A.P. BIO (2018-2021)

(peacock/VOD) A.P. BIO is, well, was since it’s been canceled for a second time, ostensibly about a narcissistic asshole named Jack Griffin (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA’s Glenn Howerton) who is thrust into teaching a high-school A.P. Biology course that he has absolutely no interest in. While the first season tried to adhere to a saccharin-sweet balance, the subsequent seasons firmly posited the show as a gag machine firing on all cylinders.

Consequently, the rest of this write-up will consist solely of recounting some of the most ridiculous jokes:

“I have my father’s eye.”

“You mean eyes.”

“Oh no, his actual eye. I had a bum cornea so, when he died, they just swapped his right into my eye, and that’s why I don’t look at myself naked because it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Oh Paula Pell, you do know how to comedically sell a melancholy tale.

“Yes, we did it! It was us! We were the ones who brought the ice down from the misty mountains! Take this back to the princess and she can have her Snowcone! Curtain; intermission.”

“Wow! That all happens in Act I? That’s -amazing-!”

“I have a few notes. I feel like it owes a big debt to THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE.”

“He skipped lunch with a student! Look at him: he dressed like Betelgeuse for this!”

“Uh, I’m ska.”

“He’s ska-red! I’m ska too. I’m very ska. But Durbin come back safe safe.”

“Mary, I renew my objection to this whole cabin in the woods business. I mean, I don’t know many times I have to tell you that I don’t do full nature.”

“We are going to have so much fun! Three foxy mammas in the great outdoors? We’re either going to meet a bigfoot, a Brawny paper towel man, or a Leatherface. And, as you know, two of three three are my type.”

“I mean, it’s sure to beat Michelle’s pick of San Antonio from last year.”

“I promised my dad I would tour the Pace Picante factory before he died, so I did it, and then he died right away, and now my mom sort of blames me for it, so yeah, Stef, really dull trip.”

“Metal compasses? Hand over the math knives, Wolverine.”

“I have a parasitic twin! It’s just a mass of hair and teeth, really. It’s in a jar at home! …that felt pretty vulnerable, and I’d love it if someone looked at me.”

Jack spots a poster of a wrestling match: “Neanderthal gymnastics.” (No offense to fans of wrestling, but it’s a great Jack quip.)

Not a line, but a great bit of costume design: Anthony, one of the students, is wearing a DINOSAURS ‘NOT THE MAMMA!’ shirt.

“Whoa, PIECES OF APRIL. Nice. Very on-brand for our Katie Holmes Day rummage sale.” I genuinely, unironically love that movie, and apparently the A.P. BIO folks do too as they even dress student Heather (the always entertaining Allisyn Snyder) up as the titular April, and drop in a few other fun riffs that I don’t want to spoil.

“Ralph, the football team wants real energy drinks. They figured out that Gatorade Clear is just water.”

“We need to bust outta here now.”

“Oh no, I’m not going outside. There’s probably cows flying around.”

“Yeah, I’m not trying to get hit upside the head by no barn or something, knocking my baby straight outta of me before I get to paint the nursery.”

“Listen to me: Keith is sound-mixing today. He works in a glass gazebo in our backyard with a blindfold and noise-cancelling headphones! And the song he’s working on is mostly wind and sirens! I need to sneak out of here and save my husband, and I need your help.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s dead. And you need to let him go. But I’ll help you get out!”

“At least to identify the body.”

…and Bruce Campbell pops up on A.P. BIO:

“Dad?”

“Haha, Jack Sprat. My God. Look how big you are.”

“I’ve been this size for twenty years.”

Now that’s some fantastically succinct character background information, wrapped up in one great quip, and exactly why this show deserves more attention.

“Now, what’d everyone bring for their lunch roulette? And it’d better be good. Mary?”

“Huh? Oh, I would go first, but I want to see what Helen’s got.”

“Oh! Well, I had some time this morning so I just whipped up some seared duck breast in a balsamic reduction.”

“Oh!” “Wow.”

“And I would’ve made dessert, too, if the duck had gone down easier! Hehe!”

“Helen, did you kill this duck, like, this morning?”

“Well, yeah, I wasn’t gonna pan-fry it alive. I’m not a psychopath!”

  • – *

“Okay, for lunch roulette, I brought: one, normal, unadulterated ba-na-na!”

“…is this a rusty nail?” (There’s clearly a rusty nail embedded in said ba-na-na.)

“If it’s roulette, there’s gotta be one bullet to make it fun! Whatever, you guys suck. Let’s just play!”

“It’ll be nice for Rhonda to see how much we care. I tell you this: when Keith goes, I’m… [imitates self-inflicted gunshot to the head].”

“Hold up. Goes? Goes where?”

“Weren’t you listening? Rhonda’s husband died. What did you write on the card?”

“I wrote ‘Yippee! You’re back in the game! Get some, X-X-X’”

Context: A baby has just been born. Folks are speculating about the baby in the hospital.

“I just wish I could hold her! I’ll lactate, because I was a wet nurse during the Great Recession.”

