Hey there, Plotaholics. Shane here with some troubling news. One of the most promising (and underrated) television comedies of the past two years is floundering. The show in question here is, of course, the Glenn Howerton vehicle, A.P. Bio. When the Fall 2019 schedule was released earlier this week, there was no news on A.P. Bio, one way or the other. It is existing in the between-seasons limbo that has plagued other great shows like Community or Rules of Engagement.
The problem with this is simple: A.P. Bio is a solid show that has really grown into its story in this, its second season.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, A.P. Bio tells the story of Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton)–an ex-Harvard philosophy professor who went a little crazy when he lost out on his dream job to his rival, Miles Leonard (Tom Bennett). Jack loses his job and moves back home to Toledo where he lives in his now-deceased mother’s house. He is hired to teach Advanced Placement Biology at a Toledo-area high school. The high school’s Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt) is so desperate to add the Harvard boy to the payroll, it doesn’t matter that Jack’s expertise is not Biology. A bitter Jack immediately tosses out the syllabus and decides to use his A.P. students to exact revenge on Miles.
Anyone familiar with Glenn Howerton can anticipate the level of snarcissism (snark and narcissism, trademark pending) in this show. Jack is an asshole, for sure, and he is a difficult protagonist to like. He is very much in the same fold as season one of the American Office‘s Michael Scott and early Community Jeff Winger. He is funny, but he is absolutely only going to be funny to a small group of people.
The charm of A.P. Bio–especially in season one–comes from the supporting cast. Patton Oswalt’s Principal Durbin is as Patton Oswalty as he could be, which is always a good thing, and the other teachers and staff are delightful.
The real MVPs of this show, though, are the young cast of actors and actresses that make up the A.P. Biology class: Aparna Brielle as the “front-of-the-class”/ teacher’s pet type, Sarika, and Allison Ashley Arm as the delightfully weird Heather are just two of a cast of all-stars.
Now, to be honest, I was worried about this show as it rounded out its first season a year ago. I could see that there was something there, but I thought the show had too much tunnel-vision. The revenge plot was taking too much focus, and the ensemble of remarkable performers was getting lost underneath Jack’s resentment and bitterness–much like what happened with The Office‘s first season.
I keep referring to The Office here because, well, it’s one of my favorite shows of all time. BUT, the comparisons are also incredibly apt. I listened to an interview with Michael Schur on the podcast, I Think You’re Interesting, a while back. Schur was a writer on The Office and the creator or co-creator of many other successful single-camera sitcoms like Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place.
In this interview, Schur talks about the two factors that contributed to the immense success of The Office in season two and beyond:
- A member of the NBC brass who was a fan of the British version and very much wanted to see the American version succeed.
- The decision by the series creator, Greg Daniels, to soften Michael Scott’s character and end each episode with a glimmer of hope.
That second factor is really what does it from a storytelling perspective, and it can be seen immediately. The first episode of season two of The Office was “The Dundies,” an episode which shows a much more self-aware Michael Scott get booed at a Chili’s by strangers for singing parodies of popular songs. Even though most of the awards he gives out in the episode are mean-spirited, after he is booed, the Dunder-Mifflin employees rally around him. They all want their awards! From that moment until the end of the episode, the tone is different from anything we had seen on The Office until that point. The awards were nice, and Jim and Pam have one of their many significant moments in the season. Compare the third act of this episode (or almost any from this point forward) with any episode from the first season (I’m looking at you, “Diversity Day”), and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
What I’ve noticed in season two of A.P. Bio is a similar turn toward the hopeful. This turn has come in three ways:
- The show has discovered its emotional center, and it has been discovered in the shape of Lynette–a payroll accountant at the high school played by Elizabeth Alderfer. Lynette’s presence has softened Jack, and the two are already working on the requisite “will they/ won’t they” that American sitcom audiences love so much.
- The writing this season has turned toward the ensemble. Jack is still abrasive (though not as much), but he is helping his students exact their own revenge this season, which has provided the show with much more levity, and it has also aided in softening the protagonist to the audience. He doesn’t seem as bad since the plot of the show isn’t all about him anymore.
- The stories that have focused on Jack, have worked to flesh out his personal history and explain his current behavior through an exploration of the pain of his past. This is most obvious in the episode “Personal Everest,” when one of Jack’s childhood bullies resurfaces at the school in the form of a motivational speaker.
So, even though the folks at NBC won’t see this (unless we all make enough racket), I implore them to give this show another year. Give them a full order of episodes to really get the wheels on this story turning. They have all the pieces in place now. Given, it took longer than a network would like for it to, but everything is there now. Give it another year, and you might just have your next big comedy success story.
Pass it on.
Until next time,