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Superstore was TV's last great workplace comedy, refusing to sanitize the realities of work

  • The NBC big box comedy ended its six-season, 113-episode run Thursday night as TV's best sitcom, says Josh Terry. "Too often workplace comedies substitute conflict and address unfairness for breezy, kumbaya hangouts," says Terry. "By the end of Parks and Recreation, there was no tension in Pawnee and even Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) ended the series best friends despite the characters being written to be perfect antagonists to each other. In The Office, even Carrell's Michael Scott received a fond farewell from his staff who endured his often-nightmarish managerial reign with Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) tearfully saying, "You turned out to be the best boss I ever had." But Superstore stood out from the rest because it refused to sanitize the realities of work. Superstore dealt deftly with the realities of working-class life and tackled hot button issues like immigration, health care, racism, pyramid schemes, gun control, and conspiracies with such good jokes they're eviscerating of systemic problems never felt preachy. The characters all come from different backgrounds, but Cloud 9 employees are constantly reminded of their precarious economic situations: they deal with bills, low wages, unsafe working conditions, unruly customers, ghoulish corporate overlords, product scanners that don't work, and in the latest season, the COVID-19 pandemic. If you've never seen Superstore before, imagine if The Office ditched the documentary conceit and Dunder Mifflin employees spent more time staging walkouts and union organizing than pranking their weird colleagues. Superstore admittedly owed a lot to The Office. After all, original showrunner and creator Justin Spitzer penned several episodes of the iconic Steve Carrell-led series. The surface-level parallels are immediately recognizable: there's the oafish but ultimately well-meaning manager Glenn (Mark McKinney) and an intense, rule-following Dwight Schrute-like assistant manager in Dina (Lauren Ash). There's even a series-long up-and-down office romance between leads Amy (America Ferrera), who's been working at Cloud 9 for over a decade, and Jonah (Ben Feldman), the New Yorker-reading business school dropout from Chicago. But unlike The Office, the emotional stakes in Superstore always felt higher due to the fact that these characters live paycheck to paycheck. No one at Dunder Mifflin had to take the bus to work every day."


