By Josiah Martin | Staff Writer
Network sitcoms need a near-perfect storm of writers, producers and actors to avoid appearing cliché from episode one. NBC’s A.P. Bio has that perfect storm, and it shows.
A.P. Bio stars Glenn Howerton, best known as Dennis Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Howerton portrays Jack Griffin, a former Harvard philosophy professor who is fired at the peak of his career. Jack stays at his deceased mother’s apartment and takes a position teaching advanced placement biology in Toledo, Ohio.
Needless to say, he despises this job and announces on the first day that he intends not to teach any biology, instead devoting the class to exacting revenge on his rival philosopher at Harvard.
At first glance, many viewers might have been quick to dismiss Howerton’s role of Jack Griffin as the same awful-but-lovable psychopath he portrayed as Dennis on Sunny. On the contrary, Jack’s motivations and actions are a fairly radical departure from Dennis.
Jack’s unpredictable and dangerous behavior is rooted in arrogance, not unlike Dennis, but for Jack, that arrogance is rooted in fact. Jack is a genius, just not a stable one.
From abandoning his class to damaging school property, Jack can talk his way out of consequences for nearly anything and come out on top. This is incredibly entertaining to watch. Amazingly, this character trait doesn’t become unbearable.
In fact, despite being the most over-the-top character in the series, Jack is ultimately the most relatable. He is the distorted, frightening lens through which we view the rest of Whitlock High School. Perhaps the character plays to the “screw-the-system” high schooler in all of us, but his distaste for every aspect of his job is ultimately the funniest thing in the series.
Admittedly, Jack would be a far less interesting or believable character if he weren’t paired with Patton Oswalt’s incompetent Principal Durbin. Durbin is very aware that Jack’s conduct is unacceptable but seems equally aware of his inability to prevent any of it.
Any other television principal character would likely call the police on Jack. Durbin, on the other hand, is just happy to have a Harvard professor on his faculty and is willing to overlook some of the more extreme offenses in a well-natured attempt to please him.
The quality of A.P. Bio’s writing is no mystery. The show is headed by executive producer Lorne Michaels, famous creator and producer of Saturday Night Live. Michaels also acts as producer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and is the long-time producer of NBC’s Late Night franchise, whose current host, Seth Meyers, is also credited as an executive producer for A.P. Bio.
Michaels and Meyers are joined by fellow SNL alum Mike O’Brien. O’Brien wrote A.P. Bio’s first episode, and it shows. The sense of humor in the show is strongly reminiscent of SNL; all of its characters are extreme caricatures of themselves — but not obnoxiously so. The nuances and subtleties of the actors are allowed to shine through, and it makes for a hilarious and unforgettable cast of characters.
Keen-eyed viewers may be attracted to another aspect of the show — something often overlooked on network sitcoms: distinct visual style. A.P. Bio features very strong red and green color tones. It’s unclear what this choice has to do with the show thematically, if anything. It looks like a very early color film, reminiscent of the effect used in the film The Aviator.
Maybe this is supposed to reflect on the Midwestern simplicity of Toledo, or perhaps it’s supposed to act as an extra layer of separation between the audience and the absurd storylines. Most likely, it’s neither, and it just looks pretty. At the very least, it succeeds in that.
A.P. Bio is a visually pleasing show, and this choice sets it apart from the rest of NBC’s line-up. Which is appropriate, as the show does stand out.
Sporting a well-developed cast of characters, a solid tone of voice, a fantastic cast, fantastic writers, it’s no wonder that A.P. Bio stands out from the crowd — and we’re only three episodes in. If NBC can keep this up, A.P. Bio has a long life ahead.
At the moment, there are three episodes are available on NBC.com, and two have yet to air on television. Failure to find an audience in broadcast could kill A.P. Bio, and the cold Jack Griffin might be off-putting to older viewers. Time will tell if the largely late-night oriented crew can produce an effective show for primetime, but I sincerely hope Mr. Griffin will be back to class next semester.