×

TV Review: ‘A.P. Bio’

Glenn Howerton plays a cranky, Harvard-educated philosopher who becomes a very bad teacher in this pretty bad sitcom

With:
Glenn Howerton, Patton Oswalt, Lyric Lewis, Mary Sohn, Jean Villepique, Tom Bennett, Paula Pell, Charlie McCrackin, Jacob McCarthy, Aparna Brielle, Nick Peine, Allisyn Ashley Arm, Eddie Leavy, Jacob Houston, Sari Arambulo, Tucker Albrizzi, Spence Moore II

It’s hard to imagine the audience that finds “A.P. Bio” funny. The sitcom, which starts when petulant crank Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) starts teaching Advanced Placement Biology to a class of winning nerds in Toledo, Ohio, presents a cheerful interpretation of a scenario that is rooted in nightmare for the parents, teachers, and former students in the audience: A teacher with total contempt for his students, the school he works at, and the subject he’s supposed to teach somehow locks down his position and draws a paycheck while making the students research how to take down his nemesis (an upbeat Stanford philosopher named Miles).

It’s a premise rooted in contempt for practically every constituency involved — teachers, school administrators, students, parents, philosophers, people who live in Ohio, and Harvard grads (well, who cares about the Harvard grads). It’s hard to imagine Jack would get a high school science job with the dubious qualification of a Harvard philosophy degree, no matter how badly the school’s principal (Patton Oswalt) wants Jack to be his friend. It’s harder still to imagine green educator Jack maintaining class control over a room of teenagers long enough to get them to listen to his dumb schemes. And it is frankly impossible to imagine a class of budding healthcare administrators putting up with more than 30 seconds of Jack’s grandstanding before calling every parent and school official in the district. But more importantly, “A.P. Bio” is just staggeringly unfunny, a clunky mess of a sitcom that has no idea how to innovate beyond its setup — nor any sense of what about its material is actually comedic.

It’s a pity. The most effective element of “A.P. Bio” is how thoroughly it squanders the appeal of the otherwise reliable Glenn Howerton, best known for his many seasons in FXX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Howerton is exceptional at playing a grotesquely selfish monster, as his character in that show has made abundantly clear. But “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is acutely aware that its lead characters are the butts of every joke. “A.P. Bio,” by comparison, encourages the audience to enjoy Jack’s merciless disregard for the students, in what feels like a sanitized perversion of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In an early punishment, a student is relegated to the back of the room — specifically, to sit under a leak, with his back to the chalkboard. The students are asked to audition for roles in Jack’s attempts to humiliate Miles (Tom Bennett), which turns into each student reading aloud what they would message Miles if they were to attempt to seduce him. Later, in a midseason episode, Jack forces all the students to throw their expensive (and taxpayer-funded?) textbooks out the window; when they resurface, a few episodes later, they are water-damaged and dirty, packed into a trash bag with mulch and dead leaves. Hilarious, right? Who needs future doctors, when you’ve got all this comedy?

There are elements of “A.P. Bio” that work, but they are all outside of Jack’s dynamic with his students. The show is too cynical to really let him be affected by his students, but it’s also too nice to let the students rise up against him. But while that hostage situation rages on, other quadrants of the show find a nice rhythm. Principal Durbin and the trio of teachers played by Mary Sohn, Lyric Lewis, and Jean Villepique provide sorely needed adult counterpoints to Jack, and when the students are left to their own devices, they serve up nimble comedy. Jack does soften a bit by midseason, but “A.P. Bio” is much lighter on season-long arcs than its dismal premise suggests. Even at the rare moments where Jack appears to have learned something, he appears to immediately forget it in the next episode. And if a show where Jack learned something would have been a better version of “A.P. Bio,” one where the students band together to dispose of him would have been superior to both.

It’s unfortunate because there is clearly talent here, especially in the deep bench of students and Oswalt’s pathetic-funny performance. Every now and again “A.P. Bio” lands a punch line, and that experience makes the intervening long minutes especially bizarre. But the show is fundamentally empty in a way that is extremely disappointing — as if, perhaps, several comedy writers constructed an environment and a power dynamic that maximized the delivery of material, without any consideration of what people are really like in the world. Each caricatured student is another punch-line persona; each elaborate scheme is another stagey bit. You see? It’s comedy.

TV Review: 'A.P. Bio'

Comedy, 13 episodes (13 reviewed): NBC, Thurs. Mar. 1, 9:30 p.m. 30 min.

Crew: Executive producers, Mike O’Brien, Seth Meyers, Mike Shoemaker, Andrew Singer, Lorne Michaels

Cast: Glenn Howerton, Patton Oswalt, Lyric Lewis, Mary Sohn, Jean Villepique, Tom Bennett, Paula Pell, Charlie McCrackin, Jacob McCarthy, Aparna Brielle, Nick Peine, Allisyn Ashley Arm, Eddie Leavy, Jacob Houston, Sari Arambulo, Tucker Albrizzi, Spence Moore II

More TV

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Wright is most famous for his role as [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

  • amazon-studios

    YouTube Head of Scripted Jon Wax in Talks to Join Amazon Studios

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming, Jon Wax, is in talks to join Amazon Studios, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. Wax is said to be in discussions for head of genre programming at Amazon, a position held by Sharon Tal Yguado until recently. Variety reported on her exit in early May. The [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    WGA Takes Aim at Endeavor IPO, Tells Members It Has 'Sufficient Funds' for Legal Battle

    The Writers Guild of America has gone to the Securities and Exchange Commission in its battle with Hollywood’s largest talent agencies over the issue of packaging fees and affiliated production. The guild sent a letter to William Hinman, director of the SEC’s corporate finance division, the guild accuses WME parent company Endeavor of misrepresenting the [...]

  • ARE YOU THE ONE SEASON 8

    MTV's 'Are You The One?' Shifts to Sexually Fluid Contestants for New Season

    MTV’s dating reality show “Are You The One?” is addressing changing attitudes regarding sexuality and gender identity by featuring sexually fluid contestants on the show’s eighth season, which bows June 27. The shift from the show’s past focus on heterosexual relationships is part of the larger effort at MTV to be relevant to younger viewers [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content