TV TATTLE

Superstore should be celebrated for the smart way it told stories about fraught topics

  • "It felt surreal to see Superstore wind down to its final episodes," says Caroline Framke. "Despite running six full seasons at a time when sitcoms more and more rarely get the chance, Superstore never had a dip in quality that signaled its natural end. It was consistently, impressively funny and adaptable. That its creators would have to eventually figure out the curveball of a premature cancellation, and that they nailed it, makes a sad but fitting end for a show that always embraced the opportunity to change with the times. Many people, myself included, have written plenty about how well Superstore, a sitcom about the employees of a Walmart-esque big box store, dealt with capital i Issues over the years. Its first two seasons alone tackled topics like gun control, birth control, racism and the everyday peril of being undocumented, as well as a union drive that would eventually fold under incredible corporate pressure. It was one of the first shows to incorporate Donald Trump’s election victory into its reality without it taking over the entire story. It constantly underlined how dehumanizing the experience of working for a behemoth corporation can be, from that failed unionization effort, to the indignity of its laughable 'maternity leave,' to the very real danger of having to physically work in the store during a pandemic. Vanishingly few stores center working class people, let alone their experiences at work, in the way that Superstore could, and the show made the most of it with sharp stories that rarely waded into Very Special Episode territory. Every Issue listed above has distinct roots in the show’s characters, from new mom Amy (executive producer America Ferrera) to misplaced religious fervor from store manager Glenn (Mark McKinney), to the store’s break room becoming a house divided on election day. Superstore deserves to be celebrated for the deft way in which it handled increasingly fraught topics. But it also deserves recognition for the smart way in which it told those stories, using and twisting sitcom conventions to make one of the best workplace comedies around."

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    • Superstore's finale traded its head for its heart: "The NBC sitcom ended its six-season run with an episode that emphasized the sweetness of its key relationships rather than its cynicism about modern capitalism," says Daniel Fienberg. "Dark corporate cynicism is a familiar default approach to depicting modern capitalism and the well-intentioned peons caught in its path. Bright and cheery corporate cynicism is a more complicated thing, one worth treasuring when done right. I'd point to ABC's Better Off Ted as a fine example of this subgenre, a creation so precarious that part of me is relieved it didn't tempt fate for longer than 26 episodes. NBC's Superstore, which ended its run Thursday night (March 25), was perhaps even more tenuous: a show that did bright and cheery corporate cynicism but also aspired to a romantic's heart and a Dick Wolf procedural's currency. I'm not sure if it's more remarkable that the series worked at all or that it somehow ran 113 episodes."
    • Unlike plenty of other shows, Superstore never allowed poignancy to overwhelm the show’s darker, knottier aspects: "Even the series finale — an incredibly sweet sendoff to Superstore’s characters that reaffirms their basic affection for each other — takes place on Cloud 9’s final day of business," says Emily VanDerWerff. "The series was always dedicated to tweaking the ways in which corporate America makes life hell for the people who work within it. At one moment in the penultimate episode, Jonah, pressed upon to give a rousing speech, says that he doesn’t know if anything can be done to save the store. Cloud 9’s parent company, Zephra, has taken and taken and taken from the Cloud 9 team, and now it’s going to take everything. It doesn’t matter how much the store’s workers like or support each other if the company that issues their paychecks fundamentally doesn’t care. hat balance between interpersonal affection and corporate indifference underscored Superstore’s entire ethos and its best storylines. What did it matter if Jonah and Amy fell in love if she moved up into management and he started organizing the store’s workers in an effort to unionize? How was Mateo going to remain a beloved friend and supporting character if his undocumented status meant he was under perpetual fear of deportation (a fear the show made terrifyingly real in a memorable story arc)? How were Cloud 9’s workers supposed to feel supported when the pandemic led to even more corporate cost-cutting measures? Too many series as poignant as Superstore lean so far into their poignancy that they tilt over into outright treacle — saccharine and self-satisfied dives into uber-happy silliness. Superstore never did that, because its characters’ conflicts were rarely with each other (and even when they were, they usually didn’t last very long). Instead, their chief antagonists were the larger structures of capitalism and the 21st century United States. The store itself often functioned as an island that felt isolated from the world’s problems, a place where its workers could hang out and build long-lasting friendships. But Cloud 9 wasn’t invulnerable to the world’s problems. Its mere existence, more K-mart than Target, felt tenuous. Sooner or later, the capitalist Grim Reaper was coming for Cloud 9, too."

    TOPICS: Superstore, NBC




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