Retail’s Version of “The Office”
NBC’s newest sitcom dives into the absurdity of big-box retail.
By Lauren Grimaldi, Roosevelt University
For those who have spent time working in retail, you are not alone if you’ve ever thought that someone should write a sitcom about the trials and tribulations of your ridiculously dull job.
Though shows in the past have tried to recreate the chaos of the industry, none have done the subject justice. Until now. NBC’s “Superstore” had a spectacular first season and is set to begin season two on September 22nd.
Even if you’ve never suffered through the torture of working for a big-box retailer, you’ll still fall in love with the show’s charm, wit and nuance. Justin Spitzer, who wrote for NBC’s “The Office” for seven years, is the show’s executive producer, and he is using his experience to his advantage.
“The Office” was great due to its tremendous cast chemistry, storyline and its ability to find hilarity in a mundane workplace. Thus far, “Superstar” mimics all of the same aspects. But, don’t expect to tune in to the show and see a carbon copy of the sitcom that made Steve Carell famous.
The cast of “Superstore” is led by the extremely talented America Ferrera (from “Ugly Betty”) as store supervisor Amy and the charming Ben Feldman (from “Mad Men”) as new employee Jonah. The two seasoned veterans of TV are the perfect fit and have an uncanny ability to make their characters seem real. Though they are not quite at the Rachel and Ross level of “Will they or won’t they?” in terms of a romantic relationship, their connection is palpable and it’s clear their relationship could mature as the show progresses.
In fact, Spitzer shed some light on his plans for Amy and Jonah in a recent interview.
“What I also say to people is that a lot of times, ‘Will they/won’t theys’ are more ‘when will theys.’ But I don’t know what’s going to happen with Jonah and Amy! They may [get together], or they may just be two people who come into each other’s lives and change each other’s lives, and had certain things been different they might have gotten together, but they don’t. I just don’t know yet. Hopefully that’s an exciting thing for people to watch, and not a bummer,” Spitzer told Vox.
Amy’s background is one of struggle. She attempts to return to school and provide for her daughter while her husband is less than helpful financially. The story of Jonah is still unclear, but we do know he’s been led to working for Cloud Nine after dropping out of school. The acting of both Ferrera and Feldman is the backbone of the show and makes it worth watching.
The show’s supporting cast is just as special.
From Dina (Lauren Ash), the manager, who takes her job way too seriously, to the always eager worker-bee Mateo (Nico Santos), the character tropes in “Superstore” are pretty representative of who you would find working in an actual retail store.
Likewise, those who have worked in large big-box stores know that coworkers depend on one another to get through their shifts. Whether it’s to complain about a rude customer or pass the time while working, your coworkers in retail can make your life better as you suffer through some of the dullest moments of your life. “Superstore” does a tremendous job of branding all the coworkers caring friends without going to unauthentic extremes.
Additionally, the small jokes and subtle humor in “Superstore” never build up to those unfunny, obvious points that plague so many other modern sitcoms. The show’s ability to present small, quick scenes that end up being some of the funniest of the show is what makes it so different. In the episode aired during the 2016 Olympics, one of the most hilarious scenes involved a fire in the store, causing the need for evacuation, but a customer still wants an employee to assist her with a return. This should seem ridiculous to everyone, but as a two-year veteran in big-box retail, I personally know that something like that is entirely plausible.
As Carol Franke wrote for Vox, “Superstore” also does an amazing job of portraying the minor annoyances that come with working and shopping in retail. From overcrowded aisles to customers that make a mess, the show has a knack for creating hilarity out of thin air.
“There’s also more freedom to experiment. Some of my favorite ‘Superstore’ jokes are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them interstitial moments between scenes, which show tiny vignettes from around the store, like a customer taking a nap on a display sofa or quietly wreaking havoc in the makeup aisle,” Franke writes.
The show’s second season will pick up just where season one left off. The workers are set to fight for their right to unionize, an action that is unheard of and actively condemned by many larger retail chains. This will lead to greater discussion about the rights of retail employees, while still making viewers laugh and care about the characters on the show.
“The Office” was a great show because of its ability to invoke a mix of empathy and hilarity, and it seems to me that “Superstore” is well on its way to capturing this difficult combination. Though its ratings have been strong, its future will still heavily depend on how the upcoming second season plays out. NBC demonstrated the show’s promise by giving it the post-Olympics time slot, and now the show can solidify its place in the world of modern sitcoms.
“Superstore” airs Thursdays on NBC at 8/7c.