Justin Spitzer’s hit comedy “Superstore” kicked off its fifth season on Sept. 26. The premiere episode dealt with the repercussions of last May’s season finale: Mateo’s (Nico Santos) detention by ICE. The series centers on the workers at Cloud 9, a Target-like superstore in St. Louis. The show is a comedy but often integrates more serious issues, specifically ones that affect lower-class Americans. Some of the other issues addressed have been healthcare, maternity leave and cutting worker’s hours. But this episode was unique compared to others because it zoomed in on the pressing issue of immigration. And, while the show addresses political issues, the special attention given to Mateo’s immigration status is far from the norm.
Mateo’s storyline was first introduced at the beginning of Season 2. As time went on, Mateo confessed his status as an undocumented immigrant to more of his coworkers. But, due to Mateo’s likable nature and his valuable addition to the Cloud 9 team, none of his coworkers snitched on him — not even the store manager, Glenn (Mark McKinney).
In “Superstore” Season 4, Episode 22 titled “Employee Appreciation Day,” Amy (America Ferrara) attempts to stop the employees from unionizing by throwing an employee appreciation day at the store. Ever since corporate became aware of the employees’ plan to unionize they have been trying everything in their power to stop it. One way corporate attempts to dismantle the union is by doing more thorough background checks so they can find reasons to fire the union employees. Instead of simply doing the investigation themselves, they call in ICE to raid the store.
ICE sets up traps at both store entrances to ensure no one gets out of the store without questioning. While some ICE agents block the doors with guard dogs, others go to Amy’s office and demand she hand them social security clearances for all her employees. Amy, knowing Mateo’s secret, insists that everyone who works in the store is documented and they have no need to look further.
Meanwhile, the employees have a secret meeting in the storage room where they get into some heated discussions about immigration. Dina (Lauren Ash) explains that ICE will be using sniffer dogs and infrared scanners to find Mateo once they find out his status. She says, “I mean, no offense to Mateo but technically he did commit a crime.” She suggests that he turn himself in. The rest of the staff snuff at Dina’s comment. She then continues, “If you get caught sneaking into a movie they don’t let you stay until the end.” Glenn responds by saying it depends on what the movie is, and Dina comes back saying, “It’s called America, the greatest movie you will ever see.”
Marcus (Jon Barinholtz) then proposes that Mateo go back to the Philippines and apply for a visa to come back. Sayid (Amir M. Korangy), who is a Syrian refugee, tells everyone that it took him almost three years to get his visa to come to America. They all shake their heads in agreement that it’s not a good option and start planning: How will they help Mateo hide from ICE?
The employees decide the best way for Mateo to sneak around the store is to make him look like a customer; they give him a hoodie and baseball hat. Jonah (Ben Feldman) proposes a plan to call everyone they know to come and pack the store, making it harder for ICE to spot Mateo. Dina then attempts to guide Mateo out of the store by keeping a close eye on the store security camera while she walkies Amy who acts as Mateo’s walking guide. All of a sudden, ICE agents see him and surround him from all sides. The final scene of the episode shows Mateo in the back of the ICE van as the store customers and employees wave with grieving faces.
The “Superstore” Season 5 premiere “Cloud 9.0” opens with a candlelight vigil for Mateo. Several scenes later, the employees are hanging out in the break room, using Legos to enact how they are going to break Mateo out of the detention facility. Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom), Mateo’s best friend and partner in crime, is showing signs of missing Mateo. When Amy asks her if she wants to visit Mateo, Cheyenne pretends not to have any interest, but the truth is she is just too distraught over what happened to go visit him.
By the end of the episode, Cheyenne finally works up the courage to go and see him. As they talk through phones on their respective sides of a glass wall, she is practically in tears. Mateo is wearing an orange jumpsuit and doesn’t look like his usual glowing self. When Cheyenne asks him what it’s like in the detention center he responds, “It’s bad in here, it’s cold and there aren’t enough blankets. It’s flat out disgusting.”
“Superstore” addresses the real issues of retail workers in the United States. Most of the characters on the show are adults with rent to pay and children to take care of — Marcus is even homeless. Without higher education, working at Cloud 9 is the best job most of them can find and it is barely enough to get by. The struggle of a typical character on an American sitcom pales in comparison to the problems faced by the employees on “Superstore.”
With its combination of comedy and real-life struggle, “Superstore” is one of the best shows currently on television. Not only will the show make you laugh, but it will also make you think more about the lives of characters and people who exist outside the world of basic television comedy tropes. If you’re looking for a new show, be sure to watch “Superstore” on NBC Thursdays at 8/7 Central.