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AP Bio: In Session.

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AP Bio: In Session.

Or, The Dennis Show


Alright, I am absolutely all about the idea of just taking the characters from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and making them leads of their own thinly-veiled spinoff shows. Sign me up. The Mick is already in its second season over at Fox and doing just fine for itself, and now we have NBC's AP Bio, making for two shows that have taken what are essentially the lead actors' characters from Always Sunny and plopped them into another series with a different set of circumstances. 

The Mick is a little more one-to-one with Kaitlin Olson's character; the premise there is basically, "No, seriously—what if Sweet Dee became the guardian of a handful of super rich siblings?" Of course, The Mick's Mackenzie is a little more sanded-down and has more moments of humanity than Sweet Dee has ever gotten on Always Sunny, but of course; she's the lead in her own TV show. Glenn Howerton's character in AP Bio basically asks "What if Dennis somehow managed to become a celebrated Harvard philosophy professor?" and the answer is probably exactly what you'd expect: He'd grow into a total egomaniac and eventually do something insane that would upend his entire career and send him spiraling into a despair corkscrew of his own making.

Thus begins AP Bio.

It's more than likely that the pilot script for this show has been floating around for some time (or it could be brand new! I genuinely have no idea), so it's hard to say whether or not this role was written specifically for Glenn Howerton. Comparing Jack Griffin to Dennis Reynolds isn't a detraction at all, here, because there is frankly no reason to sniff at the idea of taking his myriad neuroses and legendary freakouts and giving them their own spotlight. Jack is clearly smarter than Dennis (one could even argue that he's as smart as Dennis thinks he is), but his priorities are strikingly similar to his Always Sunny counterpart. In fact, Jack literally writes his main motivations up on the board in one of the series' opening scenes (the very first few moments are a thing of beauty such that I rewound to them watch maybe three or four times, and they're too brilliant to spoil here): He's primarily concerned with driving his successful nemesis to insanity, banging as many women as possible, and avoiding anything that might resemble teaching the children biology.

The children, naturally, are nonplussed (this is advanced placement biology, after all), and their attempts at getting Jack to actually teach them something don't go over even remotely well. (One of the episode's best runners involves him making sure they stop writing things down any time he actually winds up saying something of value. Another involves an apple repeatedly thrown at the wall.) We're quickly informed that Griffin's status as a Harvard professor means the high school's Principal Randy (Patton Oswalt in one of his very best performances) needs him way more than he needs the job, so Griffin can pretty much get away with doing anything he wants. Later conversations with other teachers, however, show that Jack isn't exactly the only teacher at the school who has figured out that Randy is a total doormat: the clique of give-no-fucks faculty members played by Lyric Lewis, Mary Sohn, and Jean Villepique are instantly unhinged and make it pretty clear that we're dealing with a situation where the teachers are really the students, at least in terms of social dynamics.

Griffin's class isn't without its own individual problems, though, and the pilot episode mostly focuses on Jack's nascent relationship with the requisite class Prince of Darkness. Devin (Jacob McCarthy) is the angsty emo kid, and when Jack tells the class about how he pissed on the workplace of a woman who had sexually rejected him the night before, Devin takes the same action against a kid who had been bullying him. Jack's deference to Devin is clearly "save the cat" writing, but it still comes relatively unexpectedly, and it's immediately clear why someone like Jack would bristle at the idea of a kid like Devin taking shit for no reason. It's a little odd that Principal Randy decides to bring a high school kid over to a faculty member's home after school hours, but the developing relationship between Jack and Devin is more interesting than that weird storytelling indiscretion is problematic.

There's just so much to love in the pilot for AP Bio. The writing is fantastic, and Howerton's performance is perfect. He's not exactly breaking new ground here, and Jack Griffin is just a few shades removed from Dennis Reynolds, but it all works so well that none of that matters. His interplay with the students works tightly, there's enough of a meta-narrative to keep things interesting (we only got a quick moment with his arch-nemesis—who is seemingly unaware of their rivalry—but it's a very safe bet we'll spend more time with him later on this season), and the characters filling out the background are primed to grow into their own. AP Bio looks like a sitcom set up for success, and I certainly plan on having a perfect record of attendance.


Oh, and also...

  • The attempted rap was unexpected, and a thing of beauty. As are Jack's chalkboard drawings.
  • Out of all the potential this show has, I might be most excited to spend more time with those three teachers.
  • I really hope Patton Oswalt is in every episode this much, if not more.

