If you’ve seen School of Rock, most of the beats in the pilot of A.P. Bio will seem familiar to you—a slacker teacher (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton) stumbles into a job teaching overachieving kids and decides to throw the curriculum to the wind and use their young, brilliant minds for his own purpose. This time around, the project isn’t starting a band—Mr. Griffin, a former Harvard philosophy professor who missed out on tenure, is trying to undermine his professional rival, a bestselling author and head of philosophy at Stanford.
The School of Rock parallels continue down to the supporting cast: you get a dedicated but befuddled principal (Patton Oswalt) and a type-A precocious brunette sitting ramrod straight in the front row (Aparna Brielle). And so A. P. Bio feels at times disappointingly straightforward, especially for being created by Mike O’Brien, the brain behind some of SNL‘s best shorts.
The thing that makes O’Brien’s late-night skits “Prom Queen” and “Grow-a-Guy” so memorable is how they expertly combined the surreal and the preternaturally relatable. On SNL, O’Brien had been the master of tiny, perfect observations (that cringingly perfect the way the bully says, “No, I’m genuinely asking!”)—and A.P. Bio has a few of those moments (of course a Catholic mother would have a photo of little JFK Jr. saluting in his blue coat in her home) but it feels like you can see the strings at work behind most of the jokes. The A.P. Bio pilot is the only thing I’ve seen from Mike O’Brien that doesn’t feel fresh, or unexpected.
Still, A.P. Bio is buoyed by Howerton’s natural charisma and the delightful supporting cast (Lyric Lewis, Mary Sohn and Jean Villepique as a trio of helpful teachers, Tom Bennett as that Stanford academic rival). And, especially when you consider it’s also coming from producers Seth Meyers and Lorne Michaels, the show’s potential is strong enough to make it through a bumpy first semester.