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‘Abbott Elementary’ is full of Philly references. Here’s a list of all of them.

From Jim Gardner to oldhead, we've collected every Philadelphia reference in the beloved ABC sitcom from West Philly's Quinta Brunson.

Quinta Brunson appears as second-grade teacher Janine Teagues in "Abbott Elementary," a mockumentary series she created and developed.
Quinta Brunson appears as second-grade teacher Janine Teagues in "Abbott Elementary," a mockumentary series she created and developed.Read moreGilles Mingasson/ABC

» Update: Abbott Elementary is back with season two. Here’s a new running list of Philly references.

We all know how TV shows and movies set or filmed in the Philly area usually go: a cheesesteak reference or two (looking at you, Brittany Runs a Marathon), some pandering to our love of the Birds (hi, Silver Linings Playbook), maybe a run up the Art Museum steps (sorry, In Her Shoes). A bunch of stuff happens in between, roll credits.

But ABC’s Abbott Elementary, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on 6ABC, isn’t the typical Philly show. It’s actually, you know, funny, and somehow intangibly more Philly than many projects that have come before it. The show follows a group of Philadelphia teachers at the eponymous (and drastically underfunded) Abbott Elementary in a The Office-style mockumentary.

As for its undeniable Philly-ness, that’s attributable to series creator Quinta Brunson — a native of West Philly who also writes, produces, and stars in the show. And, sure, she lives in Los Angeles now, but Brunson seems to eat, sleep, and breathe Philly. As she told The Inquirer last year, she once got so homesick for her hometown, which “has culture coming up through the cracks of the sidewalks,” that she threw a party to “replicate the Philly feeling I’d been missing.”

» READ MORE: There’s a new sitcom about Philly public schools. So we asked a city teacher to review it

That love for the city comes out strongly in Abbott, which Brunson said she wants to be the most Philly show next to Mare of Easttown. And the show, now at just about the midpoint of its first season, is kind of nailing it. Plus, it also features the first lady of Pennsylvania’s 7th Senatorial District herself, Sheryl Lee Ralph, as Jim Gardner-loving veteran teacher Barbara Howard.

With all that in mind, we decided to start a running list of all the Philly things to be seen in Abbott Elementary. We’ll keep it updated as episodes air, but here’s what to look out for:

Episode 1: “Pilot”

The show’s debut episode introduces the series from the perspective of a documentary crew doing a piece on teachers working at underfunded schools, and Abbott Elementary fits the bill. Among the most Philly moments in the episode:

  1. Janine (Brunson) laments underfunding at the school, saying that there’s no money in the district, but the city is “doing a multimillion-dollar renovation to the Eagles’ stadium down the street from here.”

  2. Janine’s coworker Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti), declines to get cheesesteaks (shamefully spelled “cheese steaks” in Hulu’s subtitles) from the corner store with her because the counter guy calls him “white boy.” A fellow teacher, Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) says that’s a term of endearment to someone like Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, but to someone like Jacob, it’s an insult.

  3. Melissa, an alarmingly South Philly Italian lady, asks the camera crew if they are Sicilian (they are not), Italian (also no), or from South Philly (still no). She suspects they are working with the police because they are none of those things.

  4. Janine had been searching for a new rug for her classroom, and ultimately ends up with an Eagles one from the stadium project thanks to — you guessed it — Melissa’s connections in construction.

Abbott Elementary

  • Airs 9 p.m. Tuesdays on 6ABC.

Episode 2: “Light Bulb”

This episode focuses on an electrical issue at the school, which has been causing partial power outages. And, considering there’s a heat wave in Philly that’s causing 90-degree temps in February (thanks, global warming), the kids and teachers need power to keep cool. But, frankly, it’s really all about an appearance from Jim Gardner, who kicks off the episode with a brief appearance on a school TV as Abbott’s teachers crowd around to watch:

  1. In one of the most Philly moves of all time, the episode opens with the Action News theme song.

  2. “We love Action News. We get in early just to watch it. It just calms you down after wanting to take a wrench to someone’s side mirror in traffic,” Melissa says. Truer words have never been spoken.

