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Monday, December 30, 2013

GROUND FLOOR "On Top"

Article first published as GROUND FLOOR "On Top" on TheTVKing.

Seven episodes into its freshman season, Ground Floor has become a series I look forward to watching. The cast doesn't have the chemistry of Cougar Town and the writing lacks the weird fun of Scrubs, but it still is a reliable draw from creator of all three, Bill Lawrence. There are constantly decent jokes, and I do enjoy the show's leads immensely.

At the heart of Ground Floor is the relationship between Brody (Skylar Astin) and Mr. Mansfield (John C. McGinely). Did you think I was going to say Brody and Jennifer (Briga Heelan)? Well, as much as Brody and Jennifer's pairing provides the structure, the best parts of each installment are usually those where Mansfield gives Brody advice. Every part of Brody's romantic life is observed and commented on by his boss, and through these talks, we see the development of Mansfield.

At first, it appeared that Mansfield might be a retread of Dr. Cox, McGinley's Scrubs character. But as layers are willingly revealed week after week, it becomes clear that isn't the case at all. While Cox was closed off, Mansfield is open. Cox hated being a mentor, and Mansfield lives for it. Cox would never admit to screw ups and emotions unless pushed, while Mansfield volunteers such things, thinking nothing of throwing an arm around an employee and sitting close on a couch. They are really two completely different people.

McGinley is quite the talented actor. He really makes the little gags Mansfield gets work far more than they should. Each time he appears on screen, the eye is instantly drawn to him, and for good reason. Last week's episode found him singing and dancing in the empty office, and I don't know how the actor kept it together with the audience reacting as they did (assuming the show films in front of a live studio audience?). He really has something.

Brody benefits much from his lessons from Mansfield. Whether he agrees with his superior or not, and he doesn't always, there's a camaraderie and respect between them that belies their varying power statuses. Mansfield is someone Brody looks up to, and I think they are friends, too, though Mansfield would never admit it to the office.

Back to the more obvious central duo, Brody and Jennifer appear to be progressing nicely. I'm a little disappointed we haven't witnessed more of their development after the rocky start, with a bigger focus on shenanigans in the office than in their personal lives. I want to see them outside of work more, find out what kinds of things they are going through that result in them being stronger. They do have a palpable attraction, and I just want it to be explored more in-depth.

Which is kind of what is nice about this week's episode, "Woman on Top," in which we see strain between Brody and Jennifer and how they work through it. Mansfield unknowingly hires Brody's serious ex-girlfriend, Heather (Anna Camp, True Blood, The Help), and as cool as Jennifer tries to be, she gets jealous, especially when she sees how well Brody and Heather still get along and how much they have in common.

Brody and Jennifer do overcome the Heather obstacle, though. It messes them up, and they put in the work to get through it. That's what every strong union needs, to be tested and survive, in order to thrive. I'm not asking for constant drama on this magnitude, as that would be hokey and false, but to get more glimpses of these two in this manner would be welcome.

It is not at all unexpected that Heather leaves at the end of "Woman on Top." Camp is much too in-demand to stick around in a recurring part, and her desk position and attitude would necessitate she be constantly seen. So Mansfield sends her to run his Chicago branch, leaving the door open for repeat appearances, but not making her someone we have to see again.

Does Mansfield do this for Brody? He's been a supported of Brody and Jennifer, even when he resists them, so it makes sense he might do a behind-the-scenes move to help the couple. On the other hand, he's a shark in the business world, and Heather is the type of firm hand the Chicago branch needs. Perhaps it's just a win-win.

Heather's departure is too bad, in a way. Camp and Astin were two of the stars of the film Pitch Perfect, and "Woman on Top" is a nice reunion. Jennifer always has Harvard (Rory Scovel) lusting after her, so it could be interesting to toss in someone who might want to get back with Brody. Plus, it's just plain fun how fast Heather whips Threepeat (Rene Gube) into serving her.

Speaking of Pitch Perfect, a movie with a lot of singing, Astin and Camp have musical moments in this episode, and McGinley and others sang last week. It's cool that Ground Floor finds ways to work its actors' vocal talents into the series. I'm a fan of musicals in general, and while I don't think this will ever be one of those, I appreciate even small numbers done by talented performers. Between Ground Floor and Super Fun Night, it's nice to see this element emerging in the new fall sitcoms. More singing please!

The one thing Ground Floor has yet to figure out is how to effectively use all of its supporting players. Jennifer, Brody, and Mansfield are the real leads, and they are great. Harvard serves his purpose, and Threepeat is someone flexible enough to vary his role week to week, which is what is happening. But Derrick (James Earl) and Tori (Alexis Knapp, who was also in Pitch Perfect) don't really have a fit yet. I'm hoping that changes and Ground Floor moves more in an ensemble direction, as pretty much all the best comedies on TV have larger casts than just 3 or 4 characters.

Overall, Ground Floor has a charm that really resonates, and it is pretty funny. For a freshman show with only half a dozen episodes under its belt, it's doing quite well, and the pedigree involved is such that I expect it will mature nicely. I look forward to seeing where it grows from here.

Ground Floor airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

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