Review: ‘A.P. Bio’ Is Not Advanced in Timing or Taste

Posted January 31, 2018 5:07 p.m. EST

There’s never been a worse time for a show about an abusive man coercing teenagers into sour sexual discourse and insisting they keep his disturbing behavior a secret. And yet Thursday night brings the arrival of NBC’s “A.P. Bio,” an abrasive sitcom that isn’t merely unfunny, it’s also deeply unpleasant.

Created by the “Saturday Night Live” alum Mike O’Brien, with Seth Meyers and Lorne Michaels among its executive producers, the show debuts in a “special preview” this week before disappearing from the schedule until after the Winter Olympics. The first three episodes will be available online until then, and given how NBC usually operates, one expects promos for the show to be in heavy rotation during the games.

And in promo-sized bites, some of the caustic cynicism of “A.P. Bio” might seem refreshing in contrast to more wholesome network comedies. In episode form, though, it’s tiring; in the four installments made available for review, the scattershot misery is ironically adolescent. Worse, the show doesn’t seem aware of its fixation on skeezy sexual misconduct — never a tremendous well for humor, but even less so today.

Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) stars as Jack, a Harvard philosophy professor who slinks back to Toledo, Ohio, in disgrace after being denied tenure. He takes a job teaching advanced placement biology at a high school, though he refuses to actually teach anything. He announces this on the first day, and declares that he and his charges will spend their class time developing potential revenge strategies against his nemesis. He wears scuzzy sweatpants. He is mean. He says if the students tell anyone about what he’s doing, he’ll give them an F.

“A.P. Bio” is not so unlike “Bad Teacher” (the film or the short-lived television adaptation), or any other terrible-person-is-inappropriately-bad-at-job show or movie, except that it lacks some of the imagination. There are so many flavors of awful in the world — “A.P. Bio” for some reason selected “constant inappropriate sexual behavior.”

“Who will Jack bang?” our hero writes on the board, looking for recommendations. At one point he asks his students to write suggestive messages to his rival in a plot to trick him. This results in a teenage girl reading out loud to her teacher and class " … gonna lick you up and down; drip, slurp, yum; give me that sweet, wet sugar mess.” In a poetry unit, sure. Go wild. But here it’s just creepy.

Even creepier is that everyone else seems to share Jack’s misguided sexual mores. Another teacher demands a student come up to the front of the room and point out, on her body, where her perineum is. A teacher at “teacher jail” laments being labeled the “teacher tickler” on account of tickling his colleagues, and is met with sympathy. Yet another teacher poses in a bathing suit for her art class, and all objections to this are labeled “shaming” and garner a protest.

I get it: It’s a comedy! It’s supposed to be transgressive! Transgressions only transgress, though, when a boundary is violated, and within the world of the show, none of these moments are considered bad, strange, abusive or damaging. They’re just silly and kooky. The only person to push back even a little is the hapless principal (Patton Oswalt), and he is too cowed by Jack’s Harvard pedigree to make much of a stink about anything. Even the parents table their objections when Jack says he can help their kids get into the Ivy League, too.

So rather than any comic tension existing within the world of the show, it instead exists between the show and its audience, as viewers are forced to feel like killjoys for being unamused by predation. Guilty, I guess.

Even moments meant to show Jack’s softer side are ill-timed. In the pilot he mocks the idea of alerting higher-ups about a student’s violent tendencies, and in a later episode, he cheerfully offers “to bully” a sheltered student to toughen him up. A few years ago these scenes might have worked as glimpses of Jack’s skewed compassion. But there have been 11 school shootings so far in 2018 — go ahead and call a psychologist. Powerful figures using emotional torture as a warped demonstration of care has lost its luster, too. Maybe bullying just isn’t fun anymore.

“A.P. Bio” has a severe case of wrong-show-at-the-wrong-time, though what’s maybe most frustrating is that it seems close to being a funny, naughty oddball. There’s a silly cameo from Lisa Loeb, and the student characters have an interesting post-"Glee” band-of-misfits vibe. Howerton’s festive odiousness is impressive in its way. If only it were all funneled into something less discomfiting.

Additional Information:

“A.P. Bio”

Thursdays on NBC