Class is almost over for the year at Whitlock High School — and possibly forever on A.P. Bio.
The NBC comedy wraps it’s freshman season on Thursday with no word whether it will return, but the uncertain future hasn’t tempered the excitement or humor of stars Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens). The comedy vets, who, respectively, play uninterested-in-teaching-teacher Jack Griffin and dying-for-his-attention Principal Ralph Durbin, have had their share of beloved projects, yet A.P. Bio clearly holds a special place in their heart.
So ahead of the season 1 finale (watch an exclusive clip from the episode above), the actors chatted with EW about why the show keeps getting better, their go-to move to get the other to break, and the problem with putting their characters together too often.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you sum up the experience of A.P. Bio season 1?
PATTON OSWALT: For me, it was so much fun every week to get a new script. It’s one of those rare scripts where, obviously, I was really excited to read my scenes, but then I was always so fascinated how far on the spectrum of hateability they are going to push Jack and still make you root for him. You could feel them challenging themselves and giggling at what they were maybe getting away with and maybe not getting away with, and it was fascinating to read that every single week.
GLENN HOWERTON: And for me, it was obviously a totally different experience coming off of Sunny where I was intimately involved with the writing of every single script, so it became a very foreign concept to just be handed a really funny, fully realized script and not have done the work myself, which was really nice. [Laughs] I’m almost able to sit back and watch it a little bit more objectively than I ever was able to do with Sunny and just enjoy how the show keeps getting better and better. I think that’s a natural thing that happens as you’re writing a show and you’re casting the show, you’re sort of figuring out what’s funny, what works, and what doesn’t work. I think it usually takes shows even longer than it did for us to figure that out. And as we get to the end of the season, I just find the episodes getting tighter and funnier.
How have you liked getting to play the Durbin and Jack relationship? What do you enjoy most about those interactions?
OSWALT: It’s really fun to set up Glenn, just the way he reacts to things. There’s so much going on with his face that he’s clearly sitting on so much revulsion and confusion when he’s dealing with me. Then also, what’s funniest is, half the time he doesn’t even react to me, he’s barely even acknowledging that I’m there. There’s a scene in the hallway where I’m basically deciding to end my marriage and he’s not even all that sure that I’m there. It’s so funny and tragic, I love it.
HOWERTON: And then later when you decided to leave your wife based on my advice, it’s actually news to me in that moment that you’ve even ever had a wife.
OSWALT: I know, like, “Wait, you’re married?” We literally had a whole conversation in the hallway that you were absolutely not present for. Oh my god, it makes me so happy.
HOWERTON: I have to say, the dynamic between Jack and Ralph Durbin is really one of my favorite dynamics I’ve ever gotten to do.
RELATED VIDEO: A.P. Bio star Patton Oswalt discusses how his favorite characters are ‘authority figures with zero authority’
Considering your chemistry, I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more of you two together. Are you hoping to dive deeper into that dynamic in a potential second season?
OSWALT: I want to be very careful with that dynamic. The scenes with Glenn are always so amazing, but if we get greedy and start doing it inorganically, then it will ruin it. What works about the scenes are that Jack does not want to be with Durbin. But if there’s a reason that he has to be and absolutely can’t get out of it, that makes the comedy that much better. So yeah, obviously, you want a lot of stuff with them, but you’ve got to keep telling yourself, “Don’t get greedy with this,” because it’s very easy to want to grab too much of it.
HOWERTON: Yeah, that’s one of the dangers of how some shows end up jumping the shark. “Oh, people love that, so we’ll just do that all the time.” You’re not really getting a well-balanced meal. “Everyone loves cake, so we’ll feed them nothing but cake!” And then everyone gets sick and they’re like, “I thought I loved cake.”
OSWALT: [Laughs]. “And now I never want to see it again!”
When you are working together, do you have a go-to move to get the other to crack?
OSWALT: It changes every single time. I never know what’s going to crack up Glenn or what I will crack up on. There was a scene where I moved in with him and he’s like, “Oh, I guess you’re ready for bed,” and I’m like, “No, I just took a bunch of uppers.” And this is so out of context, but he was laughing and he goes, “Well, this is going to suck,” and he’s smiling as he said it. There was something about it that cracked me up so hard, that he’s acknowledging how awful things are but he’s plastered this smile onto his face.
