As my colleagues here have noted over the past month, it’s been a hellaciously good year for television. But that level and depth of quality means that for every show rightfully celebrated, there are at least two upon which little light shines. But even beyond that, there are shows that are simply good. Being “simply good” used to be enough in the medium, and still is an achievement in and of itself. But there’s little room to talk about the “simply good” because of everything else on the dial taking up attention and oxygen. Ground Floor is a step above “simply good,” even if it hasn’t quite achieved greatness yet. But tonight’s post-Christmas episode “Woman On Top” demonstrates that while it may not singlehandedly bring back the glory days of multi-camera comedy, there’s still a viable space beyond The Big Bang Theory for it to thrive in today’s single-camera medium.
Indeed, Ground Floor feels more like a statement about the multi-camera itself than about anything particular inside the universe of the show. By staging it in front of a live audience and filming it like a play, Ground Floor situates itself within a certain spectrum of historical television comedies. Plenty of networks still air multi-cam comedies, but either bristle against medium (such as Dads) or play so broadly that the characters are stretched sideways until flat. Aside from the occasional vulgar word, Ground Floor doesn’t try to make the medium work for the show so much as make the medium itself work for an audience largely trained to associate studio laughter with an inferior product. All of this has worked before, Ground Floor says via Battlestar Galactica, and all of this can work again.
Even the plot of “Woman On Top” sounds like something a hundred other multicams have done before: office boss Mansfield (John C. McGinley, having what appears to be the time of his life) learns that his branch has been voted among the worst for women to work in the entire country. Desperate to balance the gender of his staff, he soon hires Heather Young (Anna Camp, making this a makeshift Pitch Perfect reunion with her special guest appearance), who just so happened to date show protagonist Brody (Skylar Astin) in business school. Wacky hijinks ensue, all of which unfold more or less as you might expect. Brody’s current girlfriend Jenny (Briga Heelan, getting more confident with each episode) tries to hide her jealousy and insecurities by constantly inviting Heather to spend time with her and Brody, only to have said plan completely backfire. Will Brody and Jenny make it? Is this the end of our lovely couple?
Of course not, but then again, neither “Woman On Top” nor Ground Floor expects anyone to take these types of situations seriously. Even thought the episode highlights the fact that no women work on the main level of Remington Trust, the episode doesn’t have a stake in any type of gender politics. It does earn some laughs out of Mansfield trying to fight every natural instinct in Heather’s presence, and her treatment of Threepeat (Mike Nguyen) will not surprise anyone who has watched Bill Lawrence’s other shows such as Scrubs and Cougar Town in which gender is the last defining characteristic involved in the power dynamics between two people. Those shows, along with Ground Floor, are interested in how people position themselves in relation to one another, but rarely keeps those dynamics static in terms of pure anatomy.
Luckily, Ground Floor has also ceded almost all interactions based on company position, except when those positions cause natural friction. It’s no longer about one being superior to the other so much as complementary, a move that was necessary by default. From the pilot to now, Ground Floor has obliterated hierarchy in favor of throwing everyone into the pool and seeing what happens. Sometimes that means Brody hanging in the maintenance office. Other times it’s Harvard (Rory Scovel) sauntering into Mansfield’s office looking like Willie Wonka. At the end of tonight’s episode, that means Threepeat and Derrick (James Earl) singing karaoke together. These people all still have friction between them, but it’s the type of friction that stems from character traits rather than proximity to topsoil.
If the Brody/Heather/Jenny triangle introduces some of the pilot’s initial schisms, they are also wrapped up in the type of personal problems that people in that phase of dating in which newness wears off and insecurity creeps in. There have been no real strong markings of time passing this season, so it’s unclear exactly how long Brody and Jenny have been dating. But it hasn’t been long enough for Heather to come up, never mind the fact that she and Brody actually lived together at one point. Those types of issues go beyond understanding what a derivative is and get to the heart of that couple’s future. Again: we know the pair isn’t going to break up over this. But these two characters don’t, which makes their duet on Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason” have more weight and emotion than one could reasonably expect from a show this (intentionally) silly. Brody is literally singing for their relationship at that point, and her acceptance of his musical apology is beautifully conveyed in that moment by Heelan. Hers is not an expression easily identified by the studio audience, nor is Harvard’s reaction behind her as he closes his fists in slow-motion agony. It’s a staple of Bill Lawrence shows to include moments of pathos in his programming, but that doesn’t mean those moments are any easier to earn now than at the beginning of Scrubs. The sensibilities that he and co-creator Greg Malins bring to Ground Floor lets the show play broadly until bringing the audience in for a devastatingly simple but still-powerful sucker punch.
Their duet is the kind of moment that can overshadow an entire episode, and it’s worth noting that “Woman On Top” is an imperfect episode with some absolutely perfect moments. But that’s Ground Floor as a whole, especially over its last month’s batch of episodes. Viewed from afar, the show isn’t doing a damn thing new with the genre. But upon closer inspection, the show is simply trying to bring back elements of television comedy that never go out of style. The show is filled with caricatures that are rapidly developing into full-blooded characters, and that transition is always exciting to watch. My heart even broke a little for Harvard as Jenner started to sing, which was an odd feeling to experience for a man who served as a bearded impediment over the first three episodes. Ground Floor is a show that makes things look so easy at times that it’s difficult to remember how difficult this is to pull off. If you need any quick reminders, look over at Anger Management. Actually, don’t. Keep your eyes focused on this instead. It’s crowded out there on the cable dial, but this show is worth your attention and investment. It may not come with the same guarantees as the fixed-rated CD in which Brody invested the savings of Jenny’s coworkers. But its returns have been steadily growing all the same.
- "She's pitchy, by the way!" That felt like the most overt reference to Pitch Perfect, although possibly aca-unintentional.
- Yes, it’s on the nose to have Brody and Jenny harmonize well together while his duet with Heather on “Baby, One More Time” was semi-hideous. But come on: Astin and Heelan sounded damn good together.
- "I love your hatred! I bathe in it! It makes my beard grow!" God, Harvard’s going to be my favorite character by season end, isn’t he?
- “You know what that painting means? It means I love my wife.” I’m learning to accept that McGinley isn’t playing Dr. Perry Cox, but it’s still strange to hear so many nice things coming from his mouth.
- Heather takes Stevia with her coffee, so I’m guessing she won’t be long for this world should she run afoul of any meth dealers in Chicago.