Bill Lawrence's latest, "Ground Floor" on TBS, is a sitcom about a young, hotshot money manager who falls in love with a maintenance worker in his office building. The clash between the easy-going downstairs people and the uptight top-floor people give it a kind of "Downton Abbey" meets "30 Rock" vibe. Here's why you should give it a try.
Thanks to the "creative attitude" of TBS, Lawrence didn't have to jump through the same hoops that he has with other networks when casting the show. So when he asked for Skylar Astin, who made young girls swoon in "Pitch Perfect," he was in. When he asked for John C. McGinley, who — as the irascible Dr. Cox — was at least as important to the success of "Scrubs" as its star Zach Braff, he was in. When he wanted Briga Heelan based on her work in "Cougar Town," she was in, and when he wanted alt standup comedian Rory Scovel, who had never done a network television show before this, TBS barely batted an eye.
That faith in Lawrence's choices allows the show to take chances it might not otherwise — for example, the producers jettison the standard "will they or won't they" dynamic almost immediately and start delving into relationship territory that some shows wait seasons for. Also much of the chemistry between Astin (Brody Moyer) and Heelan (Jenny Miller) comes from his uptight character's vulnerability and her freewheeling character's casual romantic approach, neatly flipping some sitcom boy-girl conventions on their head.
Get to know Brody:
Get to know Jenny:
2. Double Threats
You won't have to wait long to hear why Astin has his own cheering section in the live audience: He sings a little Elton John in the pilot and, though they don't want to ever take his singing voice too seriously ("Then we're trying to do another genre which this show [isn't]," Astin tells Yahoo TV during a set visit), there is a duet with Heelan — who also has a background in musical theater — and an upcoming karaoke episode that suggests there might be an album of standards in his future.
Astin's top-floor buddy is played by Rene Gube (Mike Wen), who also works on the show as a story editor. Working on both sides of the camera helped refine Gube's character, but it also set him up for some good-natured ribbing. His lifelong struggle with terrible hair, for example, is one of those things that the writers "are going to pick up on and find a way to get into the script," Gube reveals.
Watch a preview of "Ground Floor":
3. Love Triangles
Heelan and Scovel (Mark "Harvard" Shrake) are joined downstairs by James Earl (Derrick Dupree) and Alexis Knapp (Tori), which means there are any number of opportunities for the classic TV love triangle. Scovel and Earl love Knapp, Scovel and Astin love Heelan. What's really at the core of the show, though, according to showrunner Jeff Astrof, is the triangle involving Astin, Heelan, and McGinley (Remington Stewart Mansfield). "It's a three-way love story between the boy and the girl and the boy and his boss," and once Lawrence approved his idea of the 10-episode arc he wanted to tell in the first season, they were off to the races.
Though critics have been calling multicamera sitcoms old-fashioned and predicting their death for years, Lawrence says, "I love them. I'm doing another one for NBC as we speak. I'll do them until the end of time." And even though single-camera shows are intended to draw a younger crowd, he says, "my kids love TV and they spend all their free time watching multicamera shows."
For McGinley, this format keeps him "nimble." Constant script redrafts mean an actor must be flexible. "Unlike doing a Broadway play or a film or a single-cam," he says, "the more agile you can stay between your ears, the better you are served."
Also, it's the perfect blend of on-camera acting and live audience interaction that Astin loves. "It feels so fitting to do something that is both in front of a live audience but also ... have [a] relationship to the camera," he says. "And for me, it's the best of both worlds. I'm more comfortable here than, really, anywhere." Heelan agrees, adding that they "have this nice, unspoken vocabulary" that comes from their shared stage background.
Meet McGinley's Mansfield:
5. Easter Eggs
There are inspirational pillars scattered throughout the top floor, but viewers should pay attention to the one on the far left — it changes every episode. Astrof says it "tells you what [McGinley's] character is going through. It also," he confides, "makes Mr. McGinley think that every episode's about him."
Scovel's nameplate has been known to change and, if you look closely at McGinley's wall, you'll see fake pictures of his character with John Kerry, Madeleine Albright, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a real picture of McGinley golfing. At least it's on a golf course and not, as his character does on the show, on the roof where he's hitting balls at neighboring helicopters.
"Ground Floor" premieres Thursday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m. on TBS.