Roush Review: NBC's Superstore Is a Comedy Bargain
For NBC, primetime comedy this season has looked more like a pathetic fire sale, with only two sitcoms on the entire schedule, exiled to Fridays: the all-live, but barely alive, Undateable, and the execrable Truth Be Told. So what a nice surprise, rather like finding something unexpectedly nifty in a remainder bin, to be able to declare that for now, I'm buying what Superstore's selling.
This endearing blue-collar workplace comedy from The Office's Justin Spitzer, getting a sneak preview with back-to-back episodes airing after the powerhouse The Voice, benefits from two of TV's more charming leads. America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) stars as Amy, unflappable floor supervisor of a St. Louis branch of the Cloud 9 big-box store. Her meet-cute in the pilot episode with sweetly awkward new hire Jonah (Ben Feldman of last season's A to Z) sets off a rom-com vibe that the show will likely take its time to exploit, for reasons that only slowly become clear, as the first episodes stay almost entirely focused inside the aisles and spacious parking lot of Cloud 9.
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Lest you think Amy and Jonah seem a little too smart and cool to work (let alone shop) in such a seemingly dead-end environment, Superstore addresses that condescending perception head-on by humbling anyone who exhibits even a little patronizing elitism. This seems particularly apt in light of today's tough economy and the fact that in much of the country, too little represented on TV these days (except in underappreciated shows like The Middle), stores like these are part of everyday life.
Superstore also boasts an admirably diverse cast, led by Ferrera and including Key and Peele's Colton Dunn as a scene-stealing smart-aleck in a wheelchair who’s so averse to tokenism he spends an entire episode trying to avoid a corporate photographer who wants to put him on the in-house magazine's cover. Less agreeable is the back-stabbing suck-up Mateo (Nico Santos), who starts work the same day as good-guy Jonah and continually seeks to undermine him.
There are times when Superstore sells the comedy too hard, especially with characters as venal as Mateo and as buffoonish as the store's idiotically chipper manager, Glenn (Kids in the Hall veteran Mark McKinney, who tries to locate some humanity within this blithering fool). But sometimes the broad approach works, as in Lauren Ash's spot-on drill sergeant of an assistant manager, taking the rules way too seriously except when it comes to her new crush Jonah, whose affections she mistakenly thinks are reciprocal.
My favorite episode of those I screened, which will air when the show returns in early January (at 8/7c, paired with Eva Longoria's much more heightened, but also promising, Telenovela spoof), finds Jonah the butt of a series of pranks involving a mannequin that looks an awful lot like his too-cute self—one co-worker says he looks like "a panda and a Disney princess had a baby." As he learns how to take a joke, essential for fitting in with this motley crew, Superstore closes the deal, establishing itself as a fun place to visit, even if you wouldn't necessarily want to punch a time card there. (Though it's a heck of a lot more appealing than The Middle's Frugal Hoosier shop, just saying.)
Superstore previews Monday, Nov. 30, at 10/9c and 10:30/9:30c, on NBC | Regular time period, Mondays at 8/7c, starting Jan. 4
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