It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia producer and star Glenn Howerton has become known for playing a certain type of TV comedy archetype – though that’s bound to happen when an actor spends 13 years playing the same character. Over those 13 (soon-to-be 14) years, Howerton’s Dennis Reynolds has gone from garden variety asshole to a level of serial killer-esque sociopathic, the likes of which television comedy has never seen.
One would think that in choosing his next TV project, and first one available to wider audiences on a traditional network, Howerton may have wanted to switch things up. But disgraced Harvard professor Jack Griffin on NBC’s A.P. Bio is another little comedy sociopath in waiting. According to Howerton, however, there is a very distinct method in portraying his various characters’ madness.
“I think (Jack), at some point in his life, was like ‘I’m better than these people.’ So he achieved a certain amount of status,” Howerton says. “I don’t think he was really happy, because you’re never happy if you’re constantly striving for the next big thing, or the next big paycheck.”
As explained by Howerton, Jack Griffin and Dennis Reynolds are two sides of the same coin. Actually, it’s not so much a coin but rather a 7 billion-sided die that all of humanity’s on – just a bunch of empty souls looking for the next dopamine hit. We are all Dennis Reynolds and Jack Griffin.
“I don’t think he was really happy, because you’re never happy if you’re constantly striving for the next big thing,” he says. “It’s never gonna be enough money. There’s never gonna be enough cars, never gonna be enough shoes, and leather jackets, or whatever the hell it is that gives you that dopamine. And yet, we do it anyway. We all do it.”
Anywho, this is an interview with Glenn Howerton about his half hour comedy series, A.P. Bio.
A.P. Bio Season 2 premieres on March 7 at 8:30 p.m. on NBC. The season finds Jack Griffin still teaching A.P. Biology in Toledo, Ohio and still wishing that he could be doing anything but that. Jack’s plan for escape this year is to enlist his class of precocious kids to help him write a book about how Toledoans have discovered the key to happiness in their mundane, blue collar lives. There are also some terrifying nuns involved at some point.
How did you get in the mindset for Jack’s journey in A.P. Bio Season 2? Do you think he’s chastened at all by the near escape from last season?
I think he’s in a combination of survival mode and total denial about his situation. His plans didn’t work out. But he is in denial of just how bad it is, or just how unlikely it is that he is ever gonna get out of Toledo. The kind of defeat that he experienced at the end of season one requires certain amount of self-reflection, which would probably be too damaging to his ego. So I think he’s just on to the next plan. You know what I mean?
Yeah. Speaking of that next plan, do you think he thinks that Toledoans really are uniquely happy, and they’ve discovered the key to it all?
Yeah, it’s one of the beautiful things about the show. It’s one of the things I love so much about the show, that rather than being a show populated with a bunch of cynical characters, he’s surrounded by a bunch of people who genuinely love it there. Every day Jack experiences a staff of other teachers who, whenever he brings up how shitty Toledo is, they look at him like, “What are you talking about? Toledo’s amazing.” Ditto for the kids. I mean, again, it’s one of the things that’s so unique about this show. It’s not a classroom filed with really sort of droll and a bunch of angst-y high school kids, who can’t stand where they live and can’t wait to get the hell out of there.
He’s surrounded by a bunch of kids who love it there, and just want to learn as much as they possibly can. And it’s just absolutely confounding to someone like Jack, who could never understand. I think his idea of happiness is so intrinsically tied to his ability to achieve a certain status, that he can’t imagine that somebody who works a blue collar job, in a city like Toledo, which in his mind is a city that is just there for you to get out of. He can’t understand how those people could actually be happy. And I think he just genuinely wants to figure out what that’s all about.
What is it like coming back for a season two and working with such a young cast? Since we’re older, the passage of time isn’t that significant for us. But I imagine it might be for them and they could have grown and changed quite a bit.
I noticed a pretty big leap in their own confidence in their abilities. I think some of them had other jobs before, but for quite a few of them, this is the biggest opportunity that they’ve ever had in their young careers as actors. And I think they just weren’t as sure of themselves. A thing for a lot of younger actors, and younger people in any profession, is they get that first big job, that sort of tells them that they may be succeeding, rather than thinking to themselves like, “Oh, I am in the right profession. Am I good at this?”
I think getting a season two of the show, because the kids are such a big part of it, was a huge confidence booster for them. I just watched them really blossom this year. Whenever you get that second season pickup, it really does actually send a message, like, “Okay, we’re on the right track here. We’re doing something right. Just keep trusting yourself.” And I watched the kids really trust themselves, and trust their ability to deliver something truly unique and comedic, and it was terrific. They were on fire this year. It was great.
If this show continues on for a third season or more, you’re almost going to have the experience of being like an actual teacher. You’re going to watch these kids grow up.
