Tag Archives: John C. McGinley

TBS’ new ‘Ground Floor’: Take my laugh track, please

The promising workplace sitcom 'Ground Floor' with John C. McGinley and Skylar Astin (from left) premieres tonight on TBS.

John C. McGinley and Skylar Astin (from left) star in ‘Ground Floor,’ a promising TBS workplace comedy from ‘Scrubs’ creator Bill Lawrence.

Ground Floor, a promising new TBS sitcom premiering tonight, has enough things going for it that I almost feel churlish bringing up its one major drawback. Fortunately, that liability is something that would seem easily fixable, so let’s start with the good stuff.
This new workplace comedy comes from executive producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town), who co-wrote the pilot but apparently is not directly involved with the show on a weekly basis. Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) stars as Brody Moyer, an Ivy League graduate working as a money manager at Remington Trust, a San Francisco investment company run by the very intimidating Remington Mansfield (Scrubs alumnus John C. McGinley). A self-made success story, Mansfield firmly believes that guys like Brody should spend their first couple of post-college decades busting their hump on the job and save the personal rewards like love and family for their post-40 years.
Needless to say, Mansfield isn’t happy when Brody, his unofficial protégé, falls hard for Jenny Miller (vivacious newcomer Briga Heelan), who works on the ground floor as part of the building service staff. Jenny is, Mansfield sternly warns Brody, a “life-unraveller,” the kind of woman who will seduce Brody into unproductive self-analysis and make him question his priorities.
And he’s right. Brody, an insecure metrosexual, is completely nonplussed that Jenny, after a mutually satisfying one-night fling with him, doesn’t seem impressed with his upwardly mobile status (maybe it was the way she gave him a high-five at the end of their night together). In fact, Jenny is in most respects more of a “dude” than Brody is, and he’s especially uncomfortable that she seems to be interested in him only for recreational sex.
“Talking to her is like drinking tequila,” he complains to his boss. “One second you think you’re totally in control, and then the next thing you know, you wake up naked in the yard and your mom keeps saying that you have ruined Christmas.”
Adding to the comic tension is Mark “Harvard” Shrake (Rory Scovel), Jenny’s bearded first-floor colleague who transparently harbors a crush on her and jealously refers to Brody as one of “the soulless upstairs tools.” (To be fair, apart from Brody and Mansfield, Harvard is pretty much spot-on in this assessment).
As with Lawrence’s two other well-known sitcoms, Ground Floor is blessed with a strong ensemble cast playing characters that pop. At first glance, McGinley is doing a reprise of his Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs, but the actor has found a way to take some of the harder edges off that character without becoming sentimental. That makes for a nice mentoring chemistry with Astin, who likewise strikes some engaging romantic sparks with Heelan. As Harvard, Scovel lands some of the biggest laughs in the first four episodes TBS sent out for review and may emerge as the show’s breakout star.
When I say “the biggest laughs,” I’m referring to my own response, not those on the maddeningly intrusive laugh track. Unlike Scrubs and Cougar Town, both single-camera shows that didn’t/don’t film in front of a studio audience, Ground Floor is done in the old-school multi-camera style. As heard on the review episodes I checked, however, the laughter doesn’t sound remotely like the spontaneous response of an enthusiastic audience. It sounds canned, with nearly every line in the show – and trust me, I do mean nearly every line in the show – getting identical-sized guffaws. There are indeed several very funny lines in Ground Floor, but hearing raucous laughter following lines that I’m not even sure the writers intended to be real jokes eventually starts to suck the comedy out of the good stuff.
TBS mailed out those review episodes a few weeks ago, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the obviously artificial laughter was a temporary track that subsequently was adjusted for broadcast. Ground Floor is written and performed by some pros who clearly know what they’re doing. Artificially enhancing the laughter is an insult both to them and their audience.
Rory Scovel, Skylar Astin and Briga Heelan (from left) star in the new TBS sitcom 'Ground Floor.'

Harvard (Rory Scovel, left) gets jealous when his co-worker Jenny (Briga Heelan) embarks on a relationship with Brody (Skylar Astin) in ‘Ground Floor.’

