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.’

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