Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018
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Humor, but not Toledo, shines in new NBC sitcom

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The upcoming NBC sitcom A.P. Bio may be set in Toledo, but the show's main character, Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton), is no fan of his hometown.

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

Ron Batzdorff/NBC Enlarge

A disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who takes a job at fictional Whitlock High School as an Advanced Placement biology teacher — he does this essentially to kill time as he plots against the Harvard professor who wronged him — Griffin bemoans that fate returned him to “this garbage pile of a town,” as he calls it.

And later when another teacher politely observes that “it seems like you’re enjoying yourself here,” he is quick to correct her: “God, no. Teaching high school in Toledo. It’s terri ....” Griffin cuts himself off from finishing the word as he sees the horrified looks in that teacher’s and others’ faces.

While Griffin does not share the same affection for Toledo as did Jamie Farr's Max Klinger in M*A*S*H, most Toledoans will at least appreciate A.P. Bio, which will receive a preview airing at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on WNWO-TV, Channel 24, before beginning its regular weekly run on March 1. 

Created by former Saturday Night Live writer (2009-2014) Mike O'Brien, a 1995 graduate of St. John’s High School — hence the series’ Toledo setting — A.P. Bio is sharp, sardonic, and often laugh-out-loud funny, rare praise for a network sitcom.

A.P. Bio is also self-aware, but never in that obnoxious self-congratulatory way that mistakes meta for irony.

For example, the pilot episode, which was written by O’Brien, who also serves as showrunner and executive producer along with Seth Meyers and Lorne Michaels, eschews several classroom-based sitcom tropes including that Griffin, who refuses to teach anything to the class that’s not self-serving, will ultimately learn from his students.

“I know more than all of you combined,” he tells them, “so that doesn’t make any sense.”

And when this class of smart and nerdy teens later breaks into a rap complete with bad props that’s meant to change Griffin’s attitude about not teaching them, he quickly — and mercifully — ends it.

“What are you nuts? Dont ever surprise me with a rap,” Griffin scolds them. “And don’t ever rap about learning.”

A co-star in the long-running FX comedy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Howerton is perfectly cast as the bitter but funny Griffin, who wields sarcasm like a weapon but drops just enough philosophy so that we’re aware he is exceptionally bright.

As with many good sitcoms that have enjoyed long network runs, A.P. Bio has a strong supporting cast of amusing and funny characters to help carry the weight and humor of the show, the most prominent being comedian and actor Patton Oswalt (Young Adult and the voice of Remy in Ratatouille). Oswalt is terrific as Whitlock High School Principal (“Dirty”) Durbin, a sad sack administrator who puts up with Griffin for the same reason he hired him: He taught at Harvard.

In the show's pilot, Griffin’s A.P. Biology students are a familiar collection of misfits, over-achievers, and the socially awkward. But in subsequent episodes, some of them begin to break free from those character limitations: When Griffin is desperate to date a student’s hot and single mom, the student, Colin McConnell (Tucker Albrizzi) fights back; or when Griffin tangles with the student council president, Marcus (Nick Peine), after his favorite vending machine chips have been replaced with a healthier snack, which leads to an escalating war between them.

Most of it is silly and well beyond believability, even for a sitcom, but what matters most is that A.P. Bio is funny. The series is also not family friendly, as demonstrated in the pilot’s first few minutes in which Griffin explains to his bewildered students his plans to enjoy the company of many women in California.

In the first four episodes, Toledo doesn't make much — if any appearance — other than references in dialogue. There is a quick shot outside of “Toledo Mall,” which could be the exterior of Franklin Park Mall, but most likely is a generic mall substitute 2,000-plus miles west of here. The show did come to Toledo in November to shoot scenes with cast members at a Walleye game and in other parts of the city, so look for those city cameos in later episodes.

A.P. Bio is not going to make Toledo (and Tony Packo's) a household name as did M*A*S*H, but at the very least the city will be associated with another clever sitcom, which is reason enough to be proud and tune in.

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

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