‘A.P. Bio’ is messy and uncomfortable
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” At least, that’s how the phrase goes. But for Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), both teaching and doing anything seem to be of issue, and that includes being a part of a television show worth watching.
NBC’s newest comedy (if it can even be called that) follows a disgraced Harvard philosophy professor as he takes on a new moral challenge: teaching a high school A.P. Biology class. Griffin is clearly not qualified for the job, but the school that hired him wants to boast having a Harvard professor on faculty and he needs a way to make ends meet. Yet Griffin treats his job with disgust and nonchalance. He drives into the high school’s sign, wears sweatpants everyday, tells his students vulgar stories and doesn’t even teach them any biology — or philosophy for that matter.
It is a premise that could have potential, a sort of darkly funny “Dead Poets Society” that demonstrates mutually beneficial experiences and growth for both student and teacher. But where it stands now, “A.P. Bio” will be nothing of the sort.
Not every aspect of the show is bleak. While the show focuses on Griffin, the trio of female teachers (Mary Sohn, “Shrink,” Jean Villepique, “Life After First Failure” and Lyric Lewis, “MADtv”) that he constantly encounters in the teacher’s lounge is one of the only truly funny parts of the show. They’re quick-witted and sarcastic, with personalities that shine immediately in their first scene, but unfortunately don’t get nearly enough screen time.
Most of the redeeming qualities of the show come from its background players. Patton Oswalt (“The Goldbergs”) is the socially awkward principal who lacks any sense of his own authority, characteristics that are not uncommon for characters Oswalt has assumed. He adds a refreshing touch of humanity for Griffin’s blatant disregard for decency, and creates a solid supporting character in a cast that is otherwise incohesive.
Yet the rest of the episode is, for lack of a better term, messy. Everything from the premise of the show to the aesthetics of the filming is wildly uncomfortable. In every single scene shot in the school — and there are obviously many — the background walls are a constant intense white with each blue tone oversaturated in a way that can and will drive you mad once you notice it.
And “A.P. Bio” is as displeasing to the mind as it is to the eyes. Though Howerton fits comfortably into his role as ethically-negligent manchild (he played a brilliant one on “It’s Always Sunny”), his actions fall more into the realm of creepy than comedic. Do we really need more men misbehaving and acting inappropriately, all while offering incentives to the people below him not to tell? The trope worked well in “It’s Always Sunny,” where every character was truly awful in their own unique, cohesive way. But in “A.P. Bio,” it feels out of place and concerning, as if a character from a different show got lost and somehow ended up in this one.
The balance of shamelessly evil characters and comedy genius is one that is hard to master, and one that is only seen in award-winning shows like “Veep.” NBC’s latest attempt is unsteady and insufficient, putting good talent to waste. Much like its main character, “A.P. Bio” shows little effort or potential, yet it still manages to captivate for 30 minutes. Maybe this time, it’ll change.