Dr Andrew Patterson gets a new job in an English department at a university, though the people and institution are particularly unusual. His initial reluctance to accept the job, despite its good benefits, mean he goes home to think about it until his wife Jane demands he accept. At the university, he is introduced to a variety of other staff members and finds his predecessor became a gibbering wreck and caused him to leave. Patterson ends up locked in his room by Professor Misty when he leaves, and he is rescued by a cleaner somewhat later. Back at home, he tells Jane he doesn't think he is up to working at the university due to the craziness of it. He also finds that his wife has become friends with Cuthbertson from next door, and is off to yoga class.
Patterson is to start his first day of term at the university, though he gets called in at the last minute by Professor Misty who has a hair appointment. He also finds that he will be teaching literature, though arrives at the wrong building which further delays him. Eventually finding his class, he sets about giving his first lecture but struggles with the rather poor quality of the attending students. At a staff meeting, Patterson is introduced to the other staff in the department before Misty launches into a wildly confused chairing of the meeting. The upcoming vice-chancellors reception allows Andrew and his wife a night out, but not before telling his daughter about how grown-up life works, much to his wife's dismay.
Having been at the university for two weeks, Patterson has to deal with his lax students with whom he is acting as an advisor. He also discovers he has been fined by the library for a late book. Heading in to see Professor Misty, who appears to be particularly forgetful, Patterson meets an Indian professor, Bannerji, who is doing a thesis on a book and is instructed to help him. Patterson meanwhile is also accused of borrowing Misty's lawnmower who insists on having it returned, leaving him to have to hunt for its true whereabouts amongst the other staff. Under pressure to find the lawnmower, Patterson has to cope with his marriage falling apart, the kids also feeling unwell, and the threat of being fired if he can't find it.
Patterson ends up at friend Victor's house during the night, claiming he has left Jane, and encounters a somewhat sleepless night. Victor suggests he give freedom a chance while Patterson worries that she might find someone else. Rushing out to return Misty's lawnmower before his deadline, he finds that Misty claims not to known anything about a lawnmower. As Patterson's inaugural lecture draws close, Victor hears rumours that Cuthbertson has been making moves on Patterson's wife already leading to a confrontation in the library. Attempting to reconcile with his wife which goes badly, Patterson ends up at Melissa's to begin an affair which also doesn't work out as he can't stay awake. Finally, attending his inaugural lecture which he has not prepared for, he falls asleep and can't be awakened.
Melissa and Patterson's affair continues, though Patterson seems less than enthusiastic as he begins to write a trashy novel about it, which irritates Melissa when she discovers she is featured in it. He soon receives a call from Jane checking up on him, and is also required to return home - to fix his fence. Back at the university, Patterson has to avoid dealing with Bannerji, and is also roped into taking over one of Misty's lectures, which results in a trip to the library for an argument with Cuthbertson again over borrowing a book. Misty also offers Patterson a dinner invite along with his wife, resulting in him having to persuade her to go. However, the party turns out frantic with Bannerji wanting a discussion, Cuthbertson arriving angry, and Patterson being come on to by an American thesis student Valerie.
Patterson returns home to Melissa drunk, who decides they should "re-evaluate their relationship". The following morning, he is confronted about talking in his sleep to a "Valerie", leaving Melissa angry. Heading to the university, he meets with Valerie who goes on to invite him to join her away for the weekend to "discuss her thesis". Misty also arranges a secret meeting with Patterson where he says that he believes Smithson is planning a coup against him. Arriving back at Melissa's, Patterson finds himself locked out with his bags outside when she discovers he was at Misty's party with Jane, while Melissa takes up with Professor Smithson. Returning to Jane's very drunk with Victor, Patterson breaks in and ends up shooting a gun off as a police officer arrives.
Living and sleeping in his office, Patterson discovers that Valerie has booked a weekend for them. Victor congratulates him on his adventures, but warns him about the risk of being fired. Enduring Valerie's terrifying driving and constant talking for the entire trip, they eventually arrive. Valerie tells him that she gave Misty's name to keep a cover. Meanwhile, Professor Misty is also in the process of checking into the same hotel, and promptly catches Patterson who desperately tries to keep Valerie out of sight who becomes angry at the idea of being locked away. With other top university staff arriving, Patterson has to attend a meal. Returning to his room, Patterson attempts to placate Valerie, but has to contend with the vice-chancellor's wife knocking on his door.
The end of term is approaching, and Patterson is stuck living with Mrs Pecker. Out at the university, he repairs his relationship with Valerie who is due to leave for elsewhere, and not likely to return. Bannerji is also leaving with her heading for France, with his work also having been completed. In his mailbox, he discovers legal papers from his wife who has filed for divorce. To add to the number who are leaving, Professor Misty announces his retirement and sets plans to write a book. With the department in chaos and little room for improvement, Misty recommends Patterson for the role as head. His first task however is to deal with Melissa and the irate staff who have improvement demands, as well as Victor who has decided to head back to his old job.In the end, Patterson decides on reconciling with Jane.