NBC’s new workplace comedy “Superstore” is a revealing portrait of the monotony of daily life. It illustrates the frustrations of an unsatisfyingly dull job, love and human desire — well, as much as a sitcom about a motley crew of employees working at a spoof of Walmart can. Justin Spitzer’s (“The Office”) new series follows a band of offbeat employees with Amy (America Ferrera, “Ugly Betty”) at the helm. Ferrera’s endearing performance of the shrewd, yet dispassionate, Amy is reason enough to watch the show, but leaves us wanting more from the plot itself.
Though the setting of a large retail chain leaves little room for original content (how many packages of toilet paper can the new guy knock over?), the show revels in the tedious duties and individual traits of its characters. Even something as simple as Cheyenne (Nicole Bloom, “Project X”), a young, pregnant employee attempting to pick up a box, is shown facetiously. Jonah (Ben Feldman, “Mad Men”), the well-meaning yet blundering new guy who quickly (and predictably) develops a crush on Amy, resorts to stacking soda cans in the image of a smiley face to impress her. Ferrera easily takes on her role as the unamused and seasoned floor manager, with no shortage of thinly veiled sarcasm to dole out to unwitting Jonah.
A playful back-and-forth commences between Jonah and Amy when he mistakes her for a customer and unintentionally insinuates that the employees at the store are beneath him, saying, “I know I don’t seem like the type of person who would work at a place like this” (at which point Amy looks over at Cheyenne struggling with the box). Amy feigns surprise and sarcastically says, “Oh no, I wouldn’t want to sound condescending,” when Jonah reprimands her for restating what he’d just said. This magnificently awkward interaction is then tarnished by a slapstick routine where Jonah attempts to lean against a mountain of bulk toilet paper rolls and falls over, bringing them all down with him.
Jonah’s unfortunate gaffe leads to him spending the rest of the episode trying to get into Amy’s good graces. But he accidentally misprices all the electronics and creates chaos among the store’s shoppers. The contrast between Amy and Jonah shines as Jonah uselessly pleads with an old man not to buy a mispriced item, and Amy chases a woman who leaves the store only to end up in a physical altercation with her.
Hilarity ensues as one employee Garrett (Colton Dunn, “Key and Peele”) encourages customers over the speaker system to take advantage of the mistake. The security guard panics, and then it all abruptly ends when another employee, Dina (Lauren Ash, “Lars and the Real Girl”), marches in front of the crowd with a rifle. Dina’s dramatic response exemplifies her rough-around-the-edges, but emotionally vulnerable, characterization that is made even funnier by her crush on Jonah. Dina is just one of the many characters adding range to a plot that seems lost in its effort to center on the potential for comedy in a boring workplace.
Glenn (Mark McKinney, “Saturday Night Live”), the store manager, exudes a nauseating optimism, like a father with no authority trying to make his kids think he’s cool. His exuberance makes him an easy target for manipulation by his employees, creating an amusing dynamic, but automatically relegating him to the sidelines of the plot. The potential for romance between Amy and Jonah pushes any chance the other characters stand of having a quality role to the plot’s periphery. Even Amy, who goes by the name Ramona at work to avoid mixing her personal life and work life, loses some of her complexity. In his efforts to impress her, Jonah, and the possibility of romance between the two, overshadows Ferrera’s character — effectively minimizing one of the few strengths the show has.
Even in a plot as static as its characters’ workplace, there are a few amusing moments that merit praise. Overall, the show reproduces an atmosphere of monotony inherent to its setting. Though Jonah tries to show Amy “moments of beauty” in their world of daily annoyances, the show itself struggles to find its own “moments of beauty.” In an effort to meld comedy with some sort of a deeper statement about finding joy in the humdrum of day-to-day life, “Superstore” misses the mark. But with America Ferrera leading a solid cast and with some well-written dialogue, the show has potential. Just don’t expect it to be the next “Office.”