Josh Segarra Is the Ultimate TV Show Sweetener

‘Abbott Elementary’ is just the latest series to be buoyed by his charms
Josh Segarra Is the Ultimate TV Show Sweetener

It’s been pretty clear since we met them in the series premiere that Abbott Elementary teachers Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) share a lot of qualities that would make them a good romantic match. They’ve also had a lot of reasons not to pursue their mutual attraction, which both elucidated in the Season Two finale last summer. When the show returned for its strike-delayed third season last week, the stars were, once again, misaligned. When the two reunited after spending the summer in different cities, Janine thought maybe now she would be interested in dating Gregory. But Gregory has spent their separation getting over her; it’s consistent with what we know about his character that, once he’d mentally closed that door, he wouldn’t consider opening it up again. 

Regardless of what Gregory says, however, the documentarians filming him do catch shots of him looking warily at Manny, a new staffer from the school district who’s interested in getting to know Janine better — on a professional level, for now, but there’s no reason to think that’s where things have to remain. If Abbott’s producers have a longer-term plan for Gregory and Janine, and other partners are going to cycle in before it comes to fruition, we need to believe another guy Janine might notice is potentially on Gregory’s level. And since Manny is played by Josh Segarra, I do.

A Tisch graduate and headlining Broadway veteran, Segarra’s dozens of screen roles have displayed his impressive range — even, if you can believe it, some true bastards, like sadistic prison guard Stefanovic in the last two seasons of Orange Is the New Black, and supervillain Adrian Chase/Prometheus in several seasons of Arrow

But chances are that if you know Segarra’s name, it’s from his many recent comedic roles. Since I was out of the target audience for Segarra’s 52-episode run on The Electric Company starting in 2009, I first became aware of him on USA’s Sirens. While the show focuses on a trio of Chicago EMTs — seasoned pros Johnny (Michael Mosley) and Hank (Kevin Daniels) and the rookie, Kevin Bigley’s Brian, that they’re trying to train — Johnny’s on-and-off ex Theresa (Jessica McNamee) is also in the picture, since she’s a cop and the emergencies they respond to frequently cause her and Johnny to cross paths. Theresa’s partner on the job is Billy (Segarra), a goofy golden retriever of a man. While we all know ACAB, that would not be the rule if All Cops Were Billy.

There are differences between Billy and Lance, the character Segarra would originate a few years later on The Other Two. Initially on Comedy Central (after which its second season moved to HBO Max… and then its third to just Max), The Other Two starts with a breakout online pop hit for adorable Ohio teen Chase Dreams (Case Walker), then explores how his fame changes the lives of his twentysomething siblings Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver), who have yet to get their lives off the ground in New York. Brooke is basically homeless as the series begins, but she still thinks she’s too good for Lance, whom she’s dumped, but who still comes to a family dinner when Chase and the kids’ mother Pat (Molly Shannon) come to town.

While being screamingly funny and impressively joke-dense, the show also has a lot to say about show business, fame, social media and professional burnout. Among its many kinds of love stories is that of Brooke and Lance. Yorke and Segarra have incredible chemistry: They’re adorable individually, and as scene partners, her manic energy is complemented beautifully by his cheerful mellowness. After the two spend the first two seasons mostly failing to connect, the third revolves in part around the producers brilliant choice to have Lance abandon his successful career in fashion design to serve his fellow New Yorkers during COVID by becoming a registered nurse. So while Brooke has spent a lot of time pushing Lance away from a belief that he isn’t good enough for her, his taking on this vocation convinces her that she isn’t good enough for him, and her multiple meltdowns over it take the season to some of its most memorable moments. It’s probably for the best that the show ended when it did, but part of me would have loved to see Segarra and Yorke playing Lance and Brooke until one of the three of us died.

A few months after saying goodbye to Lance, however, we get to welcome Abbott Elementary’s Manny. He and Janine meet at a professional development day. Even though Janine gives an interview to the documentary team claiming that she’s done “trying to fight the odds” inherent in teaching at an underfunded public school, she can’t help suggesting that Abbott put on a career day, and Manny recognizes her passion. Like the rest of the teachers Manny meets, Janine is wary of empty promises coming from the district, then alarmed when he suggests that she take a temporary leave from her classroom for a fellowship working with his team — a position she eventually accepts.

It’s still early days in the season, so we still can’t know where things will go for Manny and Janine. Maybe they will remain friendly colleagues. Maybe we’ll find out Manny’s preternatural sweetness has been concealing some kind of professional depravity — budget resources he’s delaying allocating, for bureaucratic reasons. (The horror!) But I feel pretty sure that Brunson, who also created the show, wouldn’t cast someone as dreamy and hilarious as Segarra just to be Janine’s platonic pal — and if she did, I don’t know why she would sign off on dressing Manny in that gold chain; that’s not a look that works on every guy, but Manny’s pulling it off, and you can tell he knows it.

So might this pairing go nowhere? Sure. But we all know what usually happens when two cute characters spend a lot of time together, because we’ve all seen TV before. We spent the first two seasons watching Janine and Gregory finding their way toward each other before bouncing off in opposite directions. Now Janine is available, and there’s a new guy in her path. It sure seems like, in the long term, Manny’s purpose is to be an obstacle between Janine and Gregory. And even if Janine and Gregory’s happiness is what we ultimately want, hanging out with a Josh Segarra character seems like a good way to pass the time until it happens.


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