Emmy spotlight: Chris Perfetti (‘Abbott Elementary’) is at the head of the class in season 2

In October 2022 my colleague Ray Richmond called “Abbott Elementary,” “perhaps the finest comedy on the small screen, period.” As the second season of the Emmy-winning series winds down, it’s clear that Chris Perfetti has become an essential reason for the show’s critical and ratings success. His performance as naive and overly enthusiastic history teacher Jacob Hill will hopefully earn a gold star from Emmy voters.

As one of the few white teachers in a predominantly Black school, Jacob can be a little much. He’s eager, nosy and occasionally goes overboard to make his presence known. He works hard –sometimes too hard — to make sure that his students and colleagues like him, which has led more than a few of the show’s now famous side-eyes directed to the camera.

Jacob is something of an oddball, a trait that bonds him with Janine (series creator and star Quinta Brunson), and watching their friendship develop this season has been one of the joys of the series. Almost more delightful has been watching Jacob’s repeated attempts to forge a lasting friendship with fellow teacher Gregory (Emmy nominee Tyler James Williams), and Jacob’s determined refusal to take no for an answer. 

It would be easy to look at a character like Jacob as nothing more than a comic oddball. But Perfetti imbues the character with an inherent goodness that makes even the most cringe-inducing situations endearing. Jacob is also surprisingly intuitive, often being the first to notice when another character is struggling or needs someone to talk to. 

This second season has also given the character a chance to mature, and Perfetti a chance to shine. In the season’s third episode, “Story Samurai,” the title improv troupe comes to the school. Most of the students and teachers find them corny, but Jacob, a former member of the troupe, is thrilled at the thought of performing with them. Janine tries to talk Jacob out of it for fear of him being ridiculed. It’s during this conversation that Jacob realizes that he is, in fact, corny, and though he is upset at first, he ultimately decides to embrace it.

This episode is one of those textbook Emmy submissions. Perfetti conveys all of Jacob’s usual quirks with aplomb, but there are also moments of introspection and real growth. Jacob realizes that yes, he can be a bit much. But he learns that he deserves to be accepted for exactly who he is, and the rest of the staff grows to embrace him as well.

It won’t be easy for Perfetti to break into an already crowded Best Comedy Supporting Actor category at the Emmys. Many of last year’s nominees from Emmy faves “Ted Lasso” and “Barry” are likely to return. However, if Emmy voters are paying attention, they will find room for Perfetti on the honor roll.

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