  1. Well, except for this take from another teacher, Barbara Howard (Ralph), on Gardner: “I’m a proud, married Christian woman, and I love my husband. But there’s something about that Jim Gardner.” She swoons over his “non-region diction,” and ability to order a burrito bowl at Chipotle “handsomely.”

  2. In trying to fix the school’s power issues, Janine messes with its fuse panel — but can’t make sense of it because all the switches are named after Boyz II Men songs like “End of the Road,” “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” and, of course, “Motownphilly.” This is important later.

  3. The power ultimately goes all the way out, and to keep the kids cool, staff members open up a fire hydrant for them to play in. Incidentally, that’s illegal in real life, which somehow makes it more endearingly Philly.

  4. Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), the school’s janitor returns to Abbott after a fishing trip and fixes the power. He’s the only one who can do it, because he’s the only one who knows the Boyz II Men code for the fuse panel, which somehow involves the lyrics from “I’ll Make Love to You” (this, Mr. Johnson says, is his “system”).

Episode 3: “Wishlist”

The series’ third episode deals with classroom wishlists that Abbott’s educators use to get supplies. Written by stand-up comedian Morgan Murphy, an Oregon native, this one isn’t overtly Philly like the first two installments (which Brunson wrote), but there is a kind of interesting parallel to real-life Philly schools.

Supply wishlists are a common in real life these days, with some 94% of U.S. educators paying for supplies for which they aren’t reimbursed. In the show, the teachers and principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James) use social media to promote their lists and try to get them fulfilled with online help.

But in reality, a Texas teacher named Courtney Jones started a “#clearthelists” hashtag on social media in 2019 for that exact purpose, and ended up getting donations from about 400,000 people, she told The Inquirer that year. At the time, an estimated 30,000 educators participated in the effort, and it ended up helping a number of local teachers get what they need to teach. Admittedly, though, Abbott’s take is a lot funnier.

Episode 4: “New Tech”

Abbott Elementary sees a new computer program instituted at the school that’s designed to help the kids learn reading skills. So, naturally, from a Philly perspective, this one focuses on the region’s vocabulary and history:

» READ MORE: ‘Abbott Elementary’ brings ‘jawn,’ ‘boul,’ and other Philly words to network TV | The Grammarian

  1. Janine teaches the kids “sight words” — or, words that kids can recognize without having to sound them out — which Philly has plenty of. To help, she teaches her students “Philly slang” words like jawn, ard (or “alright”), boul (alternate spelling bul, meaning boy, but there are a number of different spellings in reality), hoagie, oldhead, bid (essentially a funny person), and cheesesteak (which the captions spell correctly this time). Hearing a room full of kids saying these words together is peak civic pride.

  2. Jacob describes Melissa as a “Southern Philly type,” which is not how anyone refers to South Philly. Intimidated by Melissa’s reaction, Jacob calls South Philly “the best part of our beautiful city,” and says that he loves “how you guys will just, like, park anywhere.”

  3. Incidentally, Jacob is teaching a unit on Philly labor unions and how “many of them started in South Philly.” Melissa, who, as a Philadelphia Italian, has connections in that arena, and gets a former strike captain, Vinny (or, “The Tire Iron,” as he prefers to be called), to speak to his class. The kids unionize and go on strike, demanding that pop quizzes stop.

  4. Vinny, it turns out, is freshly free from prison, and needs to complete 100 hours of community service to have his record cleared. This episode aired two days before Bobby Henon resigned from City Council after being convicted of a slew of charges in a federal corruption trial alongside labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty.

  5. Melissa offers what could be seen as a great indictment of Philly transplants: “This is the problem I have with people like you. You want to romanticize this city, but you won’t acknowledge the truth. Like, you want to run up the Rocky steps, but you can’t take a punch in the face.”

