A.P. Bio Pilot Episode Review: Catfish
A.P. Bio is a new comedy series from the mind of SNL writer Michael Patrick O’Brien and is executive produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels. This series follows the misadventures of disgraced Harvard philosophy professor Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) as he returns to his hometown to teach Advanced Placement Biology and plot his revenge on those who wronged him.
Jack Griffin lets us and his students know from the moment he steps into the classroom on the first day of school that he doesn’t want to be there. He literally crashes into the school sign and saunters into class wearing sweat pants and goes on and on about how he will absolutely not teach them any biology at all. In fact, he chides them any time they try to take notes on whatever rant he’s currently spouting off. He tries to sell it as a break in their day and anyone who tattles will automatically get an F, while the ones who keep mum will get an A. The class naturally is worried about this educational deficit because this doesn’t bode well for their future. Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt) is also concerned that his new teacher may be a bit unorthodox in his methods. Griffin quickly learns from some of the other teachers that he can have the students do anything he wants, so tasks his class with catfishing his academic rival Miles Leonard (Tom Bennett).
The standout jokes all involve the class. They attempt to appeal to Griffin by coordinating a rap complete with props, a fog machine, and a saxophone solo. He cuts them off before they can get too far into it, but the level of effort they went to just to be thwarted was excellently timed. Later on, one of the quiet girls, bespectacled with thick coke bottle glasses, recites her catfish message. It is undeniably dirty, but not as suggestive as the advertisements would lead you to believe with their well-timed bleeps. Of course, the principal happens to be there for this moment, yet Griffin somehow remains employed (that Harvard pedigree must serve as some kind of armour).
For a comedy about a man who is only teaching to coast through a year, there were some surprisingly human moments. Devin, one of the less popular students, has his back-pack thrown into a pond. Griffin being the super sarcastic narcissist he is could easily add insult to injury as he sees Devin attempting to dry off his notebook. Instead, he tosses him a roll of paper towel.
There was only one aspect of the show that didn’t really work for me in the pilot and that was the choice of lighting. Everything looks so washed out in sunlight it makes it feel like you’re watching a bootleg version of the show taped on someone’s smart phone held in front of their TV. The school setting has a lot of windows, so maybe they were trying to make it feel more realistic, but it came across as cheap.
As an actual classroom teacher, there were moments of this show that were quite cathartic. Overall the humor, students, and staff felt very real. At the same time, I had a lot of unanswered questions about how someone like Griffin even became a teacher. I know in my home state you must have credentials in your subject area to teach, but sometimes, under certain circumstances, you can be granted permission to teach a course you’re not yet certified in. That’s a big yet. Considering Griffin’s former field of philosophy, I doubt he’s a certified biology teacher. Harvard degree and experience might sound good on paper, but that can only go so far to satisfy the school board or the parents of AP students. Plus the AP exam, no matter the subject, is challenging and a big deal. I hope to see these issues tackled in future episodes because I think they could add some interesting plot elements to the show. If they don’t end up addressing them, I don’t think it will detract from their premise, but as a teacher it will leave me a bit miffed.
You can find A.P. Bio airing Sundays on NBC starting February 25. The first three episodes are currently streaming on Hulu.