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Kill Your TV: Superstore 

Wednesday, Jan 13 2016

One learns in the TV game that one mustn't get too excited when one sees something produced by someone who has previously worked on a show that one loved.

One must brace oneself for disappointment. One must set the DVR, relax, and let the chi flow through those first four episodes, as one sits in one's Hanes Her Way hipster briefs on one's La-Z-Boy, dispassionately masticating one's Peanut Butter & Jelly Uncrustables as the cathode rays fill the room.

With that in mind, one mustn't expect that Superstore, the new show produced by The Office alum Justin Spitzer, will be the same sort of groundbreaking spoof on a workplace. This new NBC sitcom takes place in a thinly veiled Walmart, a big-box juggernaut of a premise rife with comedic potential. (I've often composed my own sitcom every time I've entered Target.) The employees are all supposed to wear a certain shade of red for a top and tan pants, but each person seems to give his or her ensemble its own little twist. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to know that the guy in the stained Dockers and inside-out Niners T-shirt stocking slow-cookers is there only because his parents threatened to throw him out unless he got a job.

In any case, Superstore takes place in a fictional universe called Cloud 9. It stars America Ferrera as Amy, the person we've all worked with in retail — the one who is too smart for the place and should be in charge of the entire shebang but isn't — and Ben Feldman as Jonah, basically a male version of Amy. You'll recognize Feldman from Mad Men, where he played the unhinged Michael Ginsberg. In Superstore, he plays The Hottie, which may really wallop you, as there was nothing hot about Ginsberg. Kids In The Hall and SNL alum Mark McKinney plays general manager Glenn, and poorly at that. He has adopted a mewing whine of a voice for this part (why?) and is supposedly an Evangelical Christian. As with an ill-fitting suit, the part wears him instead of him wearing the part.

One magical thing about Steve Carell's Michael on The Office was that Carell deliberately never watched the original British show because he didn't want to muss up whatever take on the big boss he was going to adopt. With the help of his writers and his own talent, he carved out the role for himself. Just as in real retail, a show's attitude comes from the top, and having a strong lead only strengthened the other performances. Compared to that level of casting execution, McKinney was a mistake.

At the same time, as most ensemble comedies, the real gold lies in the bottom of the pan with the supporting cast. Colton Dunn is buoyantly sarcastic as sales associate Garrett. Lauren Ash (Super Fun Night) does a noteworthy job of playing Dina, a boilerplate female-gym-coach type with a penchant for guns and guys. It's hard not to compare her fetish for rule adherence to Dwight Schrute until you realize that both characters ring true to us because we've all worked with these people at one point. The standout cast member is Nichole Bloom as Cheyenne, a pregnant and rather naive 17-year-old who plays the straight man to her doofus of a fiancé, Bo (Johnny Pemberton). Pemberton plays Bo as if he's Bobby Hill of King of the Hill — except all growed up and channeling K-Fed while working at the Mega Lo Mart.

There are genuine laugh-out-loud moments in Superstore, but they tend to get overshadowed by a certain corporate peacock, whose feathers are all over this thing. I can tell that someone behind the scenes —Spitzer, perhaps? — wants this show to be zany and clever, only to see it reined in every time.

Every episode of Superstore has to have some sort of feel-good moment. The Office had those, but only amid total (if brilliant) chaos. This is a sad turn, because my hope was that we would top shows like that. Instead, like a big-box retail operation smothering the independents, Superstore just homogenizes the landscape.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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