When we last left A.P. Bio, Jack’s quest of revenge against more successful and well-liked peer Miles Leonard succeeded, but in a way that also cost Jack his dream job. Jack and his charges ended the season determined to broaden their focus for revenge missions, from Karate Master Kyle (Anthony) to “Denzel Washington, but also just to meet him” (Heather) to Jack (Grace).
But when the episode kicks off, Jack enters the classroom having failed to deliver Anthony his karate teacher’s ponytail, but having had a revelation: He’s going to write a new book to win a Japanese philosophy prize, inspired by observing ordinary Toledoans and their seeming happiness (which, as far as he can tell, is primarily mayonnaise-derived). With only three days to the deadline, Jack decides to do some research by moonlighting at blue-collar jobs, aided by the kids. The prize is 50 million yen, which the students remind him is only about $500,000, but Jack isn’t deterred: “I’m gonna be a Japanese millionaire.”
Meanwhile, in the principal’s office, the copier is shot, because Durbin and Helen didn’t get the maintenance done on it. This leads us into one of the big reasons I’m confident this show knows what works best for it: Paula Pell as Helen has been moved up into the main cast, which means we should be seeing a lot more of her– and if we’re going to spend time away from the kids, then her brand of intense weirdness (or is it weird intensity? Or both?) is one of the best ways to use that time. Pell and Patton Oswalt have a gloriously awkward comic chemistry, which made the B-plot of their quest to repair the copier a scream. Helen’s Never Forget Board has post-its with important tasks on them, but many of them have fallen behind the copier, including the one to get maintenance on the copier every three months. After a hilarious announcement to “get in front of” the broken copier scandal whose effectiveness is roughly that of Principal Skinner’s “All is well in the school; my authority as principal is total” announcement, Durbin and Helen decide they can’t wait ten days for a new one to arrive. One of the funniest sequences of the episode ensues, as Durbin reveals to Helen that he can get a used copier… from Kleinbury Elementary.
Kleinbury Elementary has another intensely weird figure in Principal Kling, who apparently beat Durbin for the Innovative Principal of the Year award, but also has a hand puppet he talks to and lets make decisions, Mr. Hat-style. The puppet, Mr. Doodles, tells Durbin and Helen they can have the copier… if they kiss first. Of course, they’re not going to, but Helen actually seems like she’s willing to go through with it just to get the copier… and then she throws a coffee cup (full of pens and such, but still) in Kling’s face and takes the puppet hostage.
Back at Whitlock High with their new (used) copier, Helen decides to clear the air with Ralph: “I didn’t avoid kissing you in Principal Kling’s office because I think you’re unattractive. As you know, I like women. A lot. In that way. But I do acknowledge that you have a classic mouth. A juicy little mouth. With a long, long doglike tongue. Oh, I have noticed it. But I just wanted to talk this out, so we didn’t feel awkward or anything. And I feel so much better.”
Mary comes into the office not long after, confirming Durbin’s dog tongue, and Helen asks her to tell Michelle she can’t make birthday drinks Friday night, and to give Michelle her birthday present, which is a canoe (great physical comedy by Pell here in trying to carry it). This prompts Mary to realize that she and Stef have forgotten Michelle’s birthday; they made plans to go out for Stef’s one-year bangs birthday. That’s the C-plot, and it’s slight, but does play off in a fun way at the end. All three of the teachers are still in the main credits, though they have the least screen time of anyone this episode; that’s probably okay, because as good as the performers are, these characters don’t feel distinctive enough or funny enough yet to carry bigger stories.
None of the kids are in the main credits yet, still, but A.P. Bio knows who its real diamonds in the cast are. I’m talking, of course, about Heather, who gets more lines and screen time than any of the kids this episode. I ran out of superlatives to describe Allisyn Ashley Arm’s performance of my favorite new character on TV last year, and the writers seem to know what they have here. We’ll get to our Heather Watch section in a second.
