“Ground Floor” isn’t a bad little sitcom, except for the fact that it takes a potentially provocative concept and handles it in the least challenging manner. Focusing on a workplace romance between an ambitious young investment banker and a gal who works in maintenance, the show settles for broad putdowns and sex gags instead of exploring class and economic distinctions in the way, say, a British comedy might have. For all that, this TBS series created by Bill Lawrence and Greg Malins yields an occasional chuckle; it’s just more of a slacker than an overachiever.
Built to emulate mismatched couples a la “Dharma & Greg,” the show sets up Brody (Skylar Astin) and the voluptuous Jennifer (Briga Heelan) on what at first blush seems like a drunken one-night stand not intended to interfere with his determination to climb the corporate ladder and impress his eccentric, patrician boss Mr. Mansfield (John C. McGinley, reunited with Lawrence from their “Scrubs” days).
Once Brody and Jennifer decide to keep seeing each other, though, the upstairs/downstairs (or more accurately, penthouse/basement) relationship echoes through their respective spheres, irritating her crony, Harvard (Rory Scovel), an anti-establishment type with a not-so-secret crush on Jennifer, who wonders what she sees in “a tool” like Brody; and prompting snarky asides from his shallow colleague Mike (Rene Gube), who has substituted career striving for romantic pursuits.
In this age of growing income disparity and hostility toward one-percenters, “Ground Floor” (which is being made available a week early via TBS’ website) seems like a timely premise, positing whether two people attracted to each other can conquer the socioeconomic rift between them. But the writers settle for being mildly smutty about all the hot sex the two are having, and push obvious gags about the dog-eat-dog nature of life in the corporate suites vs. the sleep-at-work shiftlessness of those who literally and figuratively work beneath them.
Always a scene-stealer, McGinley’s Mansfield gets all the best lines, casually talking about being “crazy rich” and blithely telling his staff, “Like in any family, if you underperform, you get fired.” More pointedly, he warns Brody his career will ultimately destroy his relationship with Jennifer.
TBS has been judicious with its original sitcom development, seeking to develop shows that mesh with its off-network acquisitions. By those modest criteria, “Ground Floor” could stay in business for a while, based on the four episodes previewed.
That said, it’s too bad the series doesn’t have a little bit more courage, or the creative ambition to deliver genuine satiric bite. Instead, it chooses to play things safe, perhaps because if it underperforms, well, Mr. Mansfield already told us what happens.