  6. Even better, she later adds what is basically a more eloquent version of “no one likes us, we don’t care”: “You’re trying to sanitize this place and its history. It doesn’t need it. This is who we are — the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Episode 5: “Student Transfer”

Here, Janine gets a negative teacher review online and decides to redeem herself when a student, Courtney, gets transferred into her class from Melissa, who is a more experienced educator:

  1. Courtney, Ava says, may have been transferred because of a “Meek Mill-Drake feud” with one of her classmates.

  2. The transfer has Janine feeling like “the Allen Iverson of teachers,” which would make Melissa “that guy he stepped over once.” This is a reference to Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue, which happened more than 20 years ago but is still one of the most iconic moments in recent Philly NBA history.

  1. Melissa recognizes that fact, quipping back, “You mean three-time NBA champion Tyronn Lue?” The joke, of course, is that Iverson, while being one of the most celebrated NBA players in modern memory, finished his career without a single championship under his belt.

  2. Melissa’s cousin, Rocco, owns a hoagie shop that has so many negative reviews online that “you would think the man sold food poisoning.” But despite the bad reviews, he keeps selling sandwiches, which Melissa uses as inspiration for Janine, who has had her confidence as a teacher shaken: “You gotta keep making hoagies.”

Episode 6: “Gifted Program”

The school’s teachers start up a gifted program at Abbott after a new student, Malcolm, transfers from a school that had one. And while it starts off well, they begin to worry that the kids that aren’t in the program are feeling left out. Meanwhile, Melissa, a longtime divorcée, flirts with the idea of dating again:

  1. Barbara makes a Mehmet Oz reference, saying that he recommended something called a “foot facial” on The Dr. Oz Show. Melissa asked a local spa about it, and it turns out it’s actually just a pedicure. In real life, Oz currently is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, and his show was taken off the air in the Philadelphia area in December before it was ultimately canceled — so, it looks like we’re (thankfully) dealing with an alternate-universe Philly here.

  2. Melissa asks her crush, Gary (a vending machine stocker at the school), if he’d like to take her to dinner, and Gary suggests going out for “a night on the town” at Dave & Buster’s, like any good Philly boy. Melissa calls the place “a dump,” which, according to Yelp, is not untrue, and turns him down.

  3. Jacob kicks off the gifted program with a lesson on chickens and their reproductive systems that includes hatching eggs. Janine, charmed, says, “Aw, look at that. They’re seeing that chickens don’t just come from Crown Fried Chicken,” referencing the chain restaurant that’s all over Philly.

  4. Melissa has a capicola sandwich for lunch. This is a missed opportunity to call it a gabagool hoagie.

  5. Janine has Melissa get chicken eggs for kids not in the gifted program. As it turns out they’re actually snake eggs. When they hatch, a Philadelphia animal control officer says they’re an endangered species, and Janine lies and says she got them from “a pop-up shop on 52nd Street.”

  6. In an Amber Rose-style, “the-people-where-I’m from-aren’t-traditionally-attractive” move, Gary calls Melissa a “Philly 11.”

  7. Melissa gives Gary a second chance, and he suggests the much more reasonable dinner spot of Scannicchio’s on Broad and Porter. Unfortunately, it’s where Melissa’s ex proposed to her, so she turns him down but vows to find a place. Even if we were in that situation, we’d still go just for the clams casino (among the best in town, according to food critic Craig LaBan).

Episode 7: “Art Teacher”

Abbott Elementary’s volunteer art teacher is leaving the school, and being replaced with Janine’s college friend, Sahar — an artsy, manic pixie dream girl-type with big ideas for Melissa’s annual paper plate Peter Rabbit project. And, in a sub-plot, Barbara and Jacob take on a gardening project:

  1. Recognizing the less-than-adequate school lunches for the kids (thanks, budget cuts!), Jacob and Barbara start a community garden at the school to help grow vegetables to serve at lunch. In real life, a number of Philly schools have started community gardens, including William Cramp Elementary School, Tilden Middle School, and South Philadelphia High School. But, somehow, Jacob says he only knew about the idea because of schools in Kentucky.

  2. Sahar gets off to a rough start with Melissa by parking in what Melissa calls her “understood spot” at the school, despite the spots not being marked. Again, alarmingly South Philly, with this essentially being the teacher version of putting a cone out.

  3. Janine says that she and Sahar once went to a party at Philly rapper Tierra Whack’s house. It turns out that Janine actually just stood outside and listened to the music while Sahar partied.

