged ex-wife, she forces Janine and Gregory to hear about his dashed marriage to a fellow teacher, whose 24/7 presence in his work and home life drove him mad. “Now, I have several ulcers, all because I dated a co-worker,” he says. Needless to say, the moment is ruined.

“There was something funny about having Morton involved for almost no reason — him having that experience is a real dose of reality,” Rubenstein says. “It really could go south. Just because Morton’s this wacky guy, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”

Williams elaborates on Ava’s role in the matter. The principal isn’t known for her wisdom, but that’s actually what scares Gregory. “Janine and Gregory are messy but don’t want to admit it; Ava has fully embraced the messy in her life,” he explains. “She understands that about herself, loves that about herself. It’s been difficult for her to watch Janine and Gregory being messy while attempting to be professional at the same time. This is a ‘Scared Straight’ moment. ‘Think about what you’re about to do. [Ava] is able to ruin a job and then go scam her way into another job. Can you do that?’ It takes somebody who’s really about that life to remind you what you have to lose here. Who would know the consequences of their actions better than Ava?”

As Gregory admits in a camera crew confessional, he hadn’t considered that dating Janine could possibly someday lead him to resent her. He’s already seen their flirtation change his behavior, like in the Season 3 episode “Double Date” when Gregory publicly panics upon seeing Janine at a bar with Manny.

“Gregory’s getting dirtier, and I like that. Jealousy pops up,” he says. “His feelings for Janine compromise him in ways that aren’t always flattering. I understand everybody wants them to get together, but I’m not sure it’s gonna go as well as people think.”


That’s a nerve-wracking prediction in light of the following episode. Season 3 closes with Gregory throwing caution to the wind and pulling Janine into a long, passionate kiss. It’s a beautiful moment, but it happens at Janine’s apartment, and as Williams points out, the fact that they’re typically surrounded by children adds another layer to their already precarious workplace romance.

“Because they are messy, I want to know that if something messes up and they have to walk away from it, will they still be friends?” he says. “That’s vital to their work relationship.”

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