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.