‘Abbott Elementary’ Teaches Us About Janine Through Her Makeup

It takes a village on “Abbott Elementary,” whether that means the show’s incredible background students creating the art that hangs on Abbott’s walls or department heads collaborating to express how characters are challenged by the situations they find themselves in. 

While contemporary series — particularly comedies — don’t often get too stylized, that doesn’t mean character isn’t being expressed (and constantly tweaked). “Abbott Elementary” makeup department head Alisha L. Baijounas had a very specific Season 2 trajectory for Janine (show creator and star Quinta Brunson), and at least the hope for where she would end up by season’s end. 

“I have a thing for Janine and Gregory’s relationship, so I kept hoping it was going to develop. And it was so funny having Quinta in the chair because I could always give her my opinion about how I wanted it to go,” Baijounas told IndieWire. “Getting to know what was coming and where she was comfortable taking Janine, and what her arc was going to be, being able to have that conversation with her — that was one of my secret weapons.” 

With Brunson’s season-long vision for Janine in mind, Baijounas picked deliberate hinge points where Abbott’s own second-grade whisperer could elevate her own sense of self.

“In the beginning of the season, her color theory is actually a little bit off. So, her eye makeup is a little bit more orangey and her lip is a little more blue-pink – typically those aren’t colors that you’re going to stick together to create a cohesive look,” Baijounas said. “They’re very contradictory. But that’s kind of Janine. She doesn’t really know how to navigate the beauty space.” 

Color theory, in makeup, is all about the ways our brains assign meanings to colors when they sit next to each other on a color wheel, creating (or not) a strong sense of personality. Janine is a little bit at odds with herself when her colors don’t line up. Meanwhile, Baijounas made sure that Ava (Janelle James) not only has coherent colors that express sharpness and luxury, but the kind of technical edged-out lip that puts her in a different weight class from Janine — important for someone who low-key dated Allen Iverson.  

Someone like Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph), meanwhile, may vary her colors day to day but always makes strong choices in the same color family. “We let Barbara, what I call dig through the bottom of her purse for her lipstick every time we see her,” Baijounas said. “Barbara’s the kind of woman who’s never gonna be caught without a lip. She’s like, ‘OK, well today I’m starting with this mauve color.’ She digs through her drawer and grabs all the mauve lipsticks, throws them in her purse or her desk drawer, and then every time we see her she’s like, ‘Ooh, camera,’ and she pops it on.” 

With Janine, Baijounas added a more coherent color theory for moments of maturity and especially those moments of spark between her and Gregory. “Where you’re like, ‘Oh, is this it, is this the episode?’ I actually switched her from brown eyeliner to black. There’s little tiny cues that I hide in her look to indicate, oh, she’s going to have a moment of growth with Gregory,” Baijounas said. 

“Abbott Elementary”Gilles Mingasson/ABC

Baijounas is also clear-eyed about why. “I think that’s the natural progression for every woman, especially if they’re in a great place, if they’re in love. Even though we don’t know until the end, when you have to make a lot of hard decisions, as she does at the end of the season,” Baijounas said. “I think it’s the most mature decision we’ve ever seen her make, especially given in the episode prior where we meet her mother, I really wanted her makeup to reflect that her confidence is slightly derailed. Her mom is a lot.”

The whirlwind arrival of Taraji P. Henson as Janine’s mom, Vanetta, represented one of the highlight collaborations between costume, hair, and makeup, as Baijounas and costume designer Susan Michalek created a combination of Vanetta’s green plush jacket and intricately detailed black and gold nails that not only creates an incredible contrast with Janine but also other high points of style in Season 2 like Ava, Erika (Courtney Taylor), and Krystal (Raven Goodwin). 

“We really took [Vanetta] way over the top. Her makeup artist team and hair team and nail tech really, really dug into that vision for her. We wanted it to be jarring,” Baijounas said. “And in that episode, we take Janine back to her original clear kind of blue-pink lip and her brown eyeliner because we want her to seem like she’s smaller. Her mom is such a big force.” 

“Abbott Elementary”Gilles Mingasson/ABC

But Janine finds resolve at the end of that episode, and the ordeal of standing toe-to-toe with her mother coupled with everything at the Franklin Institute lays the groundwork for her final look in Gregory and Janine’s conversation. “I think it’s the most mature that she looks. It’s the cleanest. It’s the strongest with her eyes. And it’s sort of the sweetest,” Baijounas said.  

The shift in Janine’s looks is as much a transformation, and just as simple, as Janine’s realization that she has more growing to do. A change in the shade of her lipliner is all it takes for her to stop hiding from herself and from projecting a more mature version of Ms. Teagues out to the world. “That lip really does so much to change your perception of that character, and it makes her look so much more grown up. It was literally just Mac torque lipliner and NARS argon lip gloss,” Baijournas said. 

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