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‘A.P. Bio’ review: High school comedy doesn’t make the grade

Glenn Howerton, left, leaves always-sunny Philly for Toledo,

Glenn Howerton, left, leaves always-sunny Philly for Toledo, where his ex-Harvard scholar becomes a wild high school teacher vexing principal Patton Oswalt. Credit: NBC / Ron Batzdorff

THE SHOW “A.P. Bio”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) gets in a brawl with a colleague, and is forced to go on sabbatical and back to his hometown, Toledo, Ohio. An old friend, Principal Durbin (Patton Oswalt), of Whitlock High, gets him a job as a biology teacher. Bad move: Jack quickly establishes that he knows nothing about bio, then enlists the students in his current obsession — to avenge another former colleague who has a bestseller. This new comedy has quite a pedigree: Longtime “Saturday Night Live” writer Mike O’Brien created it, and he gets an assist from other “SNL” alums, including Seth Meyers, Mike Shoemaker and Lorne Michaels.

MY SAY Howerton’s a funny guy. Oswalt’s a funny guy. Meyers is a funny guy. Michaels knows funny, too (maybe a little more some weeks than others, if you know what I mean, but still . . . ) What could possibly go wrong with this collaboration? Sporadically, nothing at all.

The kids, for example, are excellent. They’re fully formed nerds and personalities in their own right, and easily the best part. Like all bright kids, they want to learn, but when confronted with an immovable anti-learning object in the form of their teacher, they do what bright kids everywhere do — manipulate him.

The show has some inspired cameos, too. Niecy Nash turns up later as a militant teacher union rep. Erinn Hayes — late of “Kevin Can Wait” — is a parent in one episode. Former “SNL” writer Paula Pell also has a role. “A.P. Bio” has employed lots of funny people. They’re also part of its sporadic success.

But “sporadic” is hardly a seal of approval. You don’t want your car to be sporadic. You don’t want your new NBC comedy to be sporadic, either. Here’s one problem: Howerton has essentially repurposed Dennis Reynolds from “It’s Always Sunny” into Jack. Dennis is hilarious and utterly essential on “Sunny,” but Dennis on “A.P. Bio” is just strange. Why is Dennis a teacher and why a Harvard philosophy professor? Why is he here? (No, really, why?) Even farce needs some interior logic, or something — anything — that tethers it to the real world, however frayed that may be.

There’s none here. Jack also appears to know nothing about philosophy, but he is a creeper who clumsily hits on women, drinks too much and hates high school. “My name is Jack Griffin and I don’t want to be here,” he tells the class. Sorry, Jack, but I’m not entirely sure I want to be here, either.

BOTTOM LINE In spite of impressive pedigree and cast, along with a few laughs, “A.P. Bio” ultimately earns a gentlemanly C.

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