NBC’s A.P. Bio “officially” debuts tonight, although the Glenn Howerton-starring sitcom aired a “sneak preview” of its first episode on February 1 and made the first three episodes available on Hulu.
The sitcom stars Howerton as Jack Griffin, a disgraced former philosophy professor who takes a job teaching the titular class at a high school in his hometown, while living in his dead mother’s home and plotting revenge against his rival. Patton Oswalt plays the put-upon Principal Durbin, who both tries to rein Jack in and impress him, as he seemingly thinks having such a highly accredited professor teaching at the school is a mark of prestige for them. The cast is rounded out by a number of students and recurring staff at the school.
Jack isn’t Dennis Reynolds– for one thing, he doesn’t try to have sex with any of the students– but he’s got some of the same callousness and disregard for other people, and is savvy enough to attempt to cut off any of the students’ attempts to bond with him or teach him something. (This leads to a howlingly funny scene when the students have prepared a rap for him.) Of course, it seems like he’s not going to be totally able to resist in this regard, even though he’s explicitly not trying to teach them biology and is instead going to use them in his scheme of revenge. (In the first episode, he tries to get the kids to catfish his rival Miles, which leads to some amazing scenes of them reading their various catfishing messages.)
The rest of the cast is a highlight, too. One particularly great scene involves Paula Pell’s character substituting for sex education and almost invariably traumatizing the kids. Three other teachers are hanging out in the break room whenever Jack is in there, and often serve as a sort of Greek chorus to him, who’s learning about the school just as much as we are. (Refreshingly, the show doesn’t take the tired route of the squares being appalled by Jack’s behavior, but makes them just as cynical as he is.)
The kids are terrific as well; the two standouts so far are Aparna Brielle, who plays the type-A Sarika, sort of a ringleader of the kids and the one most committed to genuinely learning biology (and who seems most capable of thwarting Jack). Allisyn Ashley Arm as Heather, the quieter wallflower with hidden depths, is also great (her reactions to one of the other kids’ catfishing poetry, for example, or how she goes full Working Girl in episode three, when Jack tries to get the kids to apply for a job).
The show has some great sight gags, too: Witness in the first episode, when Principal Durbin visits Jack at home and has to sit in the lift-chair belonging to Jack’s dead mother. Or again, when he breaks up the kids’ attempt to rap their way into his heart and finds a saxophone soloist waiting in the closet. Howerton also delivers one of my favorite gags, the guy who takes the absurd situation and responds to it seriously: “Saxophones don’t belong in rap. Throw that in the trash.”
In the second episode, “Teacher Jail,” Jack gets disciplined for his negligence (frequent lateness and leaving the classroom; running his car into the school sign in the very first episode), and rather than take a slap on the wrist, he decides to fight it so he can get paid not to work, instead spending his time in the titular lounge working on his book. Enter Niecy Nash guesting as the teachers’ union rep, who has a grudge against Principal Durbin dating back to their high school glee club days, vowing both to clear Jack and destroy Durbin at the same time. Nash brings an energy and gusto to the role that elevates the whole episode; other great guest stars include Taran Killam as The Perfect Substitute, selected by the students as the best candidate to actually help them learn biology, and Mark Proksch (you probably know him best from Better Call Saul as “Pryce,” the Squat Cobbler) as Philip, a teacher similarly suspended with pay whom Jack befriends.
The third episode, “Burning Miles,” centers around Jack’s discovery that a local branch of a bookstore has made rival Miles’ book a pick of the month; he tries to teach his students how to impress at a job interview (hence Heather’s Working Girl getup), part one of a plan to get them hired there so they can undermine the choice and/or suggest something else. When this fails, he ultimately decides to just steal the cardboard cutout of Miles, which of course has its own consequences for him.
A.P. Bio isn’t “Dennis Reynolds teaches high school” (even less so than The Mick is “Dee Reynolds raises snotty rich kids”), but it still manages to be quite funny throughout and with a good cast and sense of character beyond Jack. Jack even explains a bit of philosophy to his students from time to time, and despite himself, does reach out to some of the kids (and they take his lessons to heart, if not in the way he intended– see how Dan, the bully, puts his lesson into action at the end of the third episode). Consequences also tend to roll over in unexpected ways; witness how Jack hitting the school’s sign with his car at the very beginning of the series ends up being part of the case against him in episode 2.
I didn’t want to spoil too much for anyone in these reviews, especially since an episode should be airing right about now (and I don’t know which one it is), but I figured this would be a good starting spot to discuss the show, and of course to offer it my endorsement.
Anyone else watched it yet? Any thoughts you want to add? I tried to leave as many quotes and jokes for you guys as I could.
(This article has been updated to turn the places where the author left a thought unfinished into complete sentences.)