‘A.P. Bio’ Takes Jabs at Snobs and High School With Wicked Humor

Recently it has been the jerk who has truly fallen out of favor in light of recent cultural developments. That hasn’t stopped the persona from inspiring new movies and TV series, because the jerk can be quite the tragic comic figure, inspiring our repulsion and laughter, sometimes both at once. The Seth Meyers helmed comedy “A.P. Bio is a new sitcom that focuses on a guy whose fatal flaws are envy, snobbishness and low-key misogyny. When the show works it can be very funny, taking swings at pretension, high school and the principal (of course), and when it misses it’s because we’re not sure how it feels about the more off-color material. It can be a ying-yang of potential and flat falls.

Glenn Howerton is Jack Griffin, a former philosophy professor at Harvard denied tenure who finds himself teaching AP biology in Toledo, Ohio’s Whitlock High School. Of course Jack isn’t planning to actually teach biology, his obsession is to eventually destroy his great rival, the tenured and pompous Miles Lewis (Tom Bennett), who is rising in the bestseller lists with a self-help book. When Griffin realizes he has total control over what his class is required to do, he decides to assign the students his own schemes to catfish and humiliate Miles. Griffin does all this under the nose of his boss, Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt), who is a little too nice. But not every plan works out. Griffin plots to sleep with his high school ex, who isn’t into the idea considering she has a boyfriend, he hits the bottle too much, Miles’s book keeps getting him grants and fame, and Griffin’s own embarrassing tenure hearing is apparently a YouTube viral video.

For most of its time “A.P. Bio” is fun and good rib-nudge. The character of Jack Griffin is a memorable grump and a satirical take on the typical idea of the highly educated. He struts into class openly dismissing the idea of being a regular teacher (“This won’t be one of those things where I learn from you than you from me. I’m smarter than all of you combined, so that wouldn’t make sense”). He casually dismisses the opinions of the apple polishers like Sarika (Aparna Brielle), who always sits in the front row, but sympathizes with the quiet kid in the back reading an anarchist book. His dialogue is written with the refinement of a scholar, but one who drinks too much and feels depressed. We rarely get characters like this in sitcoms and Griffin can be that kind of ego who is entertaining to watch. Patton Oswalt is highly likeable as Durbin, he plays him with that aloofness you always find in people who are too nice for their own good. The casting of the class is pitch perfect, with each student having their own personality well-defined. It’s the kind of group we hope to get to know better as the season progresses. There are other side characters who make hilariously memorable appearances including a brilliantly acted, but for some reason uncredited, teacher’s union representative with great one-liners (“Say the word, and I shall unleash the dogs”).

The flaw in the Griffin character is that the show needlessly makes him into too much of a jerk. His depressed, vengeful Phd persona is funny enough, we don’t need him to become the typical misogynist. He proclaims to his students that he plans to sleep “with as many women in California as possible” and “bang my high school ex hard.” These days sex has become less playful and more of an easy gimmick for comedy. But with the current cultural shifts getting raunchy in a douchebag sort of way is fast becoming dated, it’s too much of a been there, seen that deal. The show is funny when it’s riffing on the whole school teacher angle. In one hilarious scene Durbin brings the quiet from class to Griffin’s house, complaining that the kid was caught defecating on the house of a student who bullies him. Griffin nonchalantly realizes he mentioned in class having done a similar thing when he was in high school. A trip of teachers who sit in the staff lounge are written with a subtle form of savagery where we realize they are also bullying each other in a quieter, meaner way than the students. By the season’s third episode the students seem to be quietly sane, while the adults are lost in their own, crazy rivalries based on the fact that they apparently attended this same high school together as well.

Much of how “A.P. Bio” develops will depend on how well it develops the character of Griffin. Hopefully some truly wicked satire is in order. Moments where we see his rival at home, listening to (of course) classical music while being catfished have great, dark humor. In this era where everyone is told they need a degree this show is a funny jab at the very look and nature of the academic creature. One of the season opener’s best moments comes when a student tells Griffin he might get his dream job back if he just worked hard instead of obsessing over his rival. The jerk is not very popular right now culturally, but if written just the right way, he can still get some good laughs out of us, even if they are full of pity.

Season one of “A.P. Bio” premieres March 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET and airs Thursdays on NBC. The pilot along with the second and third episodes are also available Feb. 1 via the NBC.com and the NBC App.