‘Abbott Elementary’ Star Chris Perfetti on Delving Into Jacob’s Backstory

Chris Perfetti, Abbott Elementary

We all have a past — and in Wednesday’s installment of the A+ comedy Abbott Elementary (which won two Emmy awards last month), we find out what makes easily rattled history teacher Jacob Hill (Chris Perfetti) tick when a group called “The Story Samurais” arrives. Brought in to entertain the Philadelphia school’s student body, the Samurais are a traveling troupe that improvises plays based on the kids’ ideas. They also hold a special place in Jacob’s heart, since it’s revealed early in the episode that he is, as Perfetti explains, “a revered alum.”

However, since “most things Jacob is [excited] about are duds,” both Abbott’s students and Jacob’s colleagues are unimpressed by the prospect of the group visiting. Needless to say, the sensitive Jacob takes the disdain personally and seeks out emotional support from his fellow educator, the optimistic Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson, also the show’s creator).

“With the other teachers, their instinct is to either shut down or put up with Jacob, so Janine is really his go-to,” Perfetti says, adding that the episode offers a deeper look into his “corny” character, as the actor affectionately describes him. “We realize why he is that way,” he continues. “There’s a bit of catharsis and recognition for him [by episode’s end] that will blow open a whole world of possibility.”

Jacob isn’t the only instructor shaken up on this week’s episode: Typically tough Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) is stuck in uncomfortable territory when she’s suddenly teaching a combined second- and third-grade class. At least the Abbott children confine their troublemaking to when cameras are rolling—behind the scenes, they’re a grounding force.

“Being surrounded by sometimes hundreds of rambunctious kids can either work in your favor or against you,” Perfetti says with a laugh. “I can be nervous about what I’m doing, but then a kid comes up to you and says they were supposed to have a line [in the show], which they absolutely are lying about. It’s adorable nonetheless.” Sounds like every student deserves a gold star this week!

Watch the interview with Perfetti above.

Abbott Elementary, Wednesdays, 9/8c, ABC