February 23, 2016

Superstore: "Labor" - The Exodus is Here

Store Manager Glenn (Mark McKinney) and Cloud 9
Employee Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom). Source: nbc.com
 Superstore is the new NBC comedy you really should be watching. In just 11 half-hour episodes, the show has proven that it knows exactly what kind of comedy it wants to be. Set in a big-box department store called Cloud 9, Superstore shows us the personalities behind the blue vests - employees who get their backs into their living. From sarcastic Garrett (Colton Dunn) to brash Dina (Lauren Ash), Superstore is stocked with comedic talent. The show manages to highlight each character's wackiest traits without making fun, a skill series Creator Justin Spitzer exercised as a writer for The Office.

The customers of Cloud 9 are not given much dialogue, but each episode is interspersed with cutaway gags featuring customers doing ridiculous things in the aisles of the store. (My favorite is the one where a pageant mom is applying spray tan to the arms of her fully-made up, already-in-her-sequins toddler daughter.) These scenes neatly subvert the easy punchline of bad customer service by showing us bad customers.

In this week's cleverly titled episode, pregnant cosmetics counter clerk Cheyenne nearly gives birth to her baby in the store. This inspires her co-workers to approach corporate about paid maternity leave. Corporate hears "union" and sends in a "labor relations consultant."

Jonah and Amy make a fateful phone call.
Source: nbc.com 
"Labor" was the culmination of character development for the series. Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Amy (America Ferrera) are written to be the smartest, or perhaps just the least wacky characters of the show. But the two of them (and their alter egos idealism and pragmatism) get so caught up in an argument, they're almost oblivious to the fact that Cheyenne is in labor just a few yards away. For all their intellect, these two can be dense. But "Labor" also gave both Jonah and Amy a chance to become what the show has set them up to be. Jonah becomes the hero he's imagined himself to be, and Amy becomes the leader she was going to have to be eventually. Similarly, Dina becomes the inevitable villain. Of course Dina deserts her fellow employees and takes a deal from corporate to manage the store. It's not like we can even be mad at her - she's had a lust for power since the first episode. We should have seen it coming. These moments managed to be unexpected and yet grounded in everything we've been shown about them until now.

In the episode's final scene, the Cloud 9 employees stage a walkout and emerge from the store in their royal blue vests and a cloud of victory. The moment, perfectly punctuated by a remix of The Who's "Baba O'Riley," was, frankly, moving.

Like nearly every other show worth watching right now, Superstore airs on Monday nights. Even though NBC's viewership was lower than the other three major networks for the 8 o'clock time slot last night, considering Superstore was up against The X-Files finale and The Bachelor, 4.68 million viewers is not a bad haul. Today, TV Line reported that the show will get a second season. All the more reason for you to catch up now!

So, what kind of comedy does Superstore want to be? A clever one. One with heart. One that will surprise you. It's the kind of NBC comedy I wasn't sure we'd ever see again. But it's here. Get together with Superstore before you get much older.