So, here comes another version of “Bad Teacher,” the popular 2011 movie starring Cameron Diaz, which led to the tamer and short-lived TV series of the same name on CBS. That idea, in which an irreverent teacher with motives that go beyond inspiring the next generation is central, led to “Teachers,” a situation comedy which just wrapped up its 2nd season on the TV Land channel. And then HBO’s “Vice Principals,” which obviously was focused a little more on administrators than teachers, stretched the idea to the breaking point.
The new show along this line is “A.P. Bio” on NBC, which has a “special preview” on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time/8:30 Central. (The series moves to its regular slot on March 1, Thursdays at 9:30 Eastern/8:30 Central.)
There would seem to be many comic possibilities for skewering the Advanced Placement program, but that’s not the direction the show heads.
“My name’s Jack Griffin, and I don’t want to be here,” the newest teacher at Whitlock High School (played by Glenn Howerton), tells the AP Biology class. “I’m an award-winning philosophy scholar who for reasons I won’t go into finds himself with a free year.”
Griffin, it turns out, was just denied tenure at Harvard and is engaged in a pitched battle with his academic nemesis, a philosophy scholar at Stanford. He has moved back to Toledo, Ohio, after his mother has apparently recently died.
“I don’t care about biology,” Griffin tells the wide-eyed students in his class. “We’re not going to do any biology in here. And this isn’t one of those things where over the course of a year, I secretly teach it to you.”
No, Griffin intends to use the class to get back at that nemesis, Miles Leonard (Tom Bennett), such as by assigning the students to create and send Leonard “catfish” messages, or fake romantic come-ons.
Griffin guarantees that everyone in the class will get A’s if they go along with his plan. The students, all eager to have top grade-point averages, do go along, at least for the first few episodes that I saw.
The premise is ludicrous, of course. The principal, Ralph Durbin (Patton Oswalt), conveniently fails to realize Griffin isn’t following the AP Biology curriculum, even as he disciplines the teacher for leaving the students unattended for long stretches.
Griffin tells the principal: “These kids are old enough to get pregnant.They can’t be left alone for two seconds?” Durbin replies: “That’s literally the reason they can’t be left alone.”
Here’s the thing, though: If I had only watched the pilot episode, I would have my doubts about how this premise would develop. But I screened the first four episodes, and as I watched those, the show grew on me as smart and insightful about the modern American college-prep high school.
Griffin doesn’t get any more sympathetic over those episodes, but the students are perfectly cast. The teachers’ lounge, as in most of these types of shows, is a place for poking fun at the education system. Those first few episodes cover teacher’s union representation of Griffin in a discipline proceeding; “teacher jail,” where suspended teachers fritter away their work days; student councils; school snack machines; and parent-teacher days.
Among the show’s executive producers are “Saturday Night Live” founder and executive producer Lorne Michaels, “SNL” alum Seth Meyers, and creator Mike O’Brien, a former SNL writer.
If the show makes it to the end of the season, skeptics may wonder how the students are going to tackle their standardized AP Biology test if they have spent the whole school year not learning the course material.
That’s something those high-powered creative minds behind the show have some time to think about.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.