AP Bio Succeeds on Its Minor Characters

The cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has really started to take off over the last few years, going from an FXX show with a cult following to pop culture mainstays. Charlie Day has popped up in numerous movies, like Pacific RimHorrible Bosses, and The Lego Movie (and each of their sequels). Kaitlin Olson has guest-starred on many shows and headlines her own sitcom, The Mick. And Rob McElhenney has . . . been writing season 13? But, the newest project from an Always Sunny alum is AP Bio on NBC, starring Glenn Howerton. At first glance, the show looks pretty “meh.” Something you might stop on while bored, but nothing special. However, you and I would be completely wrong; this show is funny, outrageous, and, at times, heartwarming.

Glenn Howerton's character, Jack, wearing a bathrobe and holding a mixing bowl in a kitchen.

Jack dons his mom’s old robe. Photo by Vivian Zink/NBC

Howerton seems to play a parallel version of his Always Sunny character, Dennis. In Bio he’s Jack, a disgraced psychology scholar who gets fired from his job and retreats to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. To make ends meet, he lives in his deceased mother’s house and takes a job teaching—wait for it—Advanced Placement Biology at the local high school. When he does show up for class, Jack tosses a half-eaten apple toward the garbage can while shouting, “Alright, let’s begin shutting up. Take your seats and shut up,” or some variation thereof. Some repetitive jokes can get old, but this one seems just as amusing every time. Jack spends substantial time drinking and imagining his life somewhere else, and absolutely zero of his time genuinely teaching.

Patton Oswalt as Principal Durbin, being pressured towards a vegetable tray by three female faculty members.

Principal and faculty having some fun. Photo by Colleen Hayes/NBC

Despite Jack not having a degree in biology, Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt) is desperate for an instructor of his magnitude on staff at Whitlock High. Oswalt leads one-half of the supporting cast—the adults of the show, if you will. A trio of teachers have their own amusing story lines as the b-plot in most episodes. Stef, Mary, and Michelle help Durbin navigate his silly school, help plan the school dance, and try to impress the superintendent by each making a classroom volcano. They also aren’t afraid to make fun of Jack when he says ridiculous things or mocks being a teacher. The funniest adult has to be Helen, the school’s administrative assistant; her bright and chipper attitude is a sharp contrast to Jack’s sloppiness. Though the adults are the backup for the show, you look forward to their appearance every episode.

The grim-faced students of Advanced Placement Biology.

The AP Bio class reacting to chaos. Photo by Vivian Zink/NBC

The real stars of the show are the students who want nothing more than to learn biology, but never do. You see, despite the show’s title/class name, no real biology teaching takes place. Jack has no intention of actually teaching the students; his sole focus is to regain his status as the preeminent philosophy scholar and get his job back as Head of Psychology at Stanford. His biggest obstacle: Miles, his frenemy and current occupier of his dream job. Jack enlists his class to try and sabotage Miles (Tom Bennett) in a different way every week. The class of 20ish represents just about every version of geek we see on the Twin Cities Geeks Facebook discussion group. There’s the alpha-student, Sarika (Aparna Brielle), whose sole goal is to actually learn biology so she can get into college and probably go on to rule the planet. Marcus (Nick Peine) is the classic student government geek who constantly corrects Jack, gaining his ire. Colin (Tucker Albrizzi) and Anthony (Eddie Leavy) are music geeks; Victor (Jacob Houston) is the awkward one; Devin (Jacob McCarthy) is the emo kid—all creating a perfect recreation of my (and maybe your) high school days.

Bio student Heather, with denim overalls and thick glasses, sits at her desk with an inspired expression.

Heather hatches a plan. Photo by Vivian Zink/NBC

My favorite student, by far, is Heather, played by Allisyn Ashley Arm. Heather has huge glasses, which give her giant eyes, and drops one-liners as side-splitting as Mitch Hedberg. Of all of the students, Heather seems to have the largest character progression: going from the quiet, weird one to a confident, smart class leader. Her big episode, Eight Pigs and a Rat, sees her lean on her ability to butcher a pig and impress sports-geek Dan (Spence Moore II). There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Heather and her fellow classmates are the reason you keep tuning in week after week. The actors play off each other so well and each character sticks to their guns in their own unique ways, none of them allowing Jack to destroy what makes them awesome. Howerton’s Jack even starts to grow his own heart as time goes on, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. AP Bio, just renewed for a second season, gets at least a passing grade, if not an A.

The class awaiting Jack.

If Jack ever shows up, that is. Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC

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