23 January 2016
It makes sense that NBC’s new sitcom (one of only three half-hour comedies on the entire network since they massacred their iconic Thursday night block) comes from an Office alum. Superstore creator Justin Spitzer spent seven seasons in Scranton writing for a large ensemble of wacky underachievers living unglamorous lives at a paper company and he’s created a similar vibe here in St. Louis with employees at a Wall Mart-y big box store called Cloud 9.
Though the humour isn’t as dry and the self-referential irony of the mockumentary style is understandably absent, the construction of Superstore is almost identical to The Office.
The Michael– Glenn’s big heart and ineffective managerial skills are directly in line with the Michael model. I so far don’t love Mark McKinney’s extremely broad take on the hapless manager (he’s even doing a funny voice; such a predictable trap for a sketch comedian and not one I was expecting from someone as widely respected as McKinney) but I trust that Spitzer knows what to do with this archetype and see him growing up if the show has multiple seasons.
The Jim & Pam– Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Amy (America Ferrera) are refreshingly not actually all that much like Jim and Pam, but they’re the clear end-game couple of the series (I predict they’re together by the end of season two at the latest) and the beautiful, young leading people in the same way that Jim and Pam were. I’ve always been a huge fan of both Feldman and Ferrera who are both independently funny and really great as a team. In a nice reversal on Jim/Pam, Amy is the sardonic lifer and Jonah the fresh-faced optimist while his insecure psychology and her complicated home life add extra layers of interest. Unlike The Office, which was always Michael’s show, Jonah and Amy are the real leads here, which I’m more than okay with.
The Dwight– Super Fun Night‘s Lauren Ash plays Dina, a character whose surname is surely Schrute. They’re almost identical. The store’s assistant (to the?) manager, Dina is an overly confident crazy person who is obsessed with the rules, comes on way too strong, and has all kinds of strange hobbies and areas of imagined expertise. Her systematic dismissal of Sandra’s problems is my favourite running gag on the show though I could definitely do without her attraction to Jonah which, though totally understandable (damn, Feldman), feels like a subplot they only gave her because she’s a woman; Dwight never had to have a crush on someone out of his league. That said, if we get either some heartrending vulnerability or just brazen Leslie Jones-ish owning it out of that subplot, I’ll definitely be on board.
The Supporting Cast- Colton Dunn’s irreverent Garrett, Nico Santos’ diabolically competitive Mateo and Nichole Bloom’s innocent pregnant teenager Cheyenne are all starting to make an impact but they’re still very much in the background as the Oscar/Stanley/Phyllis/Angela-type ensemble. Recurring guest star Johnny Pemberton as Cheyenne’s baby daddy Bo is a standout and one-liner characters like Kaliko Kauahi’s Sandra and Sean Whalen’s creepy Sal prove that the cast definitely has room to grow. Go back and watch Mindy Kaling in a season one episode of The Office for a lesson on untapped potential in seemingly nothing characters.
It all makes for a charmingly familiar and definitely sturdy, if predictable, show that will hopefully evolve as it goes along just like The Office did, copying its British counterpart for the first season then carving out its own space. Six episodes in, there seems to be enough cast chemistry and writing talent that I think Superstore will be just fine. Here’s hoping NBC keeps it around as they try to rebuild what they tore down.