A Love Letter to the City of Brotherly Love


“Abbot Elementary” shows the bright, lovable side of Philadelphia, a city famous for its belligerent reputation. (Courtesy of Instagram)

Whenever I mention the city of Philadelphia to anyone who is not from the city or connected to this metropolis in some way, I can almost guarantee the reaction it will elicit. Normally, this reaction falls along the lines of some sort of negative generalized comment about the city. The most common reaction is a simple, but effective “I hate Philly,” or another classic “Philadelphia fans are the worst.” However, what I also found is that many people will make these negative assessments about Philadelphia without ever having visited the city. This snap judgment is based solely on the stereotypes that remain prevalent in the discourse around Philadelphia. 

Now, is it a fair assessment to claim that Philadelphia fans tend to feel very passionately about their sports teams which may lead to an overzealous showing of support? Maybe. Is it fair to label Philadelphia as the worst simply due to its gritty exterior? No. 

Growing up, I would travel up to Philadelphia frequently to visit my family as both my parents were from the area and it was through these visits that I fell in love with the city. It is bursting with character, history and grit. The people I met were some of the friendliest, albeit a little gruff, but this tends to be characteristic of the demeanor of most northeastern cities. I hated that people had these misconceptions of what Philadelphia was like and wanted them to really understand the true nature of the city. 

This wish has come to fruition through the ABC television series “Abbott Elementary.” This show is set in a Philadelphia public school and focuses on a six person ensemble cast of teachers trying to help their students succeed. This show casts Philly in the positive light I always hoped would shine on this city. 

Other forms of media have tried to portray Philadelphia in varying ways. Who could forget the classic scene from “Rocky” where Sylvester Stallone ran up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps or Will Smith’s song “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” More recent portrayals of this beloved city include the show “Mare of Easttown” and the movie “Silver Linings Playbook.” While these last two examples include references to beloved Philadelphia institutions such as Wawa and the Eagles, “Abbott Elementary” stuck out in a different way for its representation of Philly. The love of this city is more in the details, in the everyday aspects that may go unnoticed but are what make the city so unique. 

The cast of characters is the first way the show achieves this positive portrayal. Quinta Brunson, the creator, showrunner and actress on the show, as well as a West Philadelphia native, has filled this mockumentary sitcom with character types easily found within the city of Philadelphia. 

One of my personal favorites is Melissa Schemmenti, played by Lisa-Ann Walter, whose character was born and raised in South Philadelphia, the Little Italy of Philly. For me, the South Philly influences coming out of Walter’s character is reminiscent of my own family’s South Philly roots. The rivalries over who makes the best Sunday gravy (aka red sauce), the bonds of familial loyalty and the causal utterance of the phrase “I know a guy” in an effort to save some cash. 

The inclusion of hallmarks of the city are also part of creating a real connection to the city through the show. These include events such as the Philadelphia Flower Show, a tailgate for an Eagles game in the school parking lot and even Gritty making a special guest appearance. Other inclusions specific to Philly are the displays of mural-art typically found on school walls in the city as well as many mentions of cheesesteaks. These aspects and many more are what brings the city of Philadelphia to life and makes the setting a foundational part of the show. To love the show and the characters is to love Philly. 

“Abbott Elementary” truly is a love letter to the city of Brotherly Love. It captures the grit and passion Philadelphians have for their city as well as the love and allegiance for their hometown. With the massive popularity the show has garnered as well as its sweep during awards season, perhaps now when I mention the city of Philadelphia, I’ll be met with the more positive response that this city has duly earned.