Josiah Martin | A&E Editor
Ending a season by wrapping up your central story arc is a risky move. NBC’s A.P. Bio did exactly that with its finale in May, and it’s not yet clear whether the second season will survive without it.
“Happiness,” the first episode of A.P. Bio’s new season, features protagonist anti-hero Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) recruiting his biology class to do research for a new book on how the people of Toledo, Ohio, find happiness in their simple lives.
Nearly every episode of the series’ first season centered on some convoluted revenge plot, either against Jack’s nemesis Miles Leonard or the staff and students of Whitlock High School. It was a solid formula — Jack’s unwillingness to get involved with students’ personal lives would swiftly turn to dark excitement when the opportunity to cleverly destroy their enemies arose.
The show has departed from this formula with “Happiness.” Maybe it was time to do so. After all, the Miles Leonard arc has come to a satisfying conclusion with the end of the first season, and revenge is no longer Jack’s top priority. However, with this central theme pulled out from under the show’s feet, I’m not sure what is supposed to keep the audience interested in new episodes.
“Happiness” is a funny episode, largely thanks to the strength of A.P. Bio’s cast. Patton Oswalt and Paula Pell are a classic misfit duo, and the cast of young actors that portray the students is as funny as ever with their deadpan delivery and exhaustion with their situation.
The show continues to struggle finding a purpose for teachers Stef (Lyric Lewis), Mary (Mary Sohn) and Michelle (Jean Villepique). Their consistent positions as semi-likable B-plot-only characters are helped only by the fact that they are hilariously handled by their respective actors.
Without spoiling this episode, it seems as if the driving force of season two will be Jack growing accustomed to his surroundings and warming up to Toledo. Jack’s well-hidden likability and empathy for those around him are what make him such a great character — deeper and more relatable than Howerton’s other famous role, Dennis Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
However, if Jack is going to begin to wear his affection for those around him more on his sleeve, will he still be able to play the lovable jerk role central to A.P. Bio’s success? Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but it doesn’t look good. This episode featured less conflict between Jack and the students and virtually no interaction between Jack and Principal Durbin (Oswalt). For a show that focuses so much on the culture clash between its protagonist and its supporting cast, continuing to abandon this relationship would be extremely ill-advised.
A.P. Bio has received criticism since its premiere, with many critics not actually finding the show very funny. I have personally always found it hilarious, including this episode. However, with the show’s recipe for success so radically changed, I doubt I will continue to, unless upcoming episodes signal a return to form.