  4. Substitute teacher Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams) grew up working for his dad’s landscaping company, and can’t stand to see Jacob and Barbara mess up the garden. The biggest mistake, Gregory says: “He was trying to plant a coconut in West Philadelphia in soil with a sub-6.3 pH.” Surprisingly, this gives us the first in-show confirmation of where in the Philly the school is located.

  5. Ava asks Janine and Sahar what they think of a pair of pants she is looking to buy. Janine says she likes them, but Ava responds “Not you, Carlton,” in reference to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We are surprised it took this long to get a Fresh Prince reference in.

  6. Melissa and Janine have their final falling out with Sahar over the Peter Rabbit project, with Melissa calling her a “wannabe Zoë Kravitz.” While not from Philly, Kravitz, daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet (who played Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show) famously fronted the NYC/Philly-based band Elevator Fight. Admittedly, that’s a bit of a stretch for a Philly reference — but, we’ll take it.

Episode 8: “Work Family”

Janine becomes upset when Jacob tells her they are “work friends,” so she sets out to help the teachers of Abbott Elementary become more like a family. Amid those attempts, she also begins doubting her relationship with her boyfriend Tariq (the only man she has ever dated, played by Zack Fox), who is performing at the school’s “Friends Against Drug Exposure” concert:

  1. Tariq suggests that he and Janine go to Coney Island for a vacation so that he can “get [his] Joe Chestnut on” at the hot dog joint Nathan’s Famous. While not a Philadelphian, professional eater Joey Chestnut did win three consecutive Wing Bowls from 2006 to 2008, so we’re counting it.

  2. To get the staff to bond and become a “work family,” Janine bribes them with food from the real life Philly restaurant Danny’s Wok — which, she says, “makes the best chicken in all of Philly. I don’t know what Danny puts in that chicken, but it woks.” Most recently, the restaurant went viral on Twitter in 2018 over a seemingly illogical price structure for its chicken wings that had folks creating full-on spreadsheets and algorithms to find the best deal.

  3. Frustrated that Janine won’t give her any Danny’s Wok until she tells a secret (“if you want the Wok, you gotta talk,” Janine says), Barbara refers to her as Sister Sledge. Best known for their 1979 hit “We Are Family” (get it?), Sister Sledge got their start at Williams Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Southwest Philly, and all four members — sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy — graduated from Temple University.

  4. Ava decides to share the secret that she once impersonated singer Jill Scott, a Philly native, at Xfinity Live! to get free bottle service. Janine notes that Ava looks nothing like Jill Scott (true), but as Ava says, “to white people in South Philly I do” (also true, probably).

  5. As Tariq gets ready to perform at the school’s concert, he asks a student to get him some Tastykakes. He doesn’t mention what kind, but he seems like a Kandy Kakes guy to us.

Episode 9: “Step Class”

Janine begins hosting an after-school step-dancing class for the kids, and plans to lead them in a performance — until Ava (the step-master of her college sorority) butts in and takes over. Meanwhile, Barbara, Melissa, and Jacob debate who has the best Pizza in Philly, and are horrified that Greg doesn’t like pizza at all:

  1. The Abbott teachers begin naming their favorite Philly pizza joints, none of which actually exist (which is weird, considering there have been a few references to real Philly restaurants in past episodes). Melissa’s, though, is Dough Nuts, which makes their pizza “in an oven blessed by Pope John Paul II,” who famously visited Philly in Oct. 1979. The only other pope to visit the city? Pope Francis, who stopped by in Sept. 2015.

  2. What is Philly-style pizza, anyway? According to Melissa, it comes down to five things: “Crust, sauce, cheese, maybe some toppings, and the last thing — it’s made in Philadelphia.”

  3. Ava claims to have dated Sixers great Allen Iverson, but they didn’t stay together long: “He might have been the Answer, but he was not the one,” she says.

  4. Ultimately, Ava has to bail on the step-dance performance, and Janine confronts her outside, thinking she is “waiting for an Uber Black to take you to an Uzi Vert concert” (yes, she dropped the “Lil”). Ava says that’s impossible because “that man don’t come out during the daytime.”

