Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Culture Shock

Toledo's prime-time moment

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    Glenn Howerton as Jack in NBC's "A.P. Bio."

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

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Beginning at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Toledo gets some prime-time exposure. It's just not the love many were expecting.

A.P. Bio, NBC's midseason replacement sitcom, is set in Toledo — GREAT! — but its lead character disparages his hometown — UGH!

This is all part of the growth of the show’s main character, Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a disgraced Harvard philosophy professor who has reluctantly returned to his hometown to teach high school biology after losing out on his dream job at Stanford. Griffin is bitter about his present lot in life and takes out some of those frustrations by disparaging the city of Toledo, which he derisively refers to as a “garbage pile."

So, really, Griffin’s issues aren’t Toledo and certainly not Toledoans, but with himself, as he clearly has some growing up — and chilling out — to do. His stunted growth makes for great sardonic lines, and more subtly juxtaposes well with his classroom of bright and eager-to-learn students, who appear far more mature than their years. (The adult as the kid, the kids as the adults kinda thing.)

In fact, the students as well as the other teachers and Toledo denizens on A.P. Bio represent our fair city quite well as a cross-section of race, gender, and age who are living normal and well-adjusted lives — at least, “normal and well-adjusted” lives for sitcom characters, which for hilarity’s sake require having the occasional goofy experience or scheme. Hollywood doesn’t usually “get” the Midwest.

But A.P. Bio's creator Mike O'Brien does. The 41-year-old former Saturday Night Live writer grew up in and around Toledo, graduating from St. John’s High School in 1995. I interviewed O’Brien over the phone a few weeks ago, and I can tell you he loved growing up here and remains fond of Toledo long after moving away, unlike some “locals” I’ve talked with who never moved away from their hometown and seem to resent that and their hometown.

O’Brien acknowledged that “negativity” in our chat.

“There is some negativity in Toledo. My friends from Detroit have the same tone, where you’re supposed to rip on your hometown, or apologize for being from there,” he said. “I’d never had that. We just had all positive experiences there.”

You can read the rest of the interview in the Arts section in Sunday’s Blade, including how O’Brien came up with the concept for A.P. Bio, why the show is set in Toledo, and when — even if — Griffin will warm up to his hometown.

OK, clearly A.P. Bio isn’t “Cleveland Rocks,” the pro-Cleveland theme song of The Drew Carey Show, which was set in Carey's hometown.

But it’s also not WKRP in Cincinnati, an AM radio station-set sitcom that just happened to take place in Cincinnati. And it’s certainly not the ABC Family network sitcom Melissa & Joey, which was set in Toledo but was not filmed in the city. At all. The series employed the occasional “licensable shot” of downtown Toledo, as David Kendal, one of Melissa & Joey's executive producers told me in late August, 2010, just before the series premiere.

The Fox high school-set drama/musical Glee, while set in Lima, did not shoot there.

But A.P. Bio did shoot locally. Some of the show’s cast and crew — including O’Brien — were in town in mid-November to shoot scenes at a Walleye game as well as a few other Toledo sites as part of the show’s penultimate episode.

That speaks loud and proud of O’Brien’s and the show’s commitment to being authentic to Toledo — and that A.P. Bio’s setting wasn’t selected at random from the Midwest. It means something.

It also means something that a hometown boy is, in his own way, giving back to the city, just as Jamie Farr did decades ago as the Toledo-loving Klinger on M*A*S*H.

And that’s why A.P. Bio should mean something to Toledo ... no matter what Griffin says.

After Sunday, make sure to tune in to A.P. Bio in its regular 9:30 p.m. Thursday slot for the remainder of its 13-episode run, which can be seen locally on WNWO-TV, Channel 24.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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