Also: shout-out to THE GOBLINS/SUSPIRIA riff midway through the season finale. Again, is A.P. BIO necessary viewing? Probably not, but it’s hilariously and memorably inventive, and I’ll definitely miss it, as they really figured out how to make this world work over the past two seasons, even though S4 definitely leaned into the predictive sitcom tropes the show had been working so hard to avoid. However, it’s so sweet and funny that I don’t care.

GET A LIFE (1990)

(DVD/YouTube) GET A LIFE was a transcendently stupid TV show starring Chris Elliott as Chris Peterson, a naive 30-year-old man-child living with his parents, who happens to fall into a number of absurd comic situations that grow more and more surreal as the show progresses. It was the brainchild of Chris Elliott (who, at that time, was mostly known for small bits on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN), David Mirkin (best known for his work on some of the best seasons of THE SIMPSONS), and Adam Resnick. (Resnick was a big 90s SNL writer, but also co-wrote and directed the cult-favorite but critically-reviled CABIN BOY which also starred Chris Elliott and has a brief appearance by David “Wouldja like to buy a monkey?!” Letterman. Having attended a CABIN BOY screening with a post-film Q&A with Resnick, I can tell you that he -hates- talking about that film and I do not know why he agreed to do a Q&A.) Notable writers include Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) and Bob Odenkirk (MR. SHOW, BETTER CALL SAUL), so you know it’s going to be absurd.

It was definitely absurd. The first season was slightly more off-kilter than full-blown bonkers — it focused more on the sitcom family elements (which included Chris Elliott’s real-life father and classic comedian Bob Elliott as Peterson’s father). The second season was completely unhinged, mostly because they knew they would never get renewed for a third.

It was a severe primetime network oddity in the early nineties and, as a young teen watching my friend’s weekly VHS recordings of the show, it was a mind-blowing experience: Chris Peterson would frequently be killed off in episodes. There’s a Jack and the Giant Beanstalk ep. There’s an E.T.-ish episode that featured a disgusting alien named SPEWEY that, as you might guess, repeatedly vomits. It’s proto-alternative TV comedy.

One of the most influential episodes may be “The Prettiest Week of My Life” (S01E02, surprisingly early in the show) where Chris decides to become a male model via the ‘Handsome Boy School of Modeling’. If you’re familiar with music producer Dan the Automator, you’re familiar with this episode, as he created an entire project named HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL, then went on to heavily sample “The Prettiest Week of My Life” in songs like ‘Look at This Face (Oh My God They’re Gorgeous)’ and ‘Modeling Sucks’:

(When I used to DJ, I’d try to work in ‘Modeling Sucks’ whenever I could.)

What’s even more amazing is: they managed to get R.E.M.’s STAND for the theme song. Sadly, that’s probably why you can’t legally stream it anywhere now. (If you want to check out the series, there are a number of bootleg eps on YouTube, but please: if you enjoy it, throw some money towards SHOUT! Factory’s DVD set. It’s a great set, and they do fantastic work.)

The show isn’t for everyone, but it was a foundational show for me.

THE GHOST & MRS MUIR (1968-1970)

(YouTube) Ah, the 60s, the heyday of high-concept TV shows! As you might surmise from the title, this is a belated TV adaptation of the novel/film, starring Hope Lange — in her first recurring TV role — as Carolyn Muir, and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg, the pirate captain who haunts the house that the widow Muir has moved her son, daughter, and moppet pup to. To inject a bit more conflict, Charles Nelson Reilly — also his first recurring TV role — is Captain Gregg’s very nervous great-grand-nephew Claymore Gregg, who is reluctantly renting the property — Gull Cottage — to Mrs. Muir.

The show was the brainchild of Jean Holloman, who also penned the epic melodrama MADAME X (1966) and, apart from the inclusion of Reilly and one more kid, the show hews pretty close the source material(s), centering mostly around the tension (albeit less sexual and more about sharing a space) between Mrs. Muir and Captain Gregg. However, it’s been modernized a bit — Carolyn’s already an established writer, she wears pants, and she takes no guff. That said, they needed to ramp up the conflict, which usually meant random folks and guest stars would drop by, and hijinks would ensue.

It only lasted for one season on NBC, but then ABC picked it up for a second season — handsomely pairing it with THAT GIRL and BEWITCHED, but it still failed to catch on and ABC canceled it after the second season.

I won’t pretend that the show is brilliant, but it’s a comfortable oddity, admirably performed, and perfect for a lazy long holiday weekend. I don’t believe it received an official US DVD release — my copy consists of bootlegs acquired from eBay — but nowadays the entire series can be found on YouTube.

Pilot:

HE & SHE (1967)

(YouTube/DVD) A whip-smart, tightly-wound gag machine that was well-ahead of its time.. A precursor to THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (1972) in that it allowed autonomy for the childless couple (Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss), and also encouraged them to pursue their own interests and, at the end of the day, they respected each other for doing so, often in bed.

It’s also a direct inspiration for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, especially Jack Cassidy’s blowhard performance portraying the superhero that Richard Benjamin’s character created.

If you want to pick up a copy for yourself, you can do so via the excellent preservation site modcinema.com (I’ve ordered more than a few items from them — they’re doing fantastic work.):

https://www.modcinema.com/categories/3-made-for-tv/197-he-she-tv-series-3-disc-1967-dvd