NBC comedy ‘A.P. Bio’ fails debut

Photo courtesy of NBC

Imagine an episode of the wildly popular “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in which the crass and womanizing Dennis Reynolds becomes an A.P. Biology teacher. The concept has a lot of potential; the vulgar and impatient Dennis would clash with the youthful innocence of his high school charges, laughs would be had and then the show would move on to a new subject the following week.

Now imagine expanding this concept into an entire series, one that uses the same actor (Glenn Howerton) in the same role but eschews the edgier FX network for the more mainstream NBC. Throw in the hilarious and lovable Patton Oswalt (“The Goldbergs”) to play the awkward pushover in charge of the school.

With some adjustment, the concept has the potential to be both a critical success and a ratings behemoth. Without adjustment, however, the concept could end up stale, crude and completely ill-fitted for NBC’s audience.

“A.P. Bio,” the manifestation of this premise, appears to fall into the latter category based on the three episodes currently airing. From the beginning, the show seems set on exclusively highlighting the depravity of its protagonist, a recently-unemployed philosophy professor named Jack Griffin (Howerton).

The pilot begins with Griffin, clad unprofessionally in sweatpants and a cardigan, angrily storming into his new classroom to declare his task of “mentally breaking [his] nemesis with the ultimate goal of taking his job as the head of Stanford philosophy and having sex with as many women as [he] possibly can throughout the entire state of California.”

Griffin’s first goal serves as his character’s core motivation throughout the series. Rather than teach biology, the vengeful and fundamentally unlikable protagonist enlists his students to “catfish” his enemy Miles (Tom Bennett) by sending him sexually explicit messages online.

The students also apply for jobs at a bookstore in order to destroy copies of Miles’s bestselling book. The way his personality clashes with that of his class is almost disturbing, lacking the good-natured and heartwarming foundation that made films such as “School of Rock” successful.

His second goal, to sleep with as many women as he can, plays a smaller role in the show but proves equally unsavory. This is
a man with little, if any, redeeming qualities. The character that fits wonderfully in a show like “Always Sunny” translates quite poorly into a high school comedy, especially one that will be foisted upon a more family-oriented NBC demographic.

This is not to say that the acting is bad, or even that the writing is not funny. Howerton has perfected the role of depraved sociopath, and Oswalt’s signature goofy charm appears in spades. There were moments in the show that were genuinely funny, highlighting the comedic prowess of SNL writer Mike O’Brien.

Fundamentally, however, the show’s issue lies in the very concept it is built around. Watching Griffin be an ass simply for the sake of being an ass becomes a tired exercise about ten minutes into the pilot, and by the third episode, it becomes a chore.

In the first three episodes, the various plot threads that arise, which one would expect to have some resolution or closure, give viewers even less incentive to engage with the show. It is hard to tell exactly what the plot’s focus is, aside from a teacher at rock bottom engaging in poorly fleshed-out plots against his nemesis, a character that has a bafflingly minimal impact on the show given how much he is talked about.

With refinement, the series could shine, but as it currently exists “A.P. Bio” should have been killed before it ever saw the light of day.