“Superstore” is on the surface a workplace comedy in the vein of “The Office”: Quirky employees and a well-meaning boss get into various scrapes and conundrums at their place of business.
But what really makes “Superstore” stand out is the way it so deftly deals with socio-economic issues, and Thursday’s (Jan. 12) episode, “Rebranding, ” may have been the best example yet.
The main storyline is that Cloud 9 is rebranding its line of store products, from “Halo” to “Supercloud.” It’s a fairly innocuous plot, but it facilitates a couple of really interesting character examinations. First there’s Jonah (Ben Feldman), whose business school friend Rex (Ravi Patel) turns out to be a Cloud 9 corporate VP, and shows up at the store as part of the rebranding effort.
Rex cannot hide his surprise at seeing his former classmate working as a store clerk — and while Jonah isn’t mortified to be working there, he’s a little embarrassed. Of course, Jonah is equally embarrassed by Rex showing old business school presentation videos to Amy (America Ferrera), Glenn (Mark McKinney) and Garrett (Colton Dunn) — and we get to finally confirm that business school really wasn’t Jonah’s cup of tea.
However, he still has a two-year deferment in which he can return to school, which leads to a very interesting argument between him and Amy about working at Cloud 9. For him, it’s a choice. For her, it is not.
When he finds out his deferment has actually expired, Amy welcomes him to the “No Options Club,” which she plays off with humor and grace … because what else can you do, when it’s the truth?
But also, the show doesn’t have the characters wallowing in self pity either: They live, like so many of us, in economic precarity and hardship, and they know they have solid jobs and it could be a lot worse. As Jonah comes to grips with the fact that his Cloud 9 job is actually his job-job, and not just a break from business school, Cheyenne provides an even more meaningful look into the experience of the working class.
Since the store is rebranding, all the Halo products are 80 percent off. Cheyenne desperately wants to stock up on things that are incredibly expensive when you have a new baby — diapers, baby powder, baby food, etc. — but it’s against store policy to let her put items aside in the back to purchase at the end of her shift.
And while it’s definitely a cute visual gag to watch her try to surreptitiously wheel a display case away from a customer, or hide baby food in a patio grill, the show knows it’s really not that funny. She’s a young mom, struggling to make ends meet, with a baby at home — and even fewer options than pragmatic Amy, or overeducated Jonah.
It can be hard to understand, but harder to question, what people will do when they are struggling — desperation can push us to some pretty extreme places, but especially when we are — or even just think we are — card-carrying members of the No Options club. But political implications aside, this is exactly the kind of episode “Superstore” really shines: We don’t see these people a lot, on TV, and certainly not much in TV comedies: Justin Spitzer and his team are doing an outstanding job of showcasing their lives in ways that are both exactingly truthful and intimately funny.