in Television

Ground Floor Pilot & “Off to the Races” Review


The first comment on the IMDb message board about TBS’s new comedy Ground Floor sort of says it all: I didn’t hate it.

TBS, known for their collection of syndicated shows, has been branching out into original comedy programming the last few years. They have, essentially, been trying to find that perfect complement to their reruns of The Big Bang Theory. They pinched Cougar Town from ABC just as it was on the bubble, and now they’ve taken something else with Bill Lawrence’s name attached to it. And it was just that, the mention of Lawrence (as well as a few other names), that had me excited for this show.

A comedy show on cable, I thought. It’s Always Sunny, and Curb Your Enthusiasm come to mind. But I had forgotten, in my excitement, that this is TBS. They don’t have a great track record with their original programming, and Ground Floor was a show originally conceived for CBS. (I say that, because it’s got all of the typical markings that I want to touch on later: multi-camera set up with a big laugh track.) It’s got a big premise – the class divide between the maintenance staff on the bottom floor of a building, and the money managing boys who work their way up the top – but Ground Floor isn’t a show that’s committed to truly exploring this idea. It’s just… It’s a cute little comedy. It’s got a solid cast (Skylar Astin, John C. McGinley and Briga Heelan leading things), but… It’s a little weak considering how interesting that idea could have potentially been.

The show doesn’t garner the biggest laughs, but when I compare it to other new shows of the season, it’s actually pretty tight. It’s clever in that it only really has two main stages – the maintenance office, and then the corresponding top floor one. It’s a workplace comedy that’s really, truly set in a workplace. Maybe in the future they’ll branch out a little, but for now, having Brody chase Jenny downstairs, and then Harvard (the downstairs worker who earned his nickname by being the only one there with a degree) chasing him back up, works really quite well.

I started this review a little harsh on the show, when really, it made me laugh quite a bit, and already has a pretty impressive flow going on. The downstairs crew of slackers is already far more interesting than the finance boys (I could live without Brody’s workmate Threepeat) but the 30th floor has something that the bottom doesn’t: John C. McGinley as Mr. Mansfield, consistently terrifying his employees. He’s essentially repeating what he did on scrubs (but as a finance mogul) and it just feels right.

I mentioned above about the set up for the show: it’s a multi-cam with a laugh track. And although in the pilot that did seem a little too intrusive, by episode two I had either gotten used to it, or the laughter had settled somewhat.

The set up for Ground Floor is there. We’ve got a range of characters being connected by a relationship – one that brings out the best in Brody’s otherwise stiff character, and allows Heelan’s Jenny to sparkle – and it’s a relationship that creates that crazy aw-shucks class division comedy that America has loved for so long. And it’s funny, but the show that I actually can’t help but think of as I look over the premise of Ground Floor is Cheers. When looking at class divisions, and how relationships work when you have two people in two very different places, Sam and Diane are the ultimate comparison. But I’m not sure if Ground Floor is really all that interested in exploring just how different Brody and Jenny are. They seem more preoccupied by setting up comedy space for jokes to be made about playing ‘Marco Post-It’ in the office. And while that’s good, pretty great, even… It could still be a lot more. And sadly, I don’t think it will go that route.

I didn’t think, that when I started this, I’d be finishing it by wishing that this show looked less like it was heading towards becoming the usual Bill Lawrence show. (The opposite, in fact.) But in the case of Ground Floor, I think it could have been more interesting if they had been setting up a space for conflict rather than the usual, cozy comedy-circle that exists in Lawrence’s shows – and looks set to be in this one.

Instead, I wanted something more from Ground Floor and its two supposedly separate dynamics. But I’m probably just asking too much from something that, really, I should already be pretty happy with.

“Wow, is this really what you guys do all day?”

“No, no! We do building maintenance, IT, office supplies, mail distribution… We’ve been working on this list of what we do in case anybody asks.”

Rating: B