On its surface, NBC's Superstore may not seem all that groundbreaking. Set at the Walmart-like big box store Cloud 9, the Thursday night sitcom is a workplace comedy about the store's employees and their antics. But while Superstore cracks jokes and serves up some truly bizarre storylines, it does so with a cast of characters diverse in ethnicity, ability, class, and religion. In the process, over four seasons, the show has quietly become of one most socially impactful series on TV.
Superstore’s brilliance starts front and center with Amy (America Ferrera), the proud Latina store manager who is the glue that holds the store together. She's joined by Jonah (Ben Feldman), a business school drop-out, Dina (Lauren Ash), Cloud 9’s dedicated assistant manager and jolly ol’ Glenn (Mark McKinney), Cloud 9’s devout Christian employee. Also playing crucial roles in the show are are teen moom Cheyenne (Nicole Bloom), Mateo (Nico Santos) an undocumented Filipino, and Garrett (Colton Dunn), a disabled man of color.
More than just a laundry list of names and a checklist of identities, these characters (and the actors portaying them) bring unique and vital perspectives necessary to telling stories about today's America. America Ferrera, no stranger to holding up representation for a lagging network TV system from her Ugly Betty days, remains one of the very few Latina leads on TV. Nico Santos, who saw his visibility spike last summer with a role in Crazy Rich Asians, is an out queer actor of color in a TV landscape that desperately lacks them.
Armed with this diversity of perspective and character, Superstore has been uniquely positioned to tackle timely issues like immigration and citizenship, workplace harassment, and even surviving on minimum wage. As a 30-minute sitcom, the show mostly hits these issues on a comedic level, but those hits pack a punch. For instance, a major story arc is that Mateo is undocumented and could be deported at any time. This hurts his career in that he can never advance as far as he'd like because he doesn’t have official documents. As one of the show’s main characters, Mateo has become a beloved member of the Cloud 9 family, bringing home the deportation issue in a way few other TV shows have done before.
NBC’s Thursday night lineup pairs Superstore with Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Will and Grace, two shows that — in ways both loud and quiet — also portray a diversity of backgrounds and lifestyles. In airing these shows back-to-back, NBC is making a strong comedic statement that TV is more enjoyable when its audience can relate and connect to the characters they see onscreen.
Make no mistake, Superstore isn’t a show about diversity, but it targets hot button issues that Americans face every day without missing a beat. At a time when shows like One Day at a Time are being ripped away from the TV landscape, Superstore stands out for itts willingness to call attention to social issues. While other shows struggle to catch up with reality, Superstore reigns as the single best representation of what America is today.
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Lauren Garafano (@laurengarafano) is a TV-obsessed writer living in New York City. Her work has appeared on BuzzFeed, Decider, and TV Insider. She also ships Rachel Green with Joey Tribbiani and nothing in this world can change her mind.