'Superstore' Creator Justin Spitzer Breaks Down the Shocking Season Finale
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 4, Episode 22 of Superstore, "Employee Appreciation Day."]
NBC's Superstore makes fans laugh every week, but by the end of the Season 4 finale, many of them were likely in tears. If you're wondering why, turn back now and watch the episode before it's spoiled.
For those who did tune in, Superstore took a dramatic turn as Cloud 9 employee Mateo (Nico Santos) — who happens to be undocumented — was apprehended by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and driven away in handcuffs before the credits rolled. Thankfully, series creator Justin Spitzer is shedding some light on the dark ending and addressing concerns about the member of Cloud 9's team.
The finale dealt with a lot of heavy topics from unions to deportation. How do you find that balance between comedy and drama when it comes to tackling such weighty issues like that?
Justin Spitzer: Well, it's looking for the funnier parts of the issue, exploring that, and being very parsimonious with the heavy parts. For the union stuff, that was not difficult, because it's obviously very important unionizing and what it means but the stakes are not nearly as consequential as the ice raid was.
So, that stuff is just finding the comedy... you can find the humorous parts in sort of the journey to get there although we never tried or even wanted to make the moment of Mateo being driven away funny like if all of sudden he'd farted in the car or something. It would have been a move, but not the move we wanted to make.
You guys really know how to do season finale episodes – how long did you know that you were going to wrap Season 4 this way?
We didn't know. Early on we talked about doing this move and we actually planned in our sort of general arching out the season... We planned to do this half to two thirds of the way through the season, we felt like that would be the place to do it and we sort of deal with the aftermath right away and not even think as far what the actual finale was.
And then as we got there, it just felt like some of our other stories were taking more time, we just didn't feel like it felt earned yet. And then we got towards the end of the season, and it felt like, "Do we do this now? Do we keep on waiting for the future?" And I was very much on the fence. We were debating between just dealing with the unionizing story and not doing this move or adding this and really it was America [Ferrera] who came in and I pitched her through both versions of the basic stories we were doing and she was very enthusiastic and supportive about doing this one.
What's next for Mateo? Will he continue to be a part of the show?
Well, it's tricky because I'm not going to be running the show next year. I'm stepping away a little bit and... [Gabe] Miller and Johnathan Green who've been EP's from the beginning are fully taking over. So, I can't fully speak for the show or what their plans are... I think it's very safe to say that Nico Santos is staying with Superstore or [wherever] they moved him, so Mateo is not leaving this world.
And I think also some people think that if ICE has detained Mateo that means they're driving to the airport and sticking him on a plane and he's gone and we're gonna have to figure that out... That's not really how it works, there's detainment, there's proceedings — so I think we have a little more, or they will have a little more latitude in figuring out ways to keep him around and what his function will be going forward.
Deportation and immigration are huge topics in the news lately. Was there a particular case or story that inspired Mateo's?
The fact that he's undocumented I think we've talked about at least in part [is] inspired by Jose Antonio Vargas. He's Filipino also and discovered late in life that he was undocumented and he's an advocate and he started this organization, Define American, who we've talked to a lot and they've been really helpful.
So, when we were talking about [Mateo] being undocumented back in Season 2 we read about him and it inspired it a little bit. In terms of this actual episode its just something that can happen and we sort of played his fear of being discovered for a while now. And truthfully it felt like this was the next move, you know, how many more stories could we do about "Mateo can't do something because he's afraid he'll be discovered?"
How important is it to you that these relevant and serious topics are included in your show?
Well, its always been important to me that the show feel grounded, relatable and realistic... When I was initially conceiving this series — meaning when we shot the pilot — I figured we could occasionally touch on topical issues, [but] that wouldn't be as much a part of the show as it's just become. We've sort of grown into that. We still try not to be self important, we try not to make every episode an issue episode. But, its just a fact that is now a big part of the show, and so I do think that's important going forward that, we continue to deal with social topics.
This was your final episode as showrunner. How was that last day?
When you're actually doing it, you're at the end of the season, it's all chaos and fatigue, and it's living on coffee. I never even got to take a moment to relish this but, I think I'd feel more nostalgic if the show were actually going away.
But the show will continue, I'll also be EP and still be reading the scripts, and still be at least a little involved. Yesterday, I cleared out my office that felt a little nostalgic, but I'm excited for Gabe and Jonathan to take it over, and for it to keep going, and, on my part, to develop new projects.
Superstore, Season 5, TBA, NBC