How can someone simultaneously be the best and worst teacher you’ve ever had? Jack in “AP Bio” is a perfect example of how that can happen.
After losing his job as a philosophy professor at Harvard, Jack Griffin returns to his hometown in Toledo to take a job as an advanced placement biology teacher, but on his first day, his students find out that there’s a catch. Jack announces that he will not be teaching them biology. Instead, he will be employing them to take down his academic rival, Miles, in exchange for free A’s at the end of the year.
From then on, this comedic series centers on Jack’s mostly unsuccessful revenge schemes and his growing relationships with his students and fellow faculty members who are each as quirky and absurd as he is.
“AP Bio” premiered on NBC in February with its first season’s 13 episode run ending last week. I decided to check it out on a whim while hanging out with my friends on a Saturday night and have been hooked since the pilot. This show is one of the best and most unique comedies I’ve seen in years.
It works so well mostly because of its lead. Jack is crazy, unemotional, and bitter in such a way that he’s pathetic and does not care who knows it. Every day, he tells his students all about his life whether he is ranting about Miles or talking about his schemes to get his ex-girlfriend to sleep with him. Jack has little to no filter, and it’s hilarious how honest he is.
However, Jack is still relatable because he’s not a complete nihilist either. When his students or his new friends in the faculty need help, despite his best intentions, Jack will stand up for them or help them in any way he knows how, although not in the way viewers will expect. He is never able to be completely apathetic, and at times, shows himself to be vulnerable. In a strange way, despite his antisocial behavior, you find yourself rooting for Jack and laughing at his antics.
Jack is clearly the show’s most nuanced character, but everyone else is just as bizarre in their own little way. His colleagues, the three female teachers we primarily see, are crazy college students stuck in older women’s bodies. The lady at the front desk is overly positive and enthusiastic. The most normal person in this show is Principal Durbin, but he even struggles with being an insecure people-pleaser due to his controlling wife. Even the stereotypical students have quirks that make them more memorable. For instance, the quiet and nerdy girl is secretly a confident wild child with a perverted streak. Most of the show consists of these bizarre people interacting with each other, and it works.
It works because “AP Bio’s” comedic writing is clever and absurdly humorous. All the characters and the situations they find themselves in are unbelievably bizarre in a way that is genuinely funny, but I think more of the comedy comes from how often our expectations as an audience are subverted.
Audiences are used to the tropes in stories about inspirational teachers and about people finding themselves, but they aren’t used to a show where all those tropes are subverted, and all those expectations are flipped.
This show does the latter, and that’s what makes it funny. In that aspect, “AP Bio” reminds me of the “Sam and Max: Freelance Police” cartoon. The characters do not do what you expect them to, and if they do, it is never in the way you expect them to do it. Your expectations are constantly shattered, and the result makes you laugh.
To give an example, in one episode, Jack and another student find common ground in that they both have absentee fathers. The student in question has a Boy Scout father-son event coming up, and in any ordinary show, the two of them would go to the event and bond. But in “AP Bio,” the two of them bond over sabotaging the event to make themselves feel better.
That is “AP Bio” in a nutshell, but in an odd way, it is kind of touching. Jack is clearly not the best role model for these students and he is completely irresponsible, but he still inspires them to live life to the fullest. In turn, the students give him happiness and a reason to live, despite his best intentions.
NBC has announced a Season 2, and I’m glad to hear of it. I don’t know where this comedy is going, but that’s what makes it so great.