That’s a good point. Yeah, and I think that’s true. And I think Jack secretly yearns for that as well. I mean, I think deep down inside he understands that a deeper human connection is actually what’s needed for true happiness. It’s just that he’s not ready to accept it yet.
The show lives on this knife’s edge of the “students teaching the teacher” trope where there are secret lessons to be learned. But it also doesn’t fully give into that, in the sense that you still want to have, I guess, a level of cynicism. What is it like to balance those two competing tones?
On some level, it’s very relatable. I think all of us are susceptible to … look, we live in a country where we’re told two things at the exact same time, and they’re two totally and completely different and competing philosophies on what is going to make you feel happy and fulfilled. On the one hand, your parents tell you, and your teachers tell you, and all the sane adults in your life are always telling you, money will not make you happy. Right?
But then on the other hand, we’ve got the richest, most socially influential people in the world constantly wearing the nicest clothes, and driving the nicest cars, and flashing cash. They’re either consciously or subconsciously sending the message to young people, who are the ones that are consuming all this entertainment that, like, “No, money and status are what make you happy.”
And deep down inside, you know it’s not gonna make you happy. Yet, you just can’t help but strive for that dopamine hit that you get whenever you get a cool new phone, or a cool new pair of shoes, or whatever. You get that little dopamine hit. It’s like being at the casino. It just makes you want more, and more, and more, and more. And I think Jack falls into that same trap. I think he, at some point in his life, he was like “I’m better than these people.” So he achieved a certain amount of status, and he went to Harvard, and he did all this shit.
I don’t think he was really happy, because you’re never happy if you’re constantly striving for the next big thing, or like the next big paycheck. It’s never gonna be enough money. There’s never gonna be enough cars, never gonna be enough shoes, and leather jackets, or whatever the hell it is that gives you that dopamine. And yet, we do it anyway. We all do it. We all do that shit. We’re like, “Oh, I’ll get the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch just came out. I gotta get the Apple Watch. Then I’ll be happy.” It just doesn’t work that way. But we can’t seem to be able to digest that lesson. So that’s why my character is like this, because I think for me, it’s a way to watch that mentality constantly fail.
I had never considered that, like the Glenn Howerton archetype or Dennis Reynolds or Jack Griffin as being financially based. You could almost say, in an “economic insecurity” in a way.
Sure, it’s financial, but it’s also status, right? It’s ego. It’s being able to get those little things that tell you that you are better than everybody else. It’s like, that’s another competing idea that we have. It’s like, we all know deep down inside, that the thing that makes us happy is a deeper connection with another human being. And yet, at the same time, we can’t seem to kick this thing. We feel like, “Oh, if I could just be better than everybody. If I could just have status on people, then that would be even better than being a part of everybody.”
What’s better than being a part of everybody? Being better than everybody. And I think that’s the thing with anybody who strives for power. I’m always fascinated by people who have billions of dollars, who still strive to make more billions of dollars. Because at a certain point, you go, “Oh, no, it’s not about money.” These people don’t need money. It’s just power and status. They don’t know what the fuck else to do with their lives except make more money.
Did you ever see that study where they essentially isolated the point where money can’t buy you more happiness? It’s something like $70,000 a year. Once you hit that, you’re financially secure, and any other money isn’t filling that empty hole in your soul.
Exactly. Yes, I am aware of that actually and it’s fascinating. Because again, it doesn’t matter how many times we hear that, or we hear about that study, or we just know that money…it’s like, every fucking movie that ever comes out is telling us money will not make you happy, money will not make you happy, But we can’t help ourselves then. We can’t help ourselves. It’s crazy.
This time last season, you were fielding a lot of questions about what A.P. Bio meant for your future involvement on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And that seems to have been settled now, since we’ve actually seen you exist simultaneously on both shows. Is that paradigm going to be similar for as long as both shows exist going forward? Will you appear on seven or eight Sunny episodes a year?
I wish I could give you a more concrete answer to that. It’s all a little up in the air. Everything is under discussion. I mean, we’re still a couple months away from starting the writers’ room on Sunny. So, unfortunately, I don’t totally have an answer for you. But it’s certainly my intention to continue to be involved in Sunny, I can tell you that. So as long as everything lines up properly schedule-wise, and it all makes sense from an artistic and story perspective, then yeah, I’ll be back.
Anything else you want to add about A.P. Bio Season 2, or just a general emptiness inside us all?
Oh, that’s what comedy’s all about, right? Talking about that hole in all of us and trying to fill it with something? No, look, I’m really excited about season 2, because I really liked the first season of A.P. Bio, and I was very proud of it. But there’s just something Mike (O’Brien, A.P. Bio showrunner) really honed in on with season two, and I think he was able to really capture what made season one so great, and distill it down to its best parts in season two. It’s kind of the opposite of the sophomore slump. I’m just very proud of this season. I think it’s an incredibly unique show, and always was, but I think it’s even more unique this year than it was in the first season.