Great Episodes is a series of blogs on my all-time favorite episodes of, well, everything.
There’s a lot to love about Superstore, from its hauntingly familiar set that you swore you just visited a few hours ago, to its sharp dialogue and insightful storylines. None of that was more true than in Season 1, when the show shone a long-overdue light on the everyday world of working retail.
The pay is low, the benefits non-existent, and there is no typical employee. The workforce is diverse, not just in terms of identity but also class and life experience. Superstore makes the point that everyone can work customer service, and everyone does; since everyone is in the same boat, there’s a common acceptance of your fellow employee. (Later feuds between Sandra and Carol over an unconscious boyfriend notwithstanding).
I got hooked on Superstore during that scene in the pilot when Amy (America Ferrera) tells Jonah (Ben Feldman) she wears a different nametag every day because she doesn’t like random strangers coming up to her and chatting like they’re buddies. Superstore is consistently clever and funny that way, its characters well-developed and interesting.
Unlike some other shows I could name (**cough** Westworld) you’re invested in these people, even if by the end of Season 3 you’re kind of wondering why Jonah is still sticking around when you know, if this were reality, he would have started a booth at the farmers’ market, gone to work for a political party or returned to business school by now. Amy would have found a way to finance her education or started a more lucrative job once her daughter was older and able to take care of herself. But this isn’t reality, after all, it’s a television show, that, particularly in Season 1, has something to say about the working class.
In the first scene of the finale of the truncated 11-episode first season, Cheyenne, a heavily pregnant teen whose boyfriend had set up a flash mob in the premiere to propose marriage, almost gives birth in the store. Later, when she interrupts a staff meeting with her labored breathing — although she’s not in labor — Jonah comes up with a brilliant idea. He talks Amy into calling Cloud 9 management to ask for maternity leave. She’s reluctant, but he figures they have nothing to lose. On the phone with head office, they make the mistake of offhandedly saying the word “union,” which gets them a visit from management and a half-day seminar about how great it is to work at Cloud 9.
When “Steve,” the “Labor Relations Consultant,” asks the assembled employees who they think he is, Mateo, in his Season 1 eager-to-please phase, enthusiastically offers, “a union buster!” That he is, but in this episode Superstore smartly shows the unique predicament of this group of workers. Cheyenne gets maternity leave, of sorts, when the store’s affable boss Glenn gives her paid suspension as punishment for eventually giving birth in the store’s aisle. After Glenn is immediately fired, the episode ends with a satisfying conclusion that’s picked up with the first episode of Season 2.
There are no bad episodes of Superstore, so it’s tough to pick just one as my favorite. But it’s hard to beat the pharmacist-with-a-god-complex, Tate, asking Cheyenne, in the midst of Braxton-Hicks contractions, about any medications she’s taken. Satisfied Tums won’t harm the baby, Tate walks away, leaving Cheyenne and the rest of the employees and onlookers to fend for themselves.
“I’m a pharmacist.”