The following contains no spoilers.
A.P. Bio Season 1 was a welcome surprise for a network TV comedy landscape in need of one. That’s not to say that the state of half-hour comedies on network TV isn’t strong, because it is. A.P. Bio’s own network even features two of the most inventive and funniest comedies around in The Good Place and Superstore. But even those brilliant comedies are part of a scene that is lacking in a sort of comedic tonal diversity.
Most network comedies have an important feature in common: a relentless sense of optimism, which again: is not necessarily a bad thing. We live in an era where some optimism and good spirit from our half hour shows is entirely welcome. Not only that, but the “Optimism Era” of TV comedies was arguably jumpstarted by Parks and Recreation’s critical and cultural success. Anything that comes from Parks and Recreation is fundamentally worthwhile.
Still, A.P. Bio refreshingly zigged where the rest of the network TV world zagged in a rather refreshing way. A.P. Bio Season 1 was not a bright and cheery show. When disgraced Harvard professor, Jack Griffin (the always-brilliant Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), met his A.P. Biology students at Whitlock High School in Toledo, Ohio for the first time, he made his position very clear. This will not be a cathartic, heartwarming experience for anyone.
Yes, the disheveled and be-cardiganed Jack may be the spitting image of the “school of hard knocks” teacher archetype we see in pop culture constantly. But he will not be that. He is a lazy, selfish asshole and he will continue to be a lazy, selfish asshole. These children will not learn any A.P. Biology – or anything else for that matter, if Jack has his way.
To A.P. Bio showrunner (and treasured SNL alum) Mike O’Brien’s credit, Jack was largely right. Yes, there was a lesson to be had here and there, and sure Jack softened to the kids in his own weird way. But for the most part, Jack Griffin remained the selfish beast that he promised he would be. A.P. Bio was the show that it promised from moment one…and a lot of viewers didn’t really like that.
Not us, mind you. Our Glenn Howerton Stockholm Syndrome goes deep around these parts and we came to appreciate and even love A.P. Bio’s bold assholery. But for the viewer with dozens of worthwhile, well-made, and decidedly more cheerful half hour comedies, A.P. Bio Season 1 was understandably a bit much.
A.P. Bio Season 2 clearly understands that. Thisis a much different show tonally than its first go-around. Jack Griffin is still Jack Griffin. He wears the trademark cardigan and sweatpants and still begins his class period by telling his students to shut up. But he also seems a little more chastened, defeated, and ready for primetime television.
A.P. Bio Season 2’s first episode, “Happiness,” (the first three episodes were made available and watched for this review) operates under the conceit that Jack has largely surrendered to the fact that he’ll have to build a life in Toledo. Jack decides that his ticket back to the intellectual world is to write a book about how the working class of American has unlocked the key to happiness through the simplicity. This means of course becoming part of the working class….which means making the kids all get jobs and to report back their findings.
Even by Jack’s standards, this is a real half-assed attempt at escape and the results of the episode bear that out. Jack is back to engaging in weird little acts of revenge with the kids in no time. It’s understandable that Jack would “evolve” as a character this way, given the sheer levels of professional and personal frustration he went through in Season 1. But it’s also not a coincidence that his surrender into a life of Midwestern mediocrity also coincides with the show mellowing out far more considerably.
A.P. Bio Season 2 resembles the other sunny (but not Sunny) comedies on network television much more closely than its harsher first season. While the non-Howerton cast led by Patton Oswalt, were important pieces in the show’s first season, they are all something resembling co-leads now. This is now truly an ensemble show. Oswalt continues to have a blast as Principal Durbin, who in these first three episodes tries to outlaw the word “funt” and becomes one of Toledo’s Top 100 Bachelors.
The teaching trio of Stef Duncan (Lyric Lewis), Mary Wagner (Mary Sohn), and Michelle Jones (Jean Villepique) are once again pitch perfect as a co-dependent group of weirdos. The kids remain a delight; with the early season MVPs proving to be Anthony (Eddie Leavy) and Victor (Jacob Houston). Anthony has a bone to pick with his karate sensei and Victor has a rough experience learning to drive. A.P. Bio Season 2 also wisely significantly ups its levels of Paula Pell, which is always a smart decision to make.
Still, the end effect is that A.P. Bio Season 2 becomes more of a hangout comedy following the kooky denizens of a kooky high school. That’s not an unwelcome or uncommon thing to be on television but it is a little sad to see A.P. Bio “give up” like it’s lead character does. A.P. Bio was certainly an imperfect comedy in its first season and even arguably worse than many of its peers. But at least it was different from them.
Perhaps losing its edge is the right move and the deep cast of characters is more than up for the added spotlight. A.P. Bio is just no longer the Howerton Party we were initially welcomed to. Hopefully we’ll have 15 more seasons of It’s Always Sunny for that though.