Taken as a whole, the two-part first season finale of Ground Floor is both a logical conclusion to all that came before it while vastly widening the show’s storytelling potential upon its return. There’s no guarantee of such a second season, mind you, as of this time. But “The Decision,” which started last week and concluded tonight, puts an emotional button on several ongoing narratives while also opening things up for very different dynamics if and when TBS greenlights another season. This first season has consistently put its protagonist Brody in between his boss Mansfield and his girlfriend Jenny. Tonight, Brody chose love and lost not only a father figure but a six-figure salary as well.
To say “The Decision” presented serious stakes through Mansfield’s last-second firing of Brody would be something of an overstatement. But it’s still an impactful moment that the show didn’t shy away from executing. Those that have accused John C. McGinley of simply playing Perry Cox from Scrubs once again are selling what he’s done all season short. Indeed, precisely because McGinley has softened the edges of that character to make Mansfield simultaneously terrifying and cuddly makes his final conversation with Brody that much more surprising. Cox making that decision? That’s easy to see. Mansfield making it? Not quite as intuitive. What comes across Mansfield’s eyes in that moment isn’t the disappointment that comes from seeing people in coach board before him. Rather, it’s the disappointment in seeing someone he actually cares about potentially throw his life away.
Now, to be sure, Ground Floor sides on Team Love Conquers All at all times. But over these final two episodes in particular, it’s also sided with Team Love Doesn’t Necessarily Make Things Easy. I’m not sure many viewers would have batted an eye had Brody only sided with Jenny AND won the begrudging respect of his mentor. That might have been too pat by half, but still satisfactory given the overall vibe of this show. But instead of sending its heroes into a well-earned respite heading into hiatus, the show upends everything and scatters its heroes to the wind. (Or to FuHo, but we’ll get there eventually.) All season long, Jenny and Brody have brought out the best in each other, but are still in the “honeymoon” glow of the relationship. It’s that time when pawing at each other during staff meetings takes precedent over thinking hard about the future. The future comes more quickly than anticipated in “The Decision,” and no one seems particularly ready to deal with it in a logical manner.
While being a fairly lightweight show, Ground Floor has done enough solid work this season outlining the world views of Brody, Jenny, and Mansfield and let the audience see how all of them are right and wrong about any given scenario. When those scenarios involve office high jinks, who actually comes out on top is somewhat irrelevant. Brody’s position as Mansfield’s protégé is as theoretical as Brody and Jenny actually confessing their love for one another. Both aspects have been omnipresent yet out of reach at all times. Shit doesn’t hit the fan in “The Decision,” but consequences definitely rear their heads for the first time. The show is long past trying to force Brody about where to sit during a San Francisco Giants game. Both Mansfield and Jenny want the best for Brody. They just have different ways of expressing it.
But simply because the studio audience and those watching at home will tend to side with Jenny doesn’t mean that Mansfield is the monster here. Shifting perspectives, it’s easy to look at Ground Floor through the eyes of Mansfield’s character as the story of a man who never dampened the romantic heart of his successor but also provided ample instruction on how to balance impulse with pragmatism. Moreover, it’s easy to imagine Mansfield viewing Brody’s actions as the height of selfishness, insomuch as Brody selects an option Mansfield simply doesn’t view as possible. This isn’t exactly Downton Abbey generational strife here. But Brody isn’t Mansfield the Second in his eyes anymore, but rather just another mediocre member of the younger generation. For Mansfield, life is backbreaking work designed to make the later years more palatable. Brody is hardly YOLO, but still favors a more balanced approach in the present.
If anything, Brody is the least realistic one, since Jenny spends the majority of her energy in tonight’s second part projecting positive energy towards Brody to mask the deep well of sadness within her. She doesn’t want the burden of ruining the chance of a lifetime for the man she loves, even while recognizing minutes after her impromptu decision to move to Hong Kong with him that the two really won’t have any chance once he departs. That says nothing about her affection towards him (nor he towards her); that’s just simply life being life. That’s why Brody doesn’t decide to tell her about Mansfield’s decision before the two board for Paris: If Jenny knew Brody had been fired, she would not have simply hated the trip. She wouldn’t have gotten on the plane at all, instead picking Brody up, slinging him over her shoulder, and dragging him to the Hong Kong departure gate.
All of this makes Ground Floor seem like a suddenly heavy show, although in reality the weight of the two-part finale only really settles in over the final thirty seconds. Before that, we got great running gags involving Harvard’s mime-filled dreams, a curious office-wide obsession with the Billy Crystal film Forget Paris, and Tori getting so spooked by Harvard’s funeral-home apartment that she thinks she no longer appears in selfies. Threepeat having to move in with Harvard is something of a hokey premise, one that involves a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to see as something viable rather than comedically convenient. But it also subtly hints at what I imagine will be the second season’s central theme: not the contrast of ground floor and top floor, but the intermingling between them.
Brody and Jenny will probably be living together if and when TBS renews the show. But it’s equally possible they will be working together, and that sounds pretty appealing. A show that spends more time in the basement means that the fun yet underutilized cast can have more chance to shine, and Mansfield can still pop in to torment Brody on a semi-regular basis. With Threepeat as Harvard’s roommate, he’s still involved as well. The business side of the show has been its consistently weakest point, mostly because those that run Ground Floor clearly don’t give a shit about the ins and outs of finance. Nor should they. Their focus has rightly been on the characters, and putting Brody into the basement provides ample opportunity for new dynamics to emerge and more silliness to unfold. I have no idea if that’s where the show is going. But Brody not being at that firm seems like a non-starter, and him getting his old job back anytime soon would retroactively diminish the power of tonight’s final moments. Sure, we might be back to square one by the end of the theoretical season two premiere. But that seems like an awful waste, given how fertile the ground is now for new storytelling opportunities.
- The grade above is for tonight’s episode, the two-part as a whole, and the season in totality. This was a B+ through and through, and its consistency has been remarkable in that respect. It’s never lit the world on fire, but it’s consistently funny and has a romantic streak a mile wide.
- Having Harvard’s mime dream turn into him pawing a glass window was some mighty impressive comic callback staging.
- I probably should have loved the reference to The Shining that closed out the season, but ending with Brody’s confused face as he boarded the plane would have been a stronger place to end things. (That’s a more somber ending, to be sure. But still a better one.)
- Briga Heelan is a star in the making. She was fine on Cougar Town, but really stepped up her game as this first season went on. Everything involving her at Harvard’s going away party was pretty much gold. If for no other reason than her, TBS should renew. If not, she’ll be in high demand come the next pilot season.