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In praise of Jacob’s big gay life on ‘Abbott Elementary’

Jacob (Chris Perfetti, right) with his then-boyfriend Zach (Larry Owens) on an episode of “Abbott Elementary.”Credit: Temma Hankin/ABC via Getty Images

Abbott Elementary,” one of the most popular television sitcoms in recent years, has been praised and honored for depicting the real challenges faced by teachers at a severely underfunded, predominantly Black public school in Philadelphia. Created by and starring Quinta Brunson, “Abbott” has tackled charter schools, student absenteeism, and staff shortages in its three seasons.

That the ABC mockumentary-style show pulls this off with more tartness than treacle is a credit to the show’s creative team in front of and behind the cameras.

I’ve watched the show since its first episode and have appreciated the variety of characters from Janine Teagues (Brunson), the unfailingly optimistic young teacher devoted to improving her students’ school experiences, to Ava Coleman (the scene-stealing Janelle James), a narcissistic and perpetually inappropriate principal who only got her job through blackmail. 


But this season, I’ve been paying more attention to another “Abbott” staffer: Jacob Hill, played by Chris Perfetti. 

Essentially a human Golden Retriever, Jacob is energetic, down for anything fun, and a little derpy. He’s also one of Abbott’s few white teachers in a school where most of the students, educators, and staffers are Black or people of color. Of course, that’s exactly why Jacob wants to be at Abbott. He quotes Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and “Brother” Cornel West. He rhapsodizes about his time in Zimbabwe with Teachers Without Borders. He would not only proudly describe himself as “woke” but would know — and exhaustively explain to anyone within earshot — the Black origins of the phrase “stay woke.”

Jacob is well-meaning, good-hearted, and more than a little annoying. Oh, and he’s also gay.

Traditionally, gay sitcom characters serve as sassy sidekicks to the straight leads. And while they may get the most memorable and meme-able lines in every episode, what they usually don’t get is an opportunity to be a fully drawn person. But that’s not the case with Jacob.


In a 2022 interview, Perfetti said Brunson wanted Jacob’s sexual identity to be part of his character but not the entirety of it. (You know, like most queer people.) Viewers mostly see Jacob interacting with his coworkers and students, but as the show has moved through its seasons we’ve also been treated to glimpses of the characters’ personal lives.

For Jacob, that means introducing his fellow teachers to his boyfriend, Zach (Larry Owens). To be clear, there was never an epic coming out moment for Jacob because he didn’t need one. He’s comfortable with who he is and so are his coworkers. In fact, the only static comes from Janine, who is upset to learn that Jacob already has a partner when she tries to set him up with one of her guy friends. 

Zach became a recurring character, and his messy breakup with Jacob evolved into a poignant and hilarious subplot. So did Jacob easing himself back into the uncertain waters of the dating pool. For a recent Mother’s Day episode, Jacob and Janine went to a “Mothered Day” drag brunch. The location was both a backdrop for other storylines — it didn’t have to be a drag brunch — and a normalization of the life of a young gay man in a big, vibrant city.

Of course, this comes as Republican-led states continue to target drag shows and generally make life as unpleasant as possible for LGBTQ people. But in so many ways, “Abbott” has been a respite because even in a climate of hate, our queer lives go on. Jacob isn’t a gay unicorn alone in a world with no one else like him. He has a big gay life that includes his queer and straight friends. In a manner both understated and underlined, Jacob is a welcome reflection of queer life in all its mundanity and quiet marvelousness.


This is an excerpt from Outtakes, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Renée Graham. Sign up to get this in your inbox a day early.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her @reneeygraham.