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Waco: From the Hip.

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Waco: From the Hip.

...and here we go.

Given that the Waco miniseries is only six episodes long and that the real-life siege lasted for nearly two entire months, it's not much of a surprise that things are about to kick off by the third episode's opening. What is surprising, though, is the path that leads to the iconic standoff, and the choices made therein. The time we spend with the Davidians is understandable; it's important we understand them and their point of view throughout the course of events. Time spent with Rogers and Noesner also makes sense, as their differing personal philosophies regarding law enforcement in general and hostage negotiation in specific make up the show's political and thematic interrogations. The problem lies in the machinations that surround them, and by the end of the second episode, it starts to seem like all that time spent with Noesner and Rogers at Ruby Ridge might have been better-served if we had spent it with those same characters, but in a situation that gave a bit more depth and context into the ATF's motivations, as opposed to something that largely functions as an action sequence.

Ruby Ridge certainly sets the stage for the ATF's hungry jump at the Davidians and their Mount Carmel compound, but it's justified with literally one scene wherein some ATF brass figures they can "remind congress" how much they're needed if they pull off some kind of big win. It just so happens that there have been some gun-related whisperings surrounding Koresh and his followers, so there it is. It's clear that the show wants its audience to understand that the ATF is insisting to itself that the guns are definitely there, and is ramping up the siege without any concrete evidence that would actually make it justified. The raid preparation even involves a woman who dresses like a realtor and is in charge of making sure cameras are in position to photograph ATF agents rescuing children who are supposedly in peril and bringing out guns that are supposedly illegal.

Beyond "hurting after Ruby Ridge and thirsty for a win," though, the ATF agents in charge of kicking down Koresh's doors don't have a whole lot of developed motivation, and the result renders the government as mustache-twirlingly evil. I don't think this is the actual intent, because I don't think Waco is asking us to side with a dude who has sex with minors and bangs all his best friends' wives.

Koresh is very clearly a manipulator, and a lot of the best writing to be found in Waco comes from spending time with the Branch Davidians. ATF agent Jacob Vasquez (John Leguizamo) is tasked with infiltrating the compound and getting eyes on all those illegal guns, and Koresh's attempts to "turn him" are nakedly presented as such. He's unmistakably manipulating Jacob, and it's clear that his relationship with his congregation is founded his need for sexual and social power. Melissa Benoist's Rachel is a manipulative true believe right there along with her husband, but literal sister wife Michelle (The Americans' Julia Garner) is clearly not stoked about living a life sans agency. The dynamics within the Davidian compound are well-developed, and the characters are thoughtfully portrayed, despite being fundamentally and unmistakably wrong in the morality of their actions.

So it's a real fucking problem when the show manages to make the government into gun-licking militaristic crazies, with Michael Shannon's Gary Noesner throwing up his hands in constant frustration at being the literal last good person left in the entire organization. It was probably going to go in this review, but the script for "The Strangers Across the Street" actually has Rogers call Noesner a "Boy Scout," and roll out the old "you're no better than me" cherry. Developing the complicated nature of a law enforcement agency and the various forces at play within it is crucial to making the Waco narrative something more than the good vs. bad narrative, and it's clear that this objective was important to the writing staff...and this is exactly why it's such a problem when all the writing that surrounds the ATF and FBI completely whiff this approach.

The story of the Waco Siege is a complicated one, and Waco is leaving too many questions on the table. Who's the ATF's source? (Is there even one? They were sure that the illegal guns would be stored in that upstairs bedroom, but they were nowhere near that location.) How did that "Sinful Messiah" article get written? It seems to have simply appeared out of thin air. Why do the Branch Davidians have those guns? (It's so they can sell them at gun shows — not illegally — but this is only given a line or two of dialogue in the premiere.) Waco seems to have noble intentions in the way it wants to explore its complicated subject matter, but to truly do so is going to require a bit more precision.


Oh, and also...

  • Kitsch really steps into the role in this episode. Bravo, man.
  • Kinda bummed that Michael Shannon didn't get more to do this episode, and even more bummed that some of what he did get to do involved him telling a sad exposition-dump story to his wife at the end of the day. Weak.
  • Speaking of which, Shea Whigham had better do something real awesome real quick here, because this use of The Whig is absolutely not cutting it.

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