House of lies

Aaron Tveit
“There are no secrets in Graceland,” one of FBI newbie Mike Warren’s (Aaron Tveit) undercover colleagues tells him in tonight’s premiere of USA Network’s provocative new drama. The agent in question, Catherine “Charlie” DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito, CSI: NY), probably isn’t willfully lying – she’s mainly talking about how close-knit the diverse folks who share a luxurious California beach house are – but she’s definitely stretching the truth.
If you’ve seen any of the gazillion promos USA has been running for the show, you’d be forgiven if you were tempted to dismiss Graceland as a contrived and ludicrous hybrid of Baywatch and a gritty cop drama such as The Shield. In fact, however, series creator Jeff Eastin (White Collar) based this new series on an actual beachfront property the U.S. Government seized in 1992 and really did use as an undercover residence for federal agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Customs until 2001.
In the series, Graceland – which got its nickname from the Elvis-obsessed drug kingpin who previously owned the property – is where Mike is assigned fresh out of graduating top of his class at Quantico. He’s a little stunned to be here, having expected a position in Washington, D.C., but he’s here to train with Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, Rescue Me), a senior FBI agent with a formidable track record (and, he notes smugly, even higher test scores than Mike got). In addition to Paul, Mike and the aforementioned Charlie, Graceland’s other current residents include Johnny Tuturro (Manny Montana), a fun-loving prankster with Navy SEAL training; Dale “DJ” Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren), a hot-headed U.S. Customs agent who hates it when his roommates touch his “stuff”; and Paige Arkin (Serinda Small), a DEA undercover agent who views Mike warily, since he’s moving into the room previously occupied by her regular partner, currently sidelined after a drug deal gone wrong.
As Paul is quick to remind Mike, they are all in a career that calls on them to lie for a living, keeping their activities a secret from their friends and loved ones. Viewers soon discover, however, just about everyone in Graceland is harboring secrets of their own – including Mike, who will discover at the end of his first day why his FBI bosses really sent him to Southern California.
Tveit, a Broadway musical star who played the student revolutionary Enjolras in the big-screen Les Miserables, is being touted as USA Networks’ next great white hottie, but he’s got a lot more going for him than superficial good looks. Maybe it’s partly because he starred as celebrated con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. in the Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can, but the actor makes an uncommonly polished TV series debut in this demanding role as a guy whose life depends on getting others to believe he is someone he is not. He also has a relaxed chemistry with Sunjata, which helps keep their characters from falling into the stereotypes of by-the-book rookie and more pragmatic veteran. Among the other players, Ferlito is a knockout as the chameleon-like Charlie.
Based on the three episodes I’ve seen, Graceland looks like one of the most interesting shows USA has fielded to date. It’s also a bit darker than most of the rest of the USA lineup, but that’s a good thing, as far as I am concerned.
Airing immediately before Graceland, Burn Notice, one of USA’s first major success stories in the scripted drama genre, begins its 7th and final season in somber style. Out of respect for a show that has given fans a lot of pleasure over the years with its intricate, action-packed episodes, let me just say that tonight’s premiere – and next week’s episode, the show’s 100th – suggest that it’s time to say goodbye.
Up to now, Burn Notice has managed to hold our attention despite following a fairly standard formula each season: Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) chases a Very Bad Person who is somehow linked to Michael’s current career crisis as a “burned” (discredited) spy, only to discover, as a rule, that someone even worse is waiting behind the next door. Last season, Michael shot and killed an unspeakably vile U.S. official (guest star John C. McGinley) who was responsible for the murder of Michael’s kid brother, landing Michael and his friends in such hot water that, this season, he is forced to do off-the-books undercover work for the CIA to keep them all out of prison.
Unfortunately, that new premise keeps Michael segregated from the rest of his extended family – former fiancée Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), best friend Sam (Bruce Campbell), tech wizard Jesse (Coby Bell), and mom Maddie (Sharon Gless), a once-feisty character who now spends most of her time dithering and whining. I’m sure the writers probably have contrived a way to bring all these characters back together as this final season unfolds, but the delightfully snappy interplay among these once-vivid characters feels as if it’s been irretrievably broken. That’s sad, because while it was firing on all cylinders, Burn Notice almost always was a blast – one that didn’t rely entirely on Fiona’s penchant for C-4.
Jeffrey Donovan