A.P. Bio and the 20-minute turnaround

Shortness, pace and style. The three core desires of A.P. Bio. Creator Mike O’Brien messes with the premeditated sitcom tones. Its light and loose development is a façade. But that is the beauty of the show. It is what makes A.P. Bio and the 20-minute turnaround not just a rare perfection, but an essential one that will drive the genre of television comedy to the next level.  

But what is that next level? It is not the ultra-meta structure of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or the highbrow satisfaction of that either. Both star Glenn Howerton, though, and the ego-maniacal structure of his character is intact for both shows. He is the focus of each show, but what O’Brien focuses on, more often than not, is the reciprocation that comes after realising egomania is not the path to satisfaction. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia offers the ego unchecked, but A.P. Bio gives Howerton a strange, exciting challenge. What if his ego were actually applied properly, and the impact of such is felt well throughout the four seasons.  

Its desire to accommodate new stylings of comedy is ground-breaking. With a quick enough pace to do that, A.P. Bio has room to make mistakes, because they last for only a second. Throwaway lines are the smartest trick they have, with one-word callouts from the supporting cast being far stronger than some of the intricate jokes. What those intricate jokes do when they fail though is build the narrative and incorporate the various character dynamics that have been exceptionally quick-fire throughout.  

Because of such a fast pace, it is difficult to notice the changes made between seasons. Recurring characters come and go, but it never makes much difference. It is this that A.P. Bio uses to its advantage so frequently. Growth is the necessity A.P. Bio has, primarily because its first season storyline was wrapped up in just thirteen episodes. Just over four hours to build up an ensemble and shoot them straight back down.  

Even with this fast pace, there is still time for A.P. Bio to make up, break down and remake characters from episode to episode. Its grip on and subsequent parody of pop culture is not just to bump the ratings higher, but has genuine comedy behind it. They are brief, like all jokes, but just as funny as the rest of it. Season three’s opener, Tiny Problems, has parodies of White House Down24 and Godzilla all in a frantic minute.  

But without those links to the mediums audiences will know from elsewhere is a fundamental understanding of characters who are, at their best, stereotypical presentations. A.P. Bio wishes to push against that and does so exceptionally well. The doofus principal, played by Patton Oswalt, is likeable and less bumbling than one would anticipate for the fall guy archetype. Even Howerton’s substitute teacher is a little different from the usual humdrum requirements of a great man in a lowly position.  

Students are no different. The usual nerd, weirdo and cool kid archetypes are presented and sometimes broken down. They are presented in a barebones state and thrust at the audience with surprising variation from episode to episode. Continuity is rare for A.P. Bio. Each episode is self-contained, and necessarily so. Without it, there would be spillage, a meta-humour that wouldn’t riff off of what these characters are and how they are represented. With 20 minutes an episode, there is little time to remind audiences of small intricacies. O’Brien knows that and uses them sparingly and effectively.  

Misery loves comedy. Brevity does too. A.P. Bio, accidentally or intentionally, understands that. Its brief tones are encapsulated in little, digestible pockets for the audience on the go. They have adapted their show to the new age of engaging with content. Pocket-powered phones streaming a brief moment or two of the show on the commute to and from the daily chores. A.P. Bio may not be creating anything wholly satisfying for the mind, but it is good for the heart and great for those who need a laugh here or there. It is not ditching the progressive format of the sitcom, but it is throwing new ideas into the machine and seeing what works. So far, most of it is brewing up quite the storm.  

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