  5. Finally, Janine and Ava reconcile their differences and lead the kids’ show, which goes well. Barbara, surprised, compliments Janine, saying. “and they say UPenn students can’t step.” Janine, like all of us, responds, “Wait, who says that?”

Episode 10: “Open House”

After returning from a three-week break (and a renewal for a second season), Abbott has the school’s staff holding an open house night. Janine, Type A as ever, prepares for a meeting with the parent of a struggling child in her class — but Melissa, knowing that almost no one will show up, orders food and preps for a poker game with janitor Mr. Johnson and Jacob. Barbara, also anticipating a slow night, hosts her daughter, Taylor, who is visiting from New York:

  1. Taylor offers to take Barbara to dinner, but Barbara insists she’ll do the taking, and asks where they should go. Janine butts in and recommends Burrata, the Italian BYOB spot at 13th and Wharton in South Philly. Tariq, she says, has long been promising to take her there “when he signs a record deal,” but hasn’t ever been offered one, so she’s holding off on making a reservation.

  2. Barbara presses Taylor on why she’s in town, and it turns out she’s a rep for a high-end alcohol company. It turns out that the company recently signed a deal with the Sixers where if they win the NBA finals, “they’re going to pour our spirits on themselves.” They don’t mention the alcohol company’s name, but last year, Hennessy became the team’s official spirit.

  3. Taylor and Barbara get into an argument because Barbara wanted her to be a teacher. Janine, trying to cool the situation down, offers to make a reservation for three at Burrata — or just two, if Taylor doesn’t want to go.

  4. Gregory, who has been dejected over not getting a job as principal at the school (because Ava blackmailed the superintendent, but that’s a different story), cheers up after he secures a date with Taylor. They decide to go to, you guessed it, Burrata.

Episode 11: “Desking”

The kids at Abbott have been unusually friendly and well-behaved because they don’t want the teachers to find out about their participation in a viral trend called “desking,” in which they jump from desk to desk in the classrooms. Janine, Jacob, and the rest of the gang decide they have to put a stop to it:

  1. Jacob relays a story about chastising his neighbor for calling 311 “on a native tree” to have it removed, and says that “the number for 311 isn’t even 311,” which is technically true, but not always (if you’re calling from outside the city, you should dial 215-686-8686). Incidentally, 311 isn’t used just in Philly, and can be dialed for non-emergencies in several major cities throughout the country.

  2. Jacob introduces his boyfriend, Zach, to the crew, and says that the pair “came in third at trivia night last week over at Oscar’s — you know, down by Rittenhouse,” which has been called the best dive bar in the city (by us, we called it that). Oscar’s Tavern, though, doesn’t do “trivia nights,” and in Philly, that’s called quizzo. So, while local slang words like jawn, boul, and bid are in the show, “quizzo” is a bridge too far.

  3. After being questioned about desking and not cracking, student Stefon tells Melissa, “It’s out of your control, oldhead.”

  4. Mr. Johnson recruits Gregory for a stakeout to find the deskers, and Gregory doesn’t want to do it. In response, Mr. Johnson asks, “Who’s going to watch all the crime stuff while the other one eats a hoagie?” We are certain that some Philly detective — or private investigator — has said this in real life at least once at a minimum.

  5. Janine narcs on the kids to the school district, and the district has all the teachers remove the desks from their classrooms because “they don’t want to be sued if some kid slips and falls on a desk.” A fellow teacher, Ally, asks, “What idiot thought the school district was going to help?” In real life, not even the school district thinks that.

  6. After the teachers move their desks into the gym for safekeeping, Jacob decides that as the school’s lamest teacher, he will desk all of them to make desking seem uncool. A video of his effort surfaces, and one student says, “Yo, some white boul desked the gym!” When they realize it was him, desking is dead — forever.

