For 12 seasons on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Glenn Howerton crafted an onscreen persona of an overly confident would-be lothario, a manipulative egotist unburdened by morality. Howerton’s character Dennis left the degenerates at Paddy’s Pub at the conclusion of the show’s twelfth season, though the actor hasn’t ruled out his character returning one day. Glenn Howerton has quickly moved on from Sunny and has landed the lead in the new NBC comedy AP Bio. With four episodes made available for critics ahead of its premiere, AP Bio isn’t too unlike many other sitcoms in that it doesn’t seem to exactly know what it wants to be as it aims to establish its various characters of a varying age range. That being said, I still found enough promise in the show that I’m not ready to abandon it as it does have enough personality that it might eventually grow into something oddly hilarious and captivating.
Howerton stars as Jack Griffin, a disgraced philosophy professor who was ousted from Harvard and forced to return to his unglamorous hometown of Toledo, Ohio where he takes up residence in his late mother’s home. Jack reluctantly takes a job teaching AP Bio at the local high school, apparently teaching just one class a day. (Must be a sweet gig!) Knowing little about biology and more concerned with self-aggrandizement, Jack coasts on by thanks to the eager-to-please Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt), who is just happy to have a former Harvard professor at his lowly high school. Over the course of his tenure at Whitlock High School, Jack Griffin will indulge in his deepest solipsistic behavior with booze and women, and just maybe somewhere along the way he’ll teach something to his students, or maybe he’ll learn something from them.
Each episode of AP Bio provides the audience with a deeper look at the supporting cast that populate the halls of Whitlock High. Among the students is the overachiever Sarika (Aparna Brielle) and redheaded outcast Colin (Tucker Albrizzi) with other eccentric teenagers filling out the rest of the class. In the teacher’s lounge, Mary (Mary Sohn), Stef (Lyric Lewis), and Michelle (Jean Villepique) trade war stories about their students and how they evade the needy attention of Principal Durbin. The trio of women teachers also have various schemes to supplement their income or ways to grab the attention of the single fathers in their classes. Over the course of four episodes, though, AP Bio has laid a foundation for these supporting players to become more important over time, but they’re not well defined enough that they leave an immediate impact.
Glenn Howerton plays Jack Griffin in a way that is quite similar to Dennis from Always Sunny. He’s a selfish manipulator convinced of his own greatness. It’s obviously a case of show creator Mike O’Brien playing to the strengths of his star, but AP Bio is going to have to do more to differentiate Jack from Dennis so that the show can gain its own identity. The MVP of AP Bio that keeps the show afloat as its trying to find its voice is Patton Oswalt as the struggling principal. He’s the straight man forced to confront the varying fronts of comic absurdity yet his desperation to be liked prevents the character from being an authoritarian foil for the show’s protagonist. It’s the dynamic between Jack and Principal Durbin that provides AP Bio with much of its comedic might early on.
AP Bio is a show that has shades of Always Sunny and Community in its early episodes, establishing a setting and characters that might come around to pay off comedy dividends in the near future. The problems with AP Bio are the problems that a lot of young shows encounter as they need time to develop the voice of the show and how each character is going to fit into the varying situations. Mike O’Brien still has a lot of work to do to make AP Bio live up to its potential. However, some truly great shows have had rockier starts than this NBC sitcom.
AP Bio airs as a special sneak preview on NBC February 1, 2018 at 9:30pm before its debut on March 1, 2018