If you combined the social satire of “Community” with the sunny personality of “Parks & Recreation,” you’d get something akin to NBC’s new comedy, “Superstore.” On the surface, it’s a light, bubbly show that manages to poke fun at society, the audience, and itself without resorting to cynical quips about the projected lifespan of the human race. Beneath the surface, there’s a dark edge, where our secrets, prejudices, and private beliefs stay hidden from the light.
NBC’s unusual presentation of the show (two episodes premiered on November 30th, and episodes 1-3 are available for free viewing on Hulu until the show begins in January) might signal a warning bell: Perhaps the show is enough like Community that it might only appeal to a niche audience. I hope that isn’t the case, because everybody could benefit from this show.
The workplace has long been a place of interest in television, whether in a hospital, office, or restaurant setting, but there have rarely been shows depicting life in a way we could identify with. Our current economical situation has put many of us out of work, or scrambling to make ends meet on a minimum wage paycheck. Superstore explores this issue without sinking into a drama, finding, instead, the bright spots and the small miracles that can happen when we’re looking.
“Superstore” also refuses to stoop to stereotypes. Instead, it relies on brilliant performances by America Ferrera as Amy, the veteran associate at Cloud 9; Ben Feldman as Jonah, the new guy; Lauren Ash as Dina, the determined and fierce assistant sales manager; Colton Dunn as the laid-back philosophizing associate Garrett; Nico Santos as competitive sales associate Mateo; Nichole Bloom as sweet, simple mother-to-be Cheyenne; and Mark McKinney as the happy-go-lucky store manager Glenn, to show that these people are complex, diverse, and human. Each character is a unique individual who is often treated as zombiefied clones because of their uniform and place of work, but they have so much more to offer the world.
Garrett’s life philosophy, Mateo’s eye for organization, Dina’s passion, Cheyenne’s kindness, Glenn’s zest for life, Amy’s dedication, and Jonah’s pursuit for meaning make this more than a sitcom, really. It’s a show that’s more about who you are than what you do.
In just three episodes, “Superstore” has managed to pique my interest, and open up conversations about appropriation, sexual harassment, and personal choice, all with a lighthearted tone and some of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard spoken.
One of the most interesting sequences was watching America Ferrera’s character Amy navigate a difficult situation while attempting to teach someone about cultural appropriation. No good deed goes unpunished, and Amy’s determination to overthrow the racial profiling turns on her as she illustrates her point by mimicking a racial stereotype, right before a family with that particular heritage sees her.
The thing I most appreciate about that sequence is that there wasn’t a clear-cut answer to the issue. Amy knew that using racial stereotypes to sell products was wrong, but her actions didn’t make anything better; they only made things worse. What’s the right thing to do? What are the options? And what if they don’t work?
It’s a great jumping off point for a conversation about the complexity of cultural appropriation. Some people aren’t aware of an item or symbol’s history, Others know that something’s amiss but don’t know how to correct it, and still others find ways to talk about the subject and brainstorm for solutions with others.
This might appear a heavy subject, but “Superstore” tackled it with simplicity and grace. Without shoehorning in a moral lesson or a “Here’s What To Do If…” chart, the show managed to draw attention to a problem and begin a conversation, then stepped aside and let us come to our own conclusions (unlike Community, which more often than not, told us that if we wanted to be cool, we had to be in their side).
“Superstore” is one of those shows that you’ll wish you’d seen when it was on air. If it gets canceled, fans will crawl out of the woodwork, but until then, the network won’t know they exist.
As “Superstore” begins in January, I urge you to watch at least the first few episodes. I’d hate for such wonderful television to fall by the wayside. And, perhaps, it’s ahead of its time, much like “Cavemen,” another culture-focused sitcom, but I believe this time around we’re ready to talk.Image Credits: Brandon Hickman/NBC