A.P. Bio channeled its pilot about halfway through “Freakin’ Enamored.” After Jack calls out ginger sax enthusiast Colin (Tucker Albrizzi) for souring his date with Trish (Erinn Hayes), Colin’s mom, another student suggests that the way to a single mother’s heart is through her kid.
“This isn’t one of those cheesy Jerry Maguire-type situations where I win the mom by falling in love with the freaky-looking kid,” Jack replies, echoing the show’s opening salvo.
“This won’t be one of those things where, over the course of a year, I secretly teach it to you,” Jack said back then. “This also won’t be one of those things where I end up learning more from you than you do for me.”
At the time, that felt like the voice of creator Mike O’Brien—a foreward telling us what to expect. As such, it resonated as both exciting and a bit dangerous. Sure, it’s nice to know that what we’re seeing isn’t your run-of-the-mill sitcom, but, as I touched on in my review of the pilot, it’s a bit hubristic to define any piece of art by the things it isn’t. If there’s one thing that A.P. Bio has proven over the past few weeks, it’s that Jack is doing all of the above: He is teaching; not biology, but a particular brand of craftiness. He’s learning, too, even if it’s only that you don’t have to hate everything in times of disarray.
That’s not to say A.P. Bio has betrayed its thesis, but more that it’s probably best to view that opening speech not as a meta mission statement, but rather as Jack’s own performative self-awareness. Instead of that thesis being a creed to which the show has to adhere, it’s actually a defense mechanism on Jack’s part to keep him focused on his goal of defaming Miles Leonard and worming his way back into the academic elite. That those latter goals have been routinely eclipsed by plotlines centering around Jack’s relationship with the students just goes to show that, like it or not, this is a show about a snooty, curmudgeonly academic’s slow betterment.
And perhaps there’s something deflating about that. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is remarkable because it operated for 12 seasons without ever really evolving its characters; we love them because they remained so transcendently shitty. It was easy to feel that A.P. Bio would operate similarly, but the traditional sitcom template doesn’t quite allow for that, and the show has yet to really break free from its strictures. And, hey, few network sitcoms do; there’s a reason Seinfeld remains distinctive nearly 30 years since it premiered.
Aside from last week’s episode, in which Jack unconvincingly turned down sex to defend his colleagues, the show has allowed his growth to be fairly incremental. Even in tonight’s episode, there’s nothing all that heartwarming about the bond he forms with Colin. He takes him to the Father-Son Rocket Launch not to help the kid, but rather to wreak a little havoc with him, what with both of them being the only ones in class who have a shitty relationship with their dads. Whether or not this means he’ll get another chance with Colin’s mom is yet to be seen, but I liked that she didn’t factor into the finale at all.
There was a refreshing bit of consistency to this episode airing after last week’s, however. “Dating Toledoans” found Jack trying to get laid by some locals, then turning down a women after she insulted Mary, Stef, and Michelle. In tonight’s episode, he immediately enters class with sex on his mind and, though he doesn’t say it, it’s fun to imagine that, in the wake of that evening, he’s kicking himself for choosing friends over a lover, no matter how big of a jerk she was. “Who will Jack bang?” reads a note on the blackboard, and he’s nearly through his speech before realizing that the classroom is packed with the students’ parents, who are suitably mortified.
It’s here he meets Trish, who seems as oblivious to standards of basic decency as he is when the pair flirt openly and exchange phone numbers as the students and parents watch on, shocked. They seem to be a fine match, too, but Colin’s ubiquity causes Jack to force a hilariously egoistic ultimatum: It’s either Jack, a man she’s been on one date with, or her son. “Him! Of course him!” Trish tells Jack, incredulous.
It all feels fairly rushed, though Jack and Colin’s plot fares better the protest subplot that arises when controversy breaks out over a student drawing of Mary’s bare back. It feels like a satire of the escalating levels of offense, censorship, and reactionary outrage, but it gets roughly five minutes to play out in full, which isn’t nearly enough time to make a point (or even land any jokes). All that said, it’s nice to see the show at least working to give individual stories to its trio of supporting teachers; Mary Sohn is a reliably charming presence..
- Oh, yeah, Lisa Loeb was in this episode! “Songbird, sex and glasses,” Jack says as a means of description. She’s dating Miles and Jack wants to break them up. Anthony whips up a Photoshopped snapshot of Miles licking Alanis Morissette’s neck, which, as we see in the finale, almost does the trick.
- Did your parents all come and sit with you during school hours on “parent/teacher” days? Was that a thing? My school just did evening parent/teacher conferences, so I found this odd.
- If you don’t know Erinn Hayes, she’s perhaps best known these days as the woman that Kevin Can Wait killed off in between seasons.
- That said, I loved Jack’s brief encounters with the kids and their parents, even if Sarika being a cranky square doesn’t seem to be the best use of Aparna Brielle.
- Jack’s lingering distaste for Marcus continues, with him telling the kid’s parents that he has “a real turd of a personality.”
- Remember Devin? He actually got a line this episode, maybe his second or third since he was established as a seemingly important character in the pilot. Shrug.
- Jack bullshitting Trish about caring for a sick baby bird was a very Dennis moment. “Birds weird me out,” she responds, and his instantaneous “yeah, they’re filthy” might’ve been the episode’s funniest moment.
- I also enjoyed the ambiguity as to whether Colin understood Jack was paying him off or if he just thought Jack gave him money for no reason. Considering the kid has been portrayed as a bit dim, I’m guessing it’s the latter, which is much, much funnier.
- Anthony might be usurping Heather as my favorite of the students. His “male leotard” was a delightful surprise, as was Jack’s weary response to it.
- “No, no, not my Michelle Obama commemorative plate!”