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A.P. Bio's blunt force humor compensates for its sloppy storytelling in a strange second episode

Patton Oswalt, Glenn Howerton (Photo by Vivian Zink/NBC)
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Welcome back! What a strange rollout this has been, eh? A.P. Bio’s pilot aired earlier this month, then the series bailed for three weeks due to the Olympics, then they aired the second episode after the closing ceremony, and now the third’s coming later this week. Oh, and the first three episodes are already up on Hulu. Me right now.


Anyways, it’s nice to see Glenn Howerton again, who here confines himself to “teacher jail” after getting in hot water for leaving his class unattended, resulting in the injury of a student. The episode is much, much more focused than A.P. Bio’s peripatetic pilot, with Howerton’s Jack using his punishment as a means of brainstorming book ideas that will hopefully serve to elevate him above his rival, Miles Leonard. The students, meanwhile, are left with a sub who’s even worse than Jack, while Principal Durbin is given a fierce antagonist in Niecy Nash’s union rep.

Niecy Nash, Patton Oswalt (Photo by Vivian Zink/NBC)

Divorced from the pilot’s table-setting, the characters’ roles and motivations are becoming a bit clearer: Jack wants to skate by, the kids want a good teacher, and Durbin wants to uphold the status quo. And though the plotting serves to demonstrate these intentions, there’s a noticeable lack of grace to their execution. Sure, it’s tough when you’re only given 23 minutes, but the stakes can’t help but feel low when most of these stories are resolved with literal shrug. Jack accepts his punishment and returns to class as a show of kindness to Durbin, which is never quite earned. And the kids rid themselves of Helen by just saying Durbin needs her, which she accepts all too readily. This is resolution for necessity’s sake; there’s no real growth or revelation to any of it.

That’s because creator Mike O’Brien jams jokes and weirdness where others would cultivate pathos. And this is, of course, the appeal of A.P. Bio, which is still pretty hilarious in spite of its clumsy plotting. Paula Pell’s Helen, for example, is a treasure trove of one-liners and inspired spaz. Her evaluation of Victor culminates in a bizarre “gotcha” shriek, and her sex ed lesson asserts that menopause isn’t real. Nash’s Kim, too, makes a fine addition to the ensemble (should she return), as so many of her lines feel sprung from some indecipherable human logic. “This is my dog chow,” she replies nonsensically when Durbin asks about her lunch. “The dogs are loose.” Soon, she’s rhyming and, as an insult, calling him a “cutie patootie,” a head-scratching choice of phrase considering it can’t easily be traced to their argument.

Paula Pell (Photo: Vivian Zink/NBC)

The cameos keep coming, too, with Saturday Night Live alum Taran Killam briefly popping in as studious biology sub Mr. Vining, and the amazing Mark Proksch, who might know from Better Call Saul or Tim Heidecker’s On Cinema series, as a teacher who loves tickling other teachers. It’s not a creepy thing, either; he just loves making people laugh and doesn’t know any good jokes. He doesn’t seem like someone the judgmental Jack would glom onto, but who cares. It’s funny.


Right now, as A.P. Bio continues to refine its storytelling, a “who cares, it’s funny” mentality is probably the best means of approaching it. O’Brien has given himself a grand challenge in essentially telling us that Jack and his students will never reach an emotional or intellectual dovetail. What, one wonders, will be the arc of this series? It still doesn’t seem to know, but it’s funny enough to keep watching as it figures it out.

Stray observations

  • It’s a bit of an odd choice to take Jack out of the classroom for the majority of the second episode when the central dynamic of the show is between Jack and the kids, yeah? Also, Sarika mentions how Jack “literally leaves us alone all the time,” raising the question of how much time has passed since he started teaching. One wonders if this episode was originally written to run later in the season.
  • Also, sociopathic Devin and his bully were pretty much non-entities here after being a big focus of the pilot. Kinda weird, yeah?
  • Michelle, Stef, and Mary remain a disconnected chorus, though they definitely make the most of their limited screen time. Michelle, who apparently shits her pants on the regular during class, remains an intriguing oddball.
  • Helen’s sex education scribbles on the blackboard are worth a freeze frame. Among the many highlights: a sperm wearing a 10-gallon hat and a bowtie and the words “fallopian tubes” in quotes for some reason.
  • Also, like, is she the vice principal? Or a nurse? Or another coach? Did I miss what exactly her job is?
  • Another great sight gag when Kim shows off Durbin’s Google history for everyone to see. Sure, him Googling whether or not Kokomo is a real place is funny, but the fact that he’s searching for “XL child’s gloves” is so delightfully strange. As is his query as to whether it’s “corn rows or corn rolls.”
  • Who else is glad Charlie McCrackin’s Coach Novak is back? He and Proksch might’ve shared the episode’s funniest moment, with Coach spraying him with water after a spontaneous tickle.
  • Remember, we’re back on Thursday for episode three, then settling into a week-by-week routine.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.