HOWERTON: [Creator] Mike [O’Brien] didn’t use that take!
OSWALT: I know! There’s a lot of stuff that happens on the show that we’ll crack up on him, but because it’s 22 minutes and there’s so much funny that they’ve got to make some hard sacrifices. In one episode, Jack was trying to get into my office and shutting the door in Helen’s [Paula Pell] face and she is just pushing so hard against it and they could have done like an Archer-level bit of this joke going on so long now that it’s funny, but they just decided not to. But I remember watching them do that and it just laid me out. I’m not doing it justice, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
HOWERTON: It is always my goal in a comedy to try and make the person who I’m in the scene with laugh, which is arguably very unprofessional. [Oswalt laughs] That’s what fuels me, that’s what I enjoy about doing comedy. See, Patton is able to be less greedy for live laughs because he gets it all the time as a stand-up. I’m not a stand-up, but I love live laughs just like he does, so the best I can do and the best gauge of whether what I’m doing is funny or not is if I can make the person I’m in a scene with laugh, then I can trust that I’m doing something right. Or, in it’s worst form, and this does happen all the time too, is when I make myself laugh, which really is just the height of egotistical performing.
OSWALT: The best way to play comedy is that the person saying the funny thing is deadly serious, like they think this is very real and it makes it so much funnier to me.
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What can you tease about the finale? The last episode ended with Jack’s wish of leaving Toledo for Stanford seeming to come to fruition.
HOWERTON: First, I thought it was so funny that Principal Durbin wants to do a Congo-themed dance. It’s just the worst f—ing idea. But a lot of it is setting up the Sadie Hawkins dance. Jack is leaving, he’s going to teach at Stanford, so Durbin asks me, “You know, I think it would mean a lot to the kids if you went and dropped some real philosophy on these kids before you leave.” And I don’t know if you remember this Patton, but at one point, I give this little speech at the dance and it occurred to me that I teach one class at this school, so even though these are the main kids of the show, they are probably the least interesting characters in the whole school. I remember going over to Mike and I was like, “You should have some random kid in the audience go, ‘Who are you?!’ [Laughs].
OSWALT: And not only do they put a teacher up there that only a handful of kids know — and even the kids who have him don’t like him — but he gives maybe one of the most poisonous speeches that you could give to a group of teenagers. It is so excruciating. I wasn’t even in the scenes where he talked and I stayed behind the cameras to watch how he delivers this. It’s one of the funniest chunks of writing and it is squirm-inducing how awful this speech is.
The show hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, so how are you feeling about your chances of returning?
HOWERTON: I feel like I’ve been very lucky to be involved with some projects that I’m proud of, and I just think there’s something really special with this show. It’s funny and it’s got heart, but it’s also dark. It’s got a lot of stuff that I personally respond to as a fan of things. I would just love to continue to play in this sandbox for a while. I was worried just because Sunny has such a rabid fan base that people were going to turn on the show regardless of if it was good or not, because they were under the misconception that I left Sunny to do this show, which isn’t true. But it’s actually been quite the opposite. The response for me has been overwhelmingly positive. And you know how much people love to hate things, so if there were a lot of people that were following me and hated A.P. Bio, I’d be hearing about it.
OSWALT: Exactly. Trust me, look who you’re talking to, I would know if there was negative stuff on Twitter about it because that’s where I am. People really, really love it.
HOWERTON: That’s extremely gratifying. Everyone would like to think, “Oh, I don’t care what people think,” but of course you care what people think. You want to put something out there that you care about and you enjoy, and if people start sh—ting all over it that doesn’t feel good. It’s just weird, I grew up hearing all of these nightmarish stories about Hollywood, but I’ve just had really great experiences. A.P. Bio, the entire cast, crew, directors, it’s a good family of people and we’d be really fortunate to continue.
OSWALT: God, we really lucked out.
The season finale of A.P. Bio airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch an exclusive clip above.