NOTE: Spoilers from throughout the first season of “Superstore” are present in this review
NBC’s freshman comedy, Superstore had a quick and dirty first-season run this season, debuting its first three episodes online on globaltv.ca (here in Canada at least), and then having a proper syndicated run between January and February. The episode order even had two episodes trimmed off of it, due to an over-crowding of NBC’s midseason schedule, so the first season had a weird 11-episode order that seemed to have it coming and going very quickly.
Nonetheless, Superstore is a winning new sitcom in its first season, and is on the way to becoming a new staple of NBC’s workplace sitcom catalogue, alongside The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation in the coming years. The first few episodes, namely the ones released in advance of the show’s syndicated run, were a bit shakier, though after that, it seems like Superstore deftly found its footing, and practically only got better with each subsequent episode, with only some small stumbles here and there, resulting in a first season that’s noticeably better than the majority of first seasons delivered by large-scale ensemble-driven sitcoms.
A big strength of Superstore in its first season is also definitely its ensemble of leads, which toil in the day-to-day grind of their minimum-wage duties at fictional mass merchandiser chain, Cloud 9. Cloud 9 is a twisted caricature of familiar big box stores from the real world such as Wal-Mart or Target, and in the season’s later episodes especially, the Cloud 9 corporation almost becomes a kooky character in and of itself. Once the show works out some of its early kinks, the way that it portrays the comically careless and unappreciative corporate overlord that hosts the lead employees is a great mix of comedy and surprisingly grounded misery, and never in a way that stops being equal parts fun and amusing.
Back to the lead ensemble though, despite America Ferrera getting the highest billing as cranky, cynical floor supervisor, Amy, every lead actor on the show contributes something special to it. Well-meaning, but insufferable new hire, Jonah proves to be a great foil for Amy for example, especially when one particular episode in this first season starts touching on his surprisingly tragic backstory, and how he ended up working at Cloud 9. There’s some annoying flirtation with a possible romantic future for Amy and Jonah, which feels like it’s checking off an obvious bit of inspiration from Jim and Pam on The Office, though it’s a minor gripe in the end, especially since Amy and Jonah are very different people in contrast to Jim and Pam. The added wrinkle of Amy already being married and having a child was also a nice way to add complication to the budding relationship between Amy and Jonah, even if Amy’s husband being an unreliable loser feels like a low-hanging fruit that’s too easy to write off when the moment comes.
Still, the other Cloud 9 employees are just as appealing, with Lauren Ash being a particular standout as Dina, the no-nonsense assistant manager who owns a lot of birds, and has a rather creepy crush on Jonah. Surprisingly, Superstore doesn’t waste time on Dina’s arc here, as Dina ends up confessing her love to Jonah later in the season, only to have him reject her, and have her almost immediately move on (a likely casualty of this first season’s reduced episode order), but Ash still constantly stole every scene she was in. Dina’s presence led to some of the season’s best and funniest sequences, particularly in a surprising friendship with Amy, which is put on display in, “Shoplifter”, when the two have to confront a shoplifter together (who turns out to be innocent), and in, “Wedding Day Sale”, where the two bond over their unfortunate romantic histories. It felt immensely satisfying to have Dina end up taking over the store at the end of the season finale, even after intentionally demoting herself to associate level to try and date Jonah, since it will no doubt open the door for even more Dina antics in the already-confirmed Season Two later this year.
That said, store manager, Glenn was still a very fun character, despite his seemingly abstract setup that wasn’t totally put on display this season. “All-Nighter” was definitely Glenn’s best turn of the season, where we learned that he formerly helped in a family-run tool shop that was run out of business by the same Cloud 9 branch that he now manages. Glenn’s rapport with Dina was still good throughout the season though, as was his rapport with Amy, who often begrudgingly accepts Glenn’s approval, which she feels is perpetually keeping her in service to Cloud 9. This was why the reveal of Glenn suffering from the presence of Cloud 9 in the past was so great, and was the point where his character became a lot more interesting than a goofy Christian with no backbone.
Some of the other employees were more in the background, and the B-list Cloud 9 employees weren’t given that much of a chance to shine beyond some quick throwaway gags in this first season, though none of the characters really stood out as weak or faulty. Colton Dunn’s Garrett was a fun Jim stand-in, being a wheelchair-bound prankster with a comical disregard for productivity, while Nichole Bloom made for an interesting addition as dunderheaded teen mother, Cheyenne, who is pregnant until the season finale. Garrett and Cheyenne feel like their best arcs are being saved for later seasons, but they still contributed plenty of good laughs overall. The same is true of Nico Santos’ Mateo, who was originally positioned as an annoying rival to Jonah, though seemed to branch out and move away from his Jonah animosity in the season’s later episodes. This gave him a bit more to work with, and it’s good that Mateo’s blatant homosexuality wasn’t often made into a big joke surrounding his character, and simply was what it was, even to Glenn, who has to try and wrap his head around interacting with gay customers with Mateo’s help during, “Wedding Day Sale.”
The B-list employees will no doubt get more exposure starting from the proper run of Season Two, though we still got to meet them and look forward to what they have to contribute later. Whether it’s perpetually downtrodden Sandra, unsettlingly creepy, Sal, geriatric and clueless, Myrtle, silent, but devious sales maniac, Brett, or douchey pharmacist, Tate, Cloud 9 has tons of personality, and these characters are bound to lend themselves to more great comedic ideas as the show goes on, especially when more B-list employees are bound to be introduced to the show in later seasons. Even, “Union Buster Steve”, the overly-optimistic Cloud 9, “Labour Relations Consultant” that served as a big character in the season finale, demands repeat appearances, hopefully as a kooky representative of Cloud 9’s outwardly sunny corporate coldness towards its employees.
There’s only so much to comment on in Superstore’s shortened first season, which feels like a mere appetizer for things to come, but it’s a great appetizer that is positioning Superstore as one of the strongest freshman comedies of this season, if not the strongest overall! The Cloud 9 ensemble is immensely lovable, the show’s satirical look at minimum-wage lifestyles is smart and amusing, without being too depressing, and the humour in general feels very sharp and funny, even if it definitely improved past the first few episodes. Superstore is sure to remain a great sitcom tentpole for NBC for many years to come, and its first season brings both laughs and heart that will quickly endear Cloud 9 to viewers with little effort!
- Ensemble is great, and has several standout personalities
- Great satirical look at minimum-wage living
- Comedy is sharp and full of character
- Some annoyances in the Amy/Jonah dynamic
- Some leads currently overshadow others
- Humour is a bit weaker in the first few episodes