Pilot Review: Superstore

NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Superstore are present in this review



NBC seems to have declined a bit, in the wake of losing their powerhouse trifecta of comedies, those being The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. Now, the network seems to be trying to reverse-engineer a similar formula to get back to their former esteemed spot as one of the best networks for sitcoms, especially those that skew to the coveted 18-49 age demographic, which FOX actually seems to have most of for their comedies at present, between Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Last Man on Earth, and holdovers like The Simpsons and Family Guy.

NBC’s first big attempt to return to their recent high point of comedy from the end of the 2000’s to the start of the 2010’s, is Superstore, the flagship effort of a new deal by the network with former The Office writer, Justin Spitzer. It’s also painfully clear that the network is trying to groom the show as a successor to The Office, beyond ditching the mockumentary format, and substituting The Office’s white collar work environment for a minimum wage environment. This big launch comes complete with an early release of the first three episodes in the U.S., and now slightly later on Global TV’s site for us Canadians, with Global hosting the show when it begins its proper airing schedule next year. While a third episode is available to view on nbc.com for Americans, so far, Canadians are only getting access to the first two episodes, and online-only in our case to boot.

Superstore - Footage 1

I suppose however that the most important question about Superstore is, is this new comedy series any good? Well, yes, but it’s definitely pilot-rough in several respects. The most pressing issue is the fact that it’s difficult to shake some of the familiarity behind the series’ jokes. It’s clearly trying to break out of the shadow of shows like The Office, though its heart is in the right place, and it’s not wanting for goofy charm, even at the outset. Besides, ensemble comedies like this rarely fire on all cylinders right away, with even The Office and Parks and Recreation having rough midseason debuts, before better hitting their stride in their second seasons. At least Superstore has eleven episodes to work with for Season One however, instead of five, as was the case with those aforementioned NBC classics.

Superstore is also significant as a way to diversify NBC’s protagonists, with the show’s lead actress being America Ferrera, a Latina woman. Ferrara is enjoyable as the worn-down, cynical veteran of the series’ fictional Cloud 9 mass-merchandiser, a Wal-Mart-esque retail paradise that is run by a lovable batch of weirdos and misfits, in true NBC sitcom fashion. She still seems to be feeling her way around co-star, Ben Feldman though, who plays wet-behind-the-ears minimum wage recruit, Jonah, an earnest young man who is desperate to please, but has a difficult time doing it.

Jonah is a bit bland at this point, settling for being a well-meaning screw-up that wants to earn the approval of Ferrera’s lead, Amy, for, reasons. Jonah’s backstory will no doubt be explored with time, but for now, there isn’t much to him, beyond providing that essential window for the audience to enter Cloud 9’s eccentric world. Some of his interactions with Amy are cute, but the show needs to dial back tipping its hand that it so badly wants these two to be the next Jim/Pam pairing, yet another way that the show is chasing the appeal of The Office, when it should be carving out its own distinct identity.

Superstore - Footage 2

To be fair though, the new personalities show promise to that effect. An upbeat, wheelchair-bound associate, Garrett, played by Colton Dunn, proves to be an energetic supporting presence, and the cutely dim-witted pregnant associate, Cheyenne, played by Nichole Bloom, is pretty adorable, without coming off as grating. A ludicrous flash mob proposal from her boneheaded boyfriend towards the end of the pilot feels like a bit much, but the pregnant high school girl seems pretty likable. The same is true of the store’s authorities, those being general manager of the store, Glenn, a friendly, but spineless man who is afraid of upsetting people, and no-nonsense assistant manager, Dina, who is quite militant, and seems to have a strange crush on Jonah for, reasons. I guess this will make more sense when we have more time to get to know these personalities.

As for the premise of the pilot, it more or less just involves the typical ‘first day gone bad’ chestnut for Jonah. Some amusing gags are derived from this, such as Jonah accidentally re-pricing all of the expensive electronics to 25 cents, resulting in a hysterical shopping frenzy that the employees must quell, as well as Jonah trying to earn the approval of his co-workers by stacking cans to make cute sad faces, and racing in the parking lot to beat Garrett and Glenn in a cart race. Again, Amy feels like the character most registering for now, but at least everyone is trying, and even if the humour doesn’t feel all that novel yet, at least it’s trying too.

Superstore even starts tapping on its true potential when it embraces its backdrop fully, and explores the simultaneous abuse of minimum wage workers who aren’t paid enough to deal with idiotic and nasty customers, while also highlighting the general belief that said minimum wage workers are failures in the eyes of many people, despite no real basis in this rather unfair attitude. The show gets especially funny when it sends up these issues in a clever way, and makes for a creative means to put the show’s personalities through an amusing batch of misery, without glorifying said misery at the same time. Minimum wage jobs come with their own challenges after all, and Superstore could be a great way to open the eyes of over-privileged people who have never had to work one in their lives, while also assuring those that have that someone feels their pain, whether past or present.

Superstore - Footage 3

In the end, while it has yet to become something truly special, Superstore has potential in its first episode, and sitcom fans should find it worth checking out, as well as fans of shows like The Office or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which have a lot in common with Superstore. You might have to be patient with the show, as ambitious ensemble workplace sitcoms definitely need time to grow and improve, which The Office and Parks and Recreation already proved before becoming the masterworks that they often were, but Cloud 9 is worth coming back to, even if it’s not currently offering the best product for your time.

Superstore's pilot episode makes for a promising, though mostly untapped sitcom idea at this point. The personalities are likable, particularly lead presence, America Ferrera, and the eccentric backdrop of Cloud 9 is one that has some decent laughs, and invites return trips.
America Ferrera's funny, and surprisingly charming lead
Decent jokes, and potential in the Cloud 9 superstore backdrop
Taps upon the interesting theme of unfairness toward minimum wage workers
A good chunk of the comedy feels stale
Many of the characters need better development