A.P. Bio has already escaped death by cancelation once before, but creator Mike O’Brien and stars Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt definitely see the possibility of the high school-set comedy lasting for many more seasons to come.
Those new seasons would likely happen on the show’s new streaming home, Peacock, following the first two seasons which aired on NBC, hopefully making it one of the few high school-set shows to have a long run.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot of them survive for some reason, in spite of the fact that [high school] is a universal experience,” Howerton tells Collider. “So there’s something there, but I think there has to probably be a level of authenticity or something to it that makes people want to stay — because they already experienced high school once and they’re not sure if they want to do it again.”
That “something” might be the pivotal element of Jack Griffin (Howerton), whose unconventional approach to teaching is hardly out of Stand and Deliver — for one thing, he doesn’t even really want to teach the titular subject, instead drawing his students together for “missions” that are quite often personally motivated.
Howerton notes that while on the surface Jack and his It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia character Dennis aren’t the nicest of people, that there is a clear difference between them, one fueled by what he calls “this second golden age of television or whatever we’re in.”
Says Howerton, “we’ve had the opportunity as artists and as writers and creators to explore the real, darker side of humanity, in a way that was never possible before The Sopranos. But I think there’s a hunger for people to explore some of the happier sides of humanity. And I think that’s one of the things that I love about A.P. Bio, is that you do have this one horribly cynical character at the center of it all — but he’s surrounded by these really happy people who actually love their town and love their life and love their school and have a lot of school spirit and pride… and they really care about biology.”
This dichotomy works because of O’Brien’s determination to depict Jack as someone who’s definitely rough around the edges, but fundamentally a decent guy. “I think the logline of the whole series would be a guy is stuck in his hometown and growing to like it more every day,” he says. “So if we got out to Season 15, he’d be fully decked out in Whitlock High School gear selling 50/50 raffle tickets at the basketball game and cheering on all the students. We’re just seeing his first painful months there, but he should be warming up a little bit every episode.”
This marks a change from sketch writing, which O’Brien did for seven seasons on Saturday Night Live. “I have trouble rooting for characters who are truly bad to the core,” he says. “I know it’s kind of fun in comedy, especially a sketch, they have the bad character come to dinner or whatever, but for a week in, week out series, I want at some point to think this is a decent human being in some way,” he says.
A.P. Bio is thus quite different from, to use O’Brien’s example, a fellow SNL alumni’s recent work. “My friend Tim Robinson‘s sketch show is called I Think You Should Leave. And it summarizes all the characters you make in sketch that are always being told to leave because they’re bad dinner guests. But for a half-hour over and over and over, you can’t have people leaving. So you got to make them a little better.”
Oswalt, who plays the well-meaning but bumbling principal of Whitlock High, traced the beginning of his engagement with the show to conversations about how “the idea of even adults who are in charge of high schoolers are still going through high school themselves in a lot of ways emotionally and in terms of socialization. We just had a lot of fun talking about it in those terms — I play an authority figure who really doesn’t have any authority. The same pecking orders, the same status never really goes away from high school in a lot of ways. So I just love that aspect of it and that aspect of the character.”
That character development included defining who the adult characters were like in high school — Principal Durbin, Oswalt said, “was the kind of guy who would have wanted to be friends with the equivalent of Jack in his high school and would have loved to have had that up in status. Since that never happened for him he’s taking that now, but it’s still happening in a high school. It’s still happening in a social setting. It’s still happening about pecking order, alphas and betas and omegas and all that stuff, all that. The cliques never really go away. Even if the cliques go away, you carry them around in your head.”
Unlike many other high school-set shows, A.P. Bio doesn’t track with a traditional season-per-school-year timeline — meaning that after eight to 13 episodes in a season, an entire school year would pass. Instead, an unspecified amount of time has passed since the beginning of the series, which has kept the students upon which the show focuses, including Sarika (Aparna Brielle), Anthony (Eddie Leavy), Marcus (Nick Peine), and Heather (Allisyn Ashley Arm), in the same classroom.
Still, at some point, students do eventually graduate, which has always been a hurdle for other high school TV shows. “Maybe we take the risk of introducing a new class of kids,” Oswalt posits. “And maybe that’s going to the well once too often, because my God did we luck out with the actors and actresses we got to play the students on this show. Wow. But we’ll see. There are creative potentials there.”
In general, Howerton feels that when it comes to O’Brien and his writers, “my feeling, based on this third season and how good the scripts were this third season, is that Mike is honestly just getting started with this show. I get the sense that he’s really just getting warmed up. So I’d like to keep doing it for a long time because I’d like to see what that guy’s truly, truly capable of, if allowed a little bit more time.”
And you’ll agree once you’ve seen some of the wild creative choices made in Season 3, including an episode which completely upends the entire structure of a typical installment of the show, as well as an episode which plays with holiday movie tropes while creating a brand new local holiday.
“We have other concepts and episodes that play with structure like that, that I’d love to do. And I think each of those gives us a little boost of energy, for sure,” O’Brien says. “They’re very hard to write, but very exciting. And when we see the final product, you get really excited. And then it makes you excited to go back to writing as good as straight down the middle funny sitcom episode as well. That feels less like work, after you’ve gotten to do one where you turn the sitcom upside down.”
O’Brien says that 15 seasons “might be getting tough,” but he does feel that “we have a lot more fuel in the tank. There’s so many characters. There’s sometimes 19 or 20 characters in an episode that all have a joke of their own. And so it’s trying to dig into their home lives and mix them up in different combinations with each other. Easily several more seasons, with the way the vibe in the writer’s room feels, I would say. But yeah, maybe 15.”
Of course, his star does know a little bit about doing 15 seasons of a TV show, as It’s Always Sunny is on the verge of hitting that landmark. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Howerton about what that experience has been like, but O’Brien hasn’t talked to Howerton about it either. “I mean I could ask Glenn. When they were on Season 3, I wonder if that felt impossible? But they did it. So, maybe.”
A.P. Bio Season 3 (as well as Seasons 1 and 2) is streaming now on Peacock.