Superstore appears to be a shiny new facility from the outside, but inside, the shelves are lined with products we’ve all seen before.
A new workplace comedy from NBC, Superstore takes a page from shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation by finding humor in the day-to-day occurrences of a seldom-praised profession. The show aired its pilot episode in November, but it spaced its 11-episode season to last into February.
Instead of toiling away at a white-collar position, Superstore escorts us into the back room of megastore Cloud 9 to show us what’s really going on when you can’t find a store associate to help you. While the name of the store may be Cloud 9, viewers will quickly discover similarities between Superstore’s retail titan and another superstore many have a love-hate relationship with. With the employees’ blue vests and blue, white and yellow nametags and the briefly-shown upside-down smiley face logo, Superstore is often described as the “Walmart-but-not-Walmart show.”
With America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) returning to TV as Amy, the uptight floor supervisor of Cloud 9 who never wears her real nametag, she is swiftly put to the test by the charismatic and sometimes arrogant newcomer Jonah (Ben Feldman). Within moments of their meeting, Jonah takes a personal interest in Amy, setting the stage for a very predictable and clichéd love story of an unlikely couple who will soon see eye to eye. The only wrench the show attempts to throw into this plot is, unknown to Jonah, Amy is married.
While the characters may not have pioneering plot lines to work with, Superstore really focuses on, and hits home with, its target demographic: retail employees. As the scenes transition, brief cutaways are shown of actions that would make any shopper raise their eyebrows but most employees would prefer to ignore. From children eating candy while sitting in the middle of the floor to customers asking a million questions about tartar, laxatives and bristle density of toothbrushes, the show really captures the outrageous moments that occur within the vast aisles of a big-box store. With the first episode opening with a large line of shoppers slowly filling the baskets of their handy mobility scooters, it was clear from the beginning that Superstore creator Justin Spitzer (The Office) did his research. In fact, the pilot was shot in a KMart for authenticity, and the actors were often mistaken for real employees, forcing them to stop and direct customers to a product or the nearest bathroom.
Superstore may be able to nail down its audience by showcasing outlandish retail happenings, but its dedication to relating to viewers also works against itself. As Jonah tells Amy in the episode “Mannequin,” every employee at a business has a “thing.” He begins labeling his fellow workers by their qualities, referring to Amy as “the responsible one.” There’s no doubt that co-workers are often boiled down to stereotypes, especially at businesses with as many employees as Cloud 9. This system of archetypal characters makes sense in a work setting, but unfortunately, it does little to benefit a TV show. The characters are presented as extremely static from the beginning with the only two really having potential for change being Amy and Jonah—(and, perhaps, the jolly store manager, Glenn)—which loops back to the aforementioned predictable love storyline. And unlike its workplace predecessors, this show doesn’t appear to have the powerhouse actors like Rainn Wilson, Steve Carell and Amy Poehler who can carry the story on brilliant acting and humor alone.
Despite Superstore’s less-than-innovative elements, the show is still charming and entertaining. The target audience may be narrow, but the demographic it goes after contains such a vast amount of viewers that enough disgruntled employees will keep coming back for more. The ratings haven’t been incredible, but there’s certainly enough absurd, real-life megastore scenarios to expect another shipment of episodes, which it desperately needs to tie up loose ends and an unresolved story.