Good guest actors on sitcoms have an exceptional TV enchantment, and with Taraji P. Henson as Janine’s mother, Abbott Elementary keeps reviving nostalgia for old-school sitcoms. Even Henson’s initial on-screen appearance is a parody of a comedy character opening their door to a big star.
Before she charismatically enters Janine’s doorway in all her magnificence, we hear the sound of her heels clicking, tantalizingly anticipating our arrival. You can almost hear the studio audience cheering.
Henson portrays Vanetta, Janine’s enigmatic mother, who has been referenced frequently but with whom we haven’t yet witnessed any genuine relationship. Vanetta resembles a grown-up Philadelphia version of Baby Boy’s Yvette, with a dash of Empire’s Cookie Lyon.
She doesn’t reach an older Janine at all (not that we anticipated), and her floral-print leggings, cropped fur jacket, and acrylic nails are worlds apart from Janine’s style.
Ava and Vanetta have danced at the same tables at a club once. Upon formally meeting her, Ava immediately measures her up as someone worthy of her company (unlike Janine). In fact, in another reality, the two would probably be friends.
Vanetta even motivates Ava to learn a novel manipulation technique in just two simple steps, which she records in her voice notes: “Step one: Have a daughter. Step two: Play the long game.”
The day before a long weekend Janine intends to use for a little solo getaway to Ocean City, Maryland, Vanetta arrives at Abbott. She has enough money to reserve a room at a three-star hotel for some alone time and possibly a massage (20 minutes for a Swedish massage or 10 minutes for a deep-tissue massage).
Vanetta pays a surprise visit to the school before she can depart to enjoy her weekend. After a child addresses her as “Ms. Grandma Teagues” since she is “nobody’s granny,” Auntie Vanetta enters the classroom with confidence and coolness that Janine could never possess.
She brags about Janine being the best teacher in the world, even though she has never witnessed her daughter at work. Perplexed as to why she showed up, given that they haven’t spoken in six months, Janine observes her.
Vanetta’s appearance is soon explained when she says that her phone is about to be turned off because she exceeded her data plan, immediately slipping into the toxic roles hinted at when we’ve grown to know Janine.
Although she won’t ever say it, this seems to be one of the recurring themes in their interaction and the reason why she is seeing her daughter. Then, as she has had to do since she was a child, Janine plays the mother position and, without a doubt, is responsible for paying the phone bill.
Vanetta needs her phone, Janine says right away, which is unfortunate because her mother isn’t even using it to check on her daughter. Janine’s natural inclination is to resolve her mother’s issue because she has always cared for Vanetta to the point of harming herself.
She considers utilizing the funds from her single vacation to settle Vanetta’s phone company bill. They exhibit the typical codependent relationship symptoms: There are no limitations; Janine prioritizes Vanetta’s demands over her own; and Vanetta uses deception to create the impression that she deserves Janine’s assistance merely because her mother is her mother.
Vanetta knows that if she presents the issue to her daughter, she will probably get what she wants even though she never says the words or asks the questions. Instead, she skirts the subject while praising Janine and pretending as if she wouldn’t travel to see her for financial gain.
Then, she makes a point of taking a selfie with her kid, which she conveniently loses service while attempting to upload. The mother-daughter relationship is completely turned around, with Janine acting as the parent and Vanetta as the child.
I performed the same song and dance to beg my dad to give me money for groceries. Barbara can’t stomach the idea of Janine forgoing her vacation to care for her mother since she sees right through Vanetta.
She decides to intervene despite her better judgment because she can see how pleased Janine is that her mother is trying to see her. It’s cute and demonstrates Barbara’s love and concern for Janine, who I dare say is her professional daughter.
While robbing the teacher’s lounge, she speaks to Vanetta privately and attempts to be honest with her. To highlight what a beautiful and talented daughter Vanetta has, Barbara subtly notes how much Janine deserves this vacation and expresses concern that Janine will forgo it to assist her mother.
Although she would never ask Janine to do something like that, Vanetta takes offense to this and claims it is irrelevant. Barbara starts to offer to cover Vanetta’s phone bill when Janine enters the room. The development and maturity Barbara mentioned pay off as she finally establishes a boundary with her mother when she brings her to her classroom.
She doesn’t say outright refuse, but she does agree to work with the phone company to arrange a payment schedule and give her mother the funds for the first two payments; after that, she is on her own, and the remaining funds will go toward Janine’s trip.
The two hug it out, the wordless once more saying volumes despite the modest but significant advancement in their relationship. While Shanae, one of the lunch ladies, declines to provide Gregory with some nuts for his porridge, Gregory struggles with surface-level talks as he observes how his occasionally prickly demeanor leaves little possibility for a genuine relationship with his coworkers.
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Shanae and Jacob get along great, but Gregory’s awkward small-talk skills become uncomfortably apparent when he tries to schmooze his way into almonds. He doesn’t seem to care initially, but Melissa explains how far a little charm can go if he wants to be the principal.
To practice his humor, he asks the school nurse what she “feels about pollution” and if she has “any other opinions.” He eventually discovers a shared interest in sports that he is genuinely adept at conversing about, but it is suitably embarrassing.
Sports have always been regarded as a fantastic equalizer, and it works for him since he is naturally analytical; as a result, he eventually develops a bridge to connect with others. Gregory and Janine are drawn to one another by magnetism at the end of the day after learning so much about themselves and life.
The way they inevitably turn to each other for comfort shows the beginnings of the basis of a romantic connection. Even though we probably won’t see a full-fledged Janine/Gregory ship soon, seeing them develop is fun.