    • Superstore's series finale provided closure and some hopeful happy endings for all its central characters: "For a comedy like Superstore, one that’s usually bursting with rapid one-liners and heartwarming humor, exiting in other way wouldn’t have made sense," says Saloni Gajjar. "No tornado or unexpected blizzard was going to shut down the St. Louis Cloud 9 store forever with everyone trapped inside. The show did take some intense routes and twists during its run—remember when they found out corporate only agreed to their union deal because they’d been sold out to Zephra?—but this a series ender here. Despite the store going out of business in the traditional sense, the two-part finale not only brings Amy (and America Ferrera) back properly, it also gives a satisfactory and firm resolution to everyone’s arc, wrapping it all up with callbacks, extremely moving voiceovers, and flash-forwards."
    • Superstore's final season proved it was an ensemble show: "That was never as clear as in its final season after Ferrera left," says Vivian Kane. "The season leading up to that departure was the show’s weakest, but the final season was a total joy and allowed the more supporting characters to shine even more than they had all along. This was also probably the best show on television when it came to portraying life during COVID-19. Yes, they struggled with how to implement masks in the show but the depiction of working retail during the pandemic, being declared both essential and expendable by your corporate bosses and the general public, felt entirely honest. Honest depictions of working-class retail employees were a hallmark of this series from start to finish. Superstore tackled it all, from the mundanity of daily life to casual racism and workplace microaggressions, to the lack of health benefits and maternity leave, to unionization attempts and even an entire storyline about immigration that ended a season with Mateo (Nic Santos), a major character, being held at an ICE detention center–not exactly typical sitcom material! Equally as impressive as the show’s ability to handle that kind of subject matter is the fact that once that story arc ended, they didn’t just drop the issue. Mateo has since returned to Cloud 9, but his status as an undocumented worker still informs his character in myriad ways."
    • Superstore doesn’t pretend to know what’s next, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on ideas — or lessons: "For six excellent seasons, Justin Spitzer’s NBC sitcom has detailed the space between dreams and reality, between the vision we have for our careers and the work we actually do," says Ben Travers. "Its ending, via Thursday night’s two-part season finale, will presumably answer the long-lingering question of what happens to Jonah. One of the ensemble comedy’s ostensible leads, Superstore could form a nice arc by starting with Jonah’s arrival at Cloud 9 and ending with his exit. But where will he go? And perhaps more significantly, where will they all go? The series finale comes at a time when even the Sandras of the world, who already value the jobs they have and do them well, are on shaky ground. The labor force is shifting. The future is uncertain. Some people, like Jonah, are asking if they can afford to go after their dream job, or even bank on a specific career. Others are wondering if they can count on the jobs they relied on before in a post-pandemic world."
    • Superstore's finale was perfect: "It's always bittersweet when a show ends, especially when it feels like there was more story to tell. But it really helps lessen the sting when the ending turns out to be perfect," says Lauren Piester. "When Superstore announced that the current season would be the last, there was a certain sense that it didn't have to be this way. America Ferrera, the show's lead, had decided to exit at the beginning of the season, and the way her character Amy Sosa was written off was less than pleasant. Amy moved to California for a promotion and suddenly decided she didn't want to marry her boyfriend Jonah (Ben Feldman), and they broke up. Her final scene was sad, but not in a good way. It was just a real bummer. We then had to watch Jonah sadly try to get over the break up while the store moved on without its manager, and it wasn't very fun. The final season announcement felt a little like an admission that the show didn't work without Ferrera, or at least it didn't work the way they wrote Ferrera off. The former star returned for tonight's final two episodes and suddenly, this rough season became totally worth it."
    • Ben Feldman calls the series finale "hugely satisfying and super emotional": If America Ferrera hadn't returned, he says, "we would have found a bow somehow. We would have found a Jonah bow, but we wouldn't have found the shippers' bow, the Simmosa bow...It was incredible having America back for a bunch of reasons. Story-wise, of course you want to give (the fans everything). Our fans have been so incredible. You want to give the fans the ending that they need. You don't give the fans what they want all the time, you give them what they need. And to a degree, Superstore did that a lot. We rarely trafficked in happy endings."
    • Feldman on being a union member telling a "scary story" about unions on Superstore: "I think you don’t see this dynamic a lot on television," he says. "It’s a scary story to tell, because we are union members, and we have this dynamic in real life. I work for NBC, which is Universal and Comcast. There are corporate overlords, and there are elements of greed, or even just sort of a distant separation, between the people on the ground and the people upstairs. I thought it was an important story to tell, because you don’t see that a lot on television, and particularly in the working-class world, with these big-business grocery stores or big-box stores, and certainly right now when (real-life people are) risking their lives to show up to these jobs. Yes. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, I think, on this show."
    • Lauren Ash wants Superstore to return for a "reboot season": "Listen, from the very beginning of this show, I said the pilot’s getting picked up and this show is going to run for 7 seasons," she says. "I have always been steadfast in that. Now we did 6 seasons, and what that suggests to me is that we’re going to have to do a reboot season because I refuse to be wrong. Obviously, these characters have resonated with people around the world. We have fans of the show, especially now that the show has gone on to Netflix, in so many places internationally. So many people everywhere have responded to these characters and loved these characters so much. I think that’s really a testament to the show and to the cast, and it would be a joy. I don’t think that shows like this come around that often. For an actor, I think the stars align, and you get maybe a couple of really cool ones in a career. So I absolutely would jump at the chance to play Dina again 100 percent. I need that reboot season so that my prediction comes true."
    • Superstore showrunners Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller say they had to move up their planned ending: "We knew that’s where we would head for the end of the series, but we really thought there might be more seasons," says Miller. "It obviously all had to get moved up, and there were challenges involved with that." Green adds of America Ferrera: "We did call her right away. She’s living in New York, and we knew how busy her schedule is now. We thought, hopefully, we could get her for one episode, and we were lucky enough to be able to get her for two episodes."
    • What a Season 7 of Superstore would've looked like: The producers say they had to cut some scenes from the series finale. “Initially, we imagined the store getting converted into one of these store/fulfillment center hybrids we’re seeing now,” says Green. “The last image of Season 6 was going to be a wall going up to divide the store into two sections: one with customers, managed by Glenn (Mark McKinney), and the other becoming more of a warehouse, managed by Dina (Lauren Ash). It would’ve been a good Season 7, and we changed it into this when we realized it was the end of the series.”
    • Creator Justin Spitzer had a number of endings in mind for the series finale: "I always had in the back of my mind that this series would end with Amy finally leaving Cloud 9, but then that ended up happening at the end of season 5 anyway, so that was moot," he says. "The only other thing I always had in mind was bringing back my daughter who was in an interstitial in the pilot getting on the potty. I’d always said that whenever we wrapped up the series, I’d want her to be at whatever age she was on the potty in the finale."

    TOPICS: Superstore, NBC, The Office (US), Parks and Recreation, America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, Gabe Miller, Jonathan Green, Justin Spitzer, Lauren Ash, Series Finales