What is it about the cast from the popular show Always Sunny In Philadelphia that movie and TV producers just don’t get? First, we has Charlie Day starring in 2017’s execrable Fist Fight…and now Glenn Howerton is in a new TV series that strongly reminds me of elements from Fist Fight.
In both this NBC series, AP Bio, and Fist Fight, we are presented with high-schools filled with shitty, amoral teachers and students who are not getting anywhere near an adequate education. In both, it is made clear: the educational system is a joke, a crap-filled ring of hell that barely deserves better.
And here is where I think the makers of both AP Bio and Fist Fight misunderstand the success of Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The characters Howerton and Day play in that show are kind of nasty and shitty…but they live in a carefully-built narrative ecosystem filled with a particular brand of nastiness and shittiness. Having your protagonists be selfish crap individuals works in ASIP, because they are inhabiting this almost slapstick, freakish world.
But I just feel sorry for the students in AP Bio; they don’t deserve any of this. Howerton plays disgraced Harvard philosophy professor Jack Griffin, who takes on this job only as a way to pick up a paycheck until he gets his life on track. Now, this scenario is highly reminiscent of the NBC series Community, in which Joel McHale portrayed disgraced lawyer Jeff Winger—and AP Bio tries (and significantly misses) to recapture some of that magic.
In the pilot of Community, Winger made it clear he didn’t care about the other students in his study group and was just a selfish prick biding his time until he could get his life on track. But by the end of that pilot, the writers successfully brought things around so we could see that Winger was actually a caring person…so that we could actually give the slightest shit about him.
This does not happen in AP Bio. I love Howerton as an actor, but Jack Griffin is profoundly unlikable (and not in a “Dennis” way). In fact, he doesn’t really develop any sort of sympathetic qualities until the end of the 3rd episode…which is too damn long, in my opinion.
And Howerton is just not provided enough ensemble help via the other characters to buoy the show. The kids who play his students are amiable enough in a nerdy way…but they aren’t fleshed out enough in the way the Study Group in Community was. Griffin’s fellow teachers in the lounge are similarly 2-dimensional, and rather unpleasant in a manner similar to the instructors of Fist Fight.
This leaves Patton Oswalt as the terminally insecure Principal Durbin…the only character I found even remotely interesting. The Community formula is followed again here, with a quirky principal who idolizes the protagonist. It’s clear NBC was hoping to have another Community on their hands, but it’s just not going to happen with this.
Further: I don’t think this is the right era anymore for ASIP/”nasty” sitcoms. The real world is nasty enough. We know the schools are failing our kids. We know that entitled, bullying, privileged men like Jack Griffin exist in the world in spades—I don’t know what bubble the series creators were living in, or what crack they were smoking, thinking that this was the character that would currently be embraced by the media/public. I mean…Howerton’s Dennis from ASIP is on pretty thin ice too, now that I think about it.
I really wanted this series to be good, and I’m happy to be proven wrong regarding its trajectory. But…