After Jack spends a day moonlighting, he realizes he doesn’t have the energy for this and sends all the kids out to do blue-collar jobs in their spare time. Naturally, this makes them miserable, and they bail on him on day three (he won’t even write them college recommendation letters), leading him to realize he screwed up. He shows up the next morning with a letter of recommendation for everyone… except Anthony, instead personally delivering Karate Master Kyle’s ponytail to him. While wearing a neck brace. “You forgot to tell me that Mrs. Karate Master Kyle is also a black belt.”
A.P. Bio is back, baby. And so is its queen:
Jack’s first blue-collar job is picking up a shift at the butcher shop, alongside Heather and her dad Ron. Heather makes almost any line gold; my favorites were “Our little guy’s all tuckered out” and “I may need a little R&R, my dog” (to Jack, after she explains that she thinks she’s allergic to the lead at the smelting plant). Without counting, I’m pretty sure Heather got more lines than any of the other kids this episode, even ones that weren’t particularly character-specific, which is the kind of detail that makes me think the writers know how much they ought to be featuring her. Let’s hope so.
- Durbin’s opening announcement explains why David Cronenberg didn’t direct Return of the Jedi, then moves into him calling for an end to people at the school using the word “funt.”
- Jack’s “four types of happiness” that ordinary people seek: Immediate return on the fruits of their labor; invented ceremonies and holidays; eating fatty, sugary, and salty foods; “finding someone within 20 miles to procreate with so you can feel like a memory of you will live on.”
- Paula Pell replaces Tom Bennett in the main cast. Given where the story of the show is now, it’s possible Miles is no longer part of it.
- Among Helen’s lost post-its: “Check out that Louis CK show” (Ralph starts to object but decides not to bother) and her garage door code. “Now I can drive again!”
- Also, I forgot Durbin’s first name was Ralph for most of this review.
- Marcus getting sent home for the day for being in the wrong place at the wrong time twice is a pretty good quick gag. (And a great example of one of the sharper elements of this episode, the way little jokes are fit in wherever they can be.)
- After Michelle impulse-cuts her bangs on the paper cutter, Helen finds a silver lining: “More hair for my Locks of Love drive… and that’s my lunch.” Lunch on the left, hair on the right, Helen.
- Pretty good lampshade of a clearly new addition to the cast in the AP Bio classroom. “I’ve been here the whole time.” “Okay, well, geez. You know… talk.“
- Eduardo (who seems like a new addition to the cast as well, but similarly is treated like he’s always been there) has a great rundown of his time working with a construction crew: describing a woman with a collie walking by, the other workers calling her a 10, Eduardo then confirming both that they were referring to the woman and not the collie and that 10 is the highest score on the rating system.
- Also, a good runner of nobody (or at least Ron and Helen) seeming to know how to respond to a fist bump.
- “You know, I would not have won Innovative Principal of the Year if I had just sold copiers to every Johnny Tie-Too-Long that came wandering into the office.”
- Jack’s letters of recommendation are of… varying quality. Sarika likes being called “formidable” (and that’s a pretty fly outfit she has on in the final scene, for the record). Victor is weirdly pleased to be called a “curious specimen.” Marcus: “Mine just says ‘Old soul, non-smoker.'” “Yeah, it was starting to get late.”
- “Happy Birthday to Stef’s Ourbangsing Friend Mich”
- “You guys! You jammed fries into Stef’s bangs cake for me?”
- Jack gets word of the Bangs Birthday drinks and decides that’s where he can observe ordinary Toledoans. He finds himself enjoying some snacks: “Is this some type of aioli sauce or something? Because it’s delicious.” “That’s just mayonnaise.” White gold. Jack has a moment of clarity, while also learning the lesson of my most-often inexplicably-quoted line of the late, beloved Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23.
- Welcome back. I’m gonna do these every week if I can, because this was one of my most beloved and underrated shows of 2018, and I’m a huge champion of it.