Episode 12: “Ava vs. Superintendent”

In this episode Ava is scheduled to give a presentation to the school board to secure discretionary funding for Abbott Elementary — and if she’s not successful, popular programs and classes, like Ms. Davis’ music class, could be cut. Being Ava, she’s not equipped to give a serious budgetary presentation, so Janine and Gregory coach her through it, while Melissa and Barbara consider blackmailing an unsavory member of Barbara’s church to get a grant:

  1. All the students love Ms. Davis’ music class, and Jacob says the only way the teacher could be cooler was if she was “related to Angela,” in a reference to activist Angela Davis. While not a Philadelphian, Davis did speak at the Occupy Philadelphia assembly in 2011, and has given a number of lectures at the University of Pennsylvania over the years, so we’re counting it.

  2. Barbara encourages the teachers to enjoy their free periods while they can, because with the funding meeting coming up, the music class “will be going ‘Bye Bye Bye’ like Blackstreet Boyz II Men.” Janine points out that Barbara’s jumbled pop culture reference — a combo of N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Boyz II Men — is “wrong in, like, three ways.”

  3. Melissa wants Barbara to blackmail a woman at her church who has been skimming money to secure a grant for Abbott. Barbara say she is “not used to playing in the mud,” and leaves that to people like Melissa. Offended, Melissa goes to Barbara’s classroom and takes back the Eagles rug that she got through her construction connections earlier in the season.

  4. The episode revolves around school funding, and arrives just a couple weeks after the Philadelphia school board approved a $3.9 billion spending plan, resulting in immediate backlash from educators who said their schools will see significant cuts in 2022-23. As part of the plan, schools considered “on track” will get discretionary funds to spend as the see fit.

  5. Predictably, Ava’s presentation goes badly, but she tries to rally by noting that “discretionary funds can be used to nurture students artistically so they can grow up and do that graffiti that bougie people don’t get mad at.” The superintendent correctly guesses she’s referring to murals. Philly is home to 3,600 murals, and is sometimes called the “City of Murals,” so, again, this one counts.

Episode 13: “Zoo Balloon”

In the season finale of Abbott Elementary, the whole gang heads to one of the city’s classic field trip destinations: the Philadelphia Zoo. And in the episode’s subplot, Janine’s boyfriend Tariq gets a break in his rap career that would require him — and therefore, Janine — to move to New York. Janine, though, isn’t so sure she’s ready to leave Abbott, or Philly:

  1. Barbara’s daughter, Taylor, returns as a chaperone on the field trip, and Barbara introduces her to the kids, saying that Taylor lives in New York City. Literally everyone boos, but no one louder than South Philly’s own Melissa Schemmenti. She realizes she overreacted, and apologizes, saying, “Sorry, I heard people booing New York, and my instinct just kicked in.” We all felt that.

  2. Upon arriving at the zoo, Melissa immediately begins searching for a soft pretzel, telling the kids that it’s a game called “How many animals do you spot on the way to getting Ms. Schemmenti a hot pretzel?”

  3. At the time of the field trip, the zoo’s big exhibit is “Big Time: Life In an Endangerous Age,” which focuses on dinosaurs. In real life, that exhibit ran from March to October last year, giving us a little insight on Abbott Elementary’s timeframe.

  4. While not strictly Philly, Hershey Park gets a reference. A student, Kenny, gets lost at the zoo, and Barbara relates a student incident she was involved in: “The worst was 2005. A child by the name of August got lost in the Hershey factory looking for a chocolate river.” Incidentally, this is also, for some reason, a reference to the 2005 remake of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

  5. Janine finds Kenny hiding in the famous Zoo Balloon, and the pair accidentally get stuck on it for a ride. During the ride, we can hear the guide shouting out random Philadelphia landmarks, such as the William Penn statue on top of City Hall, and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. But, sadly, as any regular zoo-goer knows, the Zoo Balloon is no more — it was replaced with another attraction, the WildWorks Rope Course, in 2019.

  6. As everyone watches Janine and Kenny up in the balloon, Melissa eats a water ice, which she got while everyone was looking for Kenny.

  7. When Janine and Kenny finally come down, Melissa comforts Janine by giving her a soft pretzel. Janine is confused by this. But we get it.

  8. Ultimately — and spoiler alert here, folks — Janine, in one of the most Philly moves of the series so far, breaks up with Tariq because she doesn’t want to move to New York. So, it looks like season two of the show is staying local.