When it was originally on: 2015-present
Original network: NBC
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: Maybe? I didn’t think I had but then as I was watching the episode certain plot points felt vaguely familiar. If I’ve seen it before, it’s only been a stray episode here and there, and I certainly don’t remember much.
What IMDb says: A look at the lives of employees at a big box store.
Why I picked it: Superstore is a take on one of the most classic network shows in existence: the workplace sitcom. Yet it’s also putting a fresh spin on that by setting it in a more working class environment, i.e. Cloud 9 (it’s basically Wal-Mart). I’ve heard a lot of good things about the show but never given it a proper chance before, so I thought it would be fun to review here.
What’s also intriguing to me is that this is one of the longest running comedies of NBC’s current comedy slate. The only one that’s been around longer is Brooklyn 99 which is kind of a weird case since it started on Fox. It’s weird to think that NBC, the network that once seemed to own the half-hour sitcom market is struggling with the format today. I mean this is the network that gave us Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends, The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation. But today, the longest running native-to-NBC show is Superstore, and it’s nowhere close to being the same kind of cultural juggernaut. Is Superstore simply an underrated hidden gem that has suffered through no fault of its own as more people move away from network television? Or is it simply not as good as the NBC sitcoms that came before it?
What I liked: I love the whole premise of setting a workplace comedy in this kind of a workplace. I mean SO MANY people work in these kinds of environments, and many more have worked in them in at least some phase of their life before escaping. It just seems like something that someone would’ve thought to do before 2015, ya know?
Much like any great workplace sitcom, Superstore does a fabulous job of balancing silly sitcom hijinks with grounded reality. It also sets up all the characters necessary to make this work for many episodes to come. Amy is a great Liz Lemon-type figure: intelligent and competent, and able to maintain her composure despite all the crazy personalities surrounding her.
But we also get characters like Dina, Cheyenne, and Garrett, who each bring different flavors of comedy to the show. They help make Cloud 9 more entertaining than I imagine an actual Wal-Mart store would be. We can all admit this is supposed to be Wal-Mart, right?
I also think the show had a great twist at the end: showing (not telling) that Amy is married, but isn’t allowed to wear her ring at work. For one thing, I love how this workplace sitcom chooses to define Amy by her work before even hinting at her relationship status. We’re able to piece together than Jonah fancies her, and this extra bit of information gives just the right amount of cliffhanger as we fade into the credits.
What I didn’t like: I kind of despised how this pilot couldn’t portray a single customer of Cloud 9 without making them look like white trash idiots. Pretty early in the pilot, America Ferrera pontificates about how terrible and elitist it is to look down on the staff of such a store, but I would argue the pilot as a whole takes an INCREDIBLY elitist attitude towards the (often lower class) customers of such a store.
Every time we encounter a customer, we’re supposed to laugh at them. Maybe we’re supposed to laugh at how they’re not willing/able to spend as much on a given item as we think they SHOULD be spending. Maybe we’re supposed to laugh at how these customers lack intelligence, as though they’re too dumb and uncultured to know that nicer stores exist. As a retail employee myself (albeit not in a big box store) I can certainly argue that problem customers could be a rich vein of comedy to explore, but does it really have to be literally EVERY customer we encounter?
What if Amy’s “moment of beauty” could’ve been helping some tired, busy mom score the best deal on diapers by giving her a coupon. This would reminded Amy that she could actually use her job to help people, and it also would’ve helped portray customers as people fighting the same fight as the staff, rather than their enemy in said fight.
Making fun of Cloud 9’s customer would be just fine if the show seemed like its whole schtick was just to make fun of people without caring about whether or not it’s offending anyone. But I would argue that the show does have a very real and important agenda. It’s a show that’s supposedly reminding us of the humanity of the working class, all the while going out of its way to dehumanize the types of people who shop at these kinds of stores, who are more likely to be of the working class. I wouldn’t say this is a total dealbreaker, but it’s certainly something I hope the show moves away from in future episodes.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I might at some point, but I’m not sure I’m in a big hurry. The pilot definitely fell into a “has potential” category rather than an “unambiguously good” category for me. That being said I’d probably give it a few more episodes before deciding I don’t like it. I’ve heard enough good things from enough people, and I know that half-hour network sitcoms typically need more than one episode before they become the best version of themselves.