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‘A.P. Bio’ Whiffs with the Bases Loaded

Series Premiere

Glenn Howerton A.P. Bio NBC
Glenn Howerton in "A.P. Bio" on NBC
On paper, NBC’s “A.P. Bio” has all the makings of a successful sitcom. Created by former “Saturday Night Live” writer Mike O’Brien, the show boasts a team of fellow SNL alums, including Seth Meyers (“Late Night with Seth Meyers”) and SNL creator and comedy legend Lorne Michaels. Its plot rests on two overused-because-they-work premises (Disgraced Big Shot Returns Home and Unqualified Teacher Forced to Teach Quirky Group of Students) that, combined with America’s rich tradition of excellent high school-centric television, promises a perfectly entertaining, if not especially inspired, 22 minutes.

This was not the case. Despite the odds stacked in its favor, “A.P. Bio” whiffs spectacularly in its series premiere, an episode that left me wondering whether O’Brien and his team were even trying to get on base.

The episode opens with former Harvard philosophy professor Jack Griffin (a painfully unlikable Glenn Howerton) crashing his car into the sign in front of the Toledo, Ohio high school where he is about to start a new job teaching Advanced Placement Biology (that’s right, this show takes place in the Midwest, baby!). In the show’s first “joke,” he runs at a cyclist with a crowbar. Then, he heads inside to teach without so much as a backward glance. This incident sets the tone for the rest of the episode: disjointed, confusing, and a little upsetting, featuring a string of jokes that range from not-funny to deeply uncomfortable. For instance, Jack bragging about his plans to “bang [his] high school ex as hard as [he] can” is an especially tone-deaf moment given today’s social and political climate.

Right off the bat, as a character, Jack doesn’t give us much to work with. He’s a snarky, self-centered caricature with a bad attitude, whose largely one-dimensional personality is of interest to the viewer only when juxtaposed against his dead mother’s stereotypically “old-womanish” house, where he is living (think florals, crucifixes, and a stair lift—plus, there’s a raccoon on the upper floor somewhere). Unfortunately for the show (and for you, the viewer), the stereotypes don’t end with the Griffin family. Quite the contrary. “A.P. Bio” seems to tick through as many character stereotypes as possible when introducing its cast of characters. The premiere introduces, among others, the awkward, somewhat bumbling principal (Patton Oswalt), the intense-but-dumb gym teacher, the goth “Prince of Darkness,” and his bully (who literally grabs his backpack and throws it into a pond, a display of old school bullying reminiscent of Ice and Jay in the 1993 movie “Hocus Pocus”—for those of you keeping track at home, that means 25-year-old bullying techniques), and several variations on “nerd”—this is A.P. Bio, after all.

However, “A.P. Bio” is not completely without merit. One of the show’s few bright spots is the positively delightful trio of female teachers who seem to be permanently seated in the teachers’ lounge (Mary Sohn, Lyric Lewis, and Jean Villepique). They are witty, real, and immediately engaging. And frankly, the show could stand to see a lot more of them and a lot less of pretty much everyone else. It is also worth mentioning that “A.P. Bio” sees the return to the small screen of Allisyn Ashley Arm (a Disney Channel star of the Demi Lovato era, most notably of “Sonny with a Chance”).

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Aside from being deficient in memorable or engaging characters, “A.P. Bio” is also surprisingly lacking in any real plot. Aside from the two tropes that make up the show’s very basic premise, there is very little indication in the premiere as to what direction the season will take. Judging from all of the focus on Jack’s rival, Miles Leonard—who Jack believes has his rightful teaching job at Stanford—it seems likely that the show will follow Jack’s attempt to take down Leonard. We have to assume that the students will factor into this larger plotline, but the pilot gives us no hint as to how.

Not only is there no obvious overarching storyline to the series, but the episode itself is all over the place—and not in a fun “more is more” way. This first episode alone features a surprise rap, a disastrous “date” (spoiler alert: Jack does not actually get to bang his ex as hard as he can), an academic exercise in catfishing, and not one, but two arrests (both involving public urination). All this and more in 22 minutes!

For all its potential on paper, “A.P. Bio” misses the mark in execution and, in several moments, taste. These shortcomings seem largely to be a result of a lack of effort and imagination that is not altogether surprising from a team that has already had their names attached to a show many consider to be the height of TV comedy. As with the show’s protagonist, we know O’Brien and his team are capable of more than they’re giving us now, and we can only hope that going forward they’ll be able to clean up their act.

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