February 2, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere TV Review: “AP Bio”


AP BIO:  Thursday 9:30PM on NBC (regular run starts March 1) – Change the Channel

Most of the braintrust behind NBC’s new sitcom AP BIO hails from Saturday Night Live, starting with series creator Mike O’Brien and including Executive Producers Lorne Michaels, Seth Meyers and Michael Shoemaker, so it’s not hard to see why the pilot resembles an early Bill Murray movie, albeit one with a gaping hole where Bill Murray is supposed to be.

As in, say, Meatballs, our protagonist is a wise-ass (Jack Griffin, played by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton) who finds himself in a leadership position over a bunch of hopeless losers–here, the eponymous high school class in Toledo, where Jack has been forced to bitterly retreat after his promising career as a Philosophy professor ends in disaster.  He makes it clear that he has zero interest in following the rules (the school’s pathetic voice of authority is Principal Durbin, a role inflicted on Patton Oswalt), which in this case means following a curriculum, or having any meaningful contact with his charges.  He’d rather plot revenge against his academic rival, who got the Stanford position he lusted for.  But darn it, against his own will Jeff finds himself connecting with them, and even though they won’t get a conventional education from him, he’ll soon be imparting life lessons and becoming a better human being.

O’Brien is as aware as we are that all this is a pile of cliches, to the point that he has Jack deliver an opening monologue swearing that he won’t do any of these things.  (Other clear non-Bill Murray antecedents include Bad Teacher and Community.)  But genre is fate, and every story beat of AP Bio is predestined.  That in itself isn’t fatal, since much of TV comedy rests on finding minute variations to familiar tunes.  But in the early going, AP Bio doesn’t suggest that it has its tone or characters right.  Bill Murray, before he became venerable and serious, had a genius for turning obnoxiousness into charm, and it’s one that Howerton lacks; he’s just annoying.  The pilot makes almost no effort to suggest the students as characters, except for the one (Jacob McCarthy’s Devin) rescued from his bully by Jack’s unconventional techniques.  The fact that Oswalt’s character is self-aware about his ineffectiveness doesn’t make him at all original.  (Marin Hinkle’s recurring principal on Speechless is a more amusing version of this archetype.)  Even O’Brien’s non-core characters feel second-hand:  the nasty female fellow educators Jack meets seem to have crossed over from TV Land’s Teachers. Pilot director Oz Rodriguez keeps the train on its tracks, but without any visual imagination.

NBC is giving AP Bio a complicated launch, presumably out of a belief that if it can convince viewers to give it a few chances, they’ll get hooked.  After tonight’s pre-Olympics “preview,” two more episodes will be posted online tomorrow, and those episodes will then air, respectively, on the night of the Olympics Closing Ceremony and off-timeslot on Thursday, March 1.  Then the series will begin its regular run with a new episode that same night at 9:30PM.  Sometimes comedies find their footing with time, and perhaps AP Bio will become worthy of academic honors by episode 4.  If so, it’s really going to have to do some homework.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."