In A.P. Bio, Jack (Glenn Howerton) is a truly terrible teacher. Bitter over not getting tenure at Harvard and the runaway success of his rival, Jack finds himself reluctantly working at a high school in Ohio in order to lie low, lick his wounds, and plot his revenge. Viewers certainly aren’t asked to cheer for the hero (if he can even be called that) of A.P. Bio, and will more likely be left hoping that Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt) will fire him for child endangerment at the end of every episode.
But this is not a world inhabited by put-together, shiny people. Creator Mike O’Brien, formerly of Saturday Night Live, has created a world of chaos, with everyone keeping their mess, well, not contained at all. Howerton and Oswalt were kind enough to sit down with us at SCAD aTVfest in Atlanta to talk about what to expect from A.P. Bio, comedy in the age of Trump, and how being an asshole doesn’t give you free rein, no matter how smart you are.
A.P. Bio really has an absurdist sense of humor that’s different from a lot of other network comedies.
Glenn Howerton: Actually, that’s what I liked about it, too. [Mike O’Brien has] created his own playground. I think he’s trying to world-build in a way, right? So, he’s trying to drop you into this world which is reality, but it’s a slightly altered reality. And I think he did such a good job of presenting you with this world where you can be a little bit absurd, but still have it be grounded in the reality that we all know.
Patton Oswalt: And also, as far as the absurdity, he also shows you how a lot of the stuff that we sort of do mindlessly. If you look at it as a third person, it seems like absurdist almost dada-esque humor. Because you’re just using it to get through your day, you don’t dwell on it. And I think he’s one of those people. He has that Maria Bamford ability to take a step back from what seems like just normal filler stuff and go “Wait a minute, that’s actually kind of crazy.” And to actually look at that stuff, so that’s totally fascinating how he can do that.
I feel like the whole idea of “He’s so brilliant, but so awful” has sort of become its own genre of television in a way, so —
So what sets A.P. Bio apart from other shows like that?
Howerton: I don’t know. Give me an example so I can use.
Oswalt: House. The person that’s so good at something that they almost have the leeway to be an asshole.
Howerton: Oh, I see.
Oswalt: You know what I mean?
Howerton: Well, I would say that what sets this apart is that he’s not good at teaching high school. He’s not good at it. You know what I mean? And we don’t even know really if he was a good professor at Harvard.
Oswalt: Yeah. The way that he gets fired from Harvard makes you think he might not have been that good to begin with.
Howerton: Yeah, he gets passed up for tenure. He must not have been that good. You know, I mean he’s his own worst enemy. He’s not cocky and then excels at what he does. He’s cocky and he pays the price. He’s not as good as he thinks he is, I think is more the lesson that’s being learned here.
Oswalt: If anything, he is a… it’s really interesting that you bring that up. He is a commentary on the effect of a lot of those shows on society where, if you’ve noticed, there are a lot of people that are like “I have the right to be this douche bag because I’m…” But then you realize, no, that was actually a construct. People aren’t actually that smart, and how ’bout don’t be a douche? You can do both. You can be brilliant and be nice. It doesn’t affect the brilliance at all.
Howerton: Yeah, it shows the cracks.
Oswalt: I never thought about that. That’s actually… Hmm. I did not think about that at all. That’s really cool. Fucking Uproxx, man.
Howerton: What’s another example on the show like that though? I’m honestly curious.
Oswalt: There was one a few seasons ago with Rainn Wilson called [Backstrom]…
Right, it was a cop show…
Oswalt: He was a cop in Portland…
Howerton: Oh, okay.
Yeah, it happens a lot on like detective shows, lawyer shows.
Howerton: Oh, okay. So, not necessarily comedy.