Who doesn’t love a resurrection story? There’s something intriguing about show with a loyal fan base getting suddenly pulled from the brink of extinction and given a second chance to find a larger audience. After two low-rated seasons on NBC, the network canceled “A.P. Bio,” a clever comedy that seemed to fit in well with other critical hits on the channel like “The Good Place” and “Superstore.” It never quite found a sizable audience in the ratings, but fans raged against the decision, and NBC actually changed course, deciding that a third season of the show would be commissioned for their upcoming streaming service, Peacock. Well, that tiered streamer is now here, looking for an audience for original shows like “Brave New World,” “Intelligence,” and “Hitmen.” Maybe their first big new hit can be an old show?
Glenn Howerton plays Jack Griffin, a Harvard professor who has been disgraced professionally to such a degree that he’s been forced to return to his hometown of Toledo to teach advanced placement biology to a group of kids who are arguably smarter than him. Jack uses most of his in-class time to wrangle his students in on schemes that are typically driven by petty vengeance. It’s a great role for an actor who basically defined petty vengeance as Dennis on the FX hit “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and Howerton is cleverly balanced tonally by the sweeter-than-Yoohoo Patton Oswalt as Principal Durbin and Paula Pell as Helen. At its best on NBC, “A.P. Bio” found a way to balance Howerton’s cynicism with charming Midwest optimism. And the supporting cast, including some great young actors in Jack’s class, was impressive.
Most of this has moved over to Peacock largely unaltered on the surface, with stories of vengeance and bad behavior on Jack’s part that feel like they would have fit just as neatly on NBC. However, and it’s hard to say if this is related to its new home, but it feels like a show that’s narratively running out of steam. Pell stole a lot of episodes in the NBC iteration, and she’s been given a bigger role because of that in season three, but I miss the scene-stealing approach. Ensemble is often the best approach to comedy but it feels like this one is too diffused, especially as the writers increasingly don’t know what to do with Jack (his relationship with girlfriend Lynette gets almost no development in the episodes I’ve seen). They’re too distracted by wacky subplots involving other teachers or Helen. The idea that the adults at this high school are less mature than the students in A.P. Bio is a clever driving force to start a show but drags a bit with each subsequent season. And too many episodes work their jokes into the ground more than the show did in the first two seasons. An episode about a celebration for Katie Holmes Day—she’s one of Toledo’s brighter stars—drags at 22 minutes because it repeats too many of the same jokes. Every episode has a pacing issue, and slack pacing kills comedy fast.
While the writing seems too thin to sustain an audience, the cast still does everything in their power to elevate it. Pell and Oswalt have perfect comic timing, and the young cast is consistently funny especially when they’re allowed to break stereotypes about intellectual teens. However, it does feel like Howerton is ready to move on. He’s not bad here, his timing is always solid, but the writers have less an idea than ever what to do with Jack. A show about a guy who feels passed over by life is getting weaker as it sidelines him in favor of the broader personalities at school. He really can’t catch a break. Even on his own show.
Six episodes screened for review.