"Ground Floor," which premieres Thursday on TBS, is a serviceable three-camera comedy from Bill Lawrence, who co-created "Cougar Town" and created "Scrubs," and Greg Malins, who has writing and producing credits on "Friends," "How I Met Your Mother" and "2 Broke Girls."
It is an old-fashioned sitcom fashioned for young people, which is to say, there is dating, a surfeit of sex jokes, many of which actually include the word "sex," and only one main character older than 30. The venue being basic cable, there are also words you will not have heard on the sitcoms mentioned above.
It's an opposites-attract story set at the top and bottom of a San Francisco office building. The milieu has nothing to do with the actual city's geeks-rule economy; it is an imaginary, situation comedy space. Brody (Skylar Astin), a money manager strapped to a wheel of perpetual labor, hooks up (in the probably no-longer current vernacular) with Jenny (Briga Heelan), who is (according to press materials, but fuzzy when you're watching) "the boss … of the building support team." And a series is born.
He is both intrigued and discomfited by her lack of interest in anything deeper than a sexual relationship. ("You are either the coolest chick in the world or a dude.") That will change, of course, because sitcoms, perhaps especially those Filmed Before a Live Audience, are sentimental things.
Yet in both in penthouse and basement, the pairing is viewed askance: "I can't believe you slept with one of those soulless upstairs guys," says lower-depths worker Harvard (comedian Rory Scovel), so-called because he went to college — "a very competitive community college." Meanwhile, Brody's boss-slash-mentor-slash-surrogate father, Mr. Mansfield (John C. McGinley, from "Scrubs"), advises him to run right down and break it off, for the sake of his career. But boy and girl will, of course, have much to teach each other.
The upstairs-downstairs dichotomy is not deeply explored, or subtly painted. Basically it boils down to work versus fun, "money changes everything" versus "money can't buy happiness." Upstairs they wear suits and live in fear; downstairs, it's always casual Friday and a party. There are also women on the ground floor (joining Heelan is Alexis Knapp as Tori, who, for reasons not apparent, has "over ten thousand gay Twitter followers"), and the show's only black person with a speaking part (James Earl, as Derrick, who happily smokes the cigars that Mansfield flicks from his balcony above).
Given its schematic nature, and simpleness about potentially interesting things like class and money and work, what surprises me most about "Ground Floor" is that I dislike it less than I might. (It seems too much, for the moment, to say that I like it more than I'd have expected.) It's worth pointing out that "Scrubs" and "Cougar Town," which was bound by a similarly constricting premise, grew odder and better with time.
I've seen four episodes of "Ground Floor," and it's certainly not there yet. In the meantime, it has Heelan, playing a character among caricatures.
There is a professional efficiency to much of the comedy. (It is funny sometimes.) But Heelan (who played the airheaded yet not insubstantial Holly on "Cougar Town") is remarkably alive and in the moment; she makes real all that she touches. I could easily recommend tuning in just to watch her work — and hereby do.
When: 10 and 10:35 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)
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