It’s a bird, it’s a plane— No, it’s clearly a Superstore

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Superstore': So-so new workplace comedy in Aisle 9.

Perhaps to take advantage of what remains of your Thanksgiving weekend tryptophan overload and whatever other holiday indulgences may have left you sleepy and impressionable, NBC has scheduled a preview Monday of its midseason sitcom “Superstore,” whose official premiere is not until January. Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time over the next month in a place much like the setting of “Superstore” — a new NBC sitcom not premiering until Jan. 4 but getting a two-episode “sneak peek” tonight after “The Voice.” The Cloud 9 associates range from well-meaning to practically certifiable.NBC continues to show an affinity for ensemble workplace comedies with the new sitcom “Superstore.” Like the paper-pushers at “The Office,” the creative misfits of “30 Rock,” the small-town government employees of “Parks and Recreation,” and the Nerd Herders of “Chuck,” “Superstore” offers up a retail island of misfit toys in a big-box behemoth.A half-hour comedy that’s set in a box-store mega center (one that’s highly suggestive of Wal-Mart) is not a bad idea at all, especially if the jokes could occasionally deliver sharp jabs at consumerism, labor conditions and the economy.So the NBC big-box-store development approach receives an unexpected (and slightly ironic) infusion of energy from Superstore, thanks largely to America Ferrera and Ben Feldman as the adorable, meant-for-each-other leads.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since The Office came to a close on NBC, but American workplace sitcoms—and the network that broadcasted the show—are still working through their Dunder Mifflin hangover. That, unfortunately, is not the sort of show you get with NBC’s slapsticky and hollowed-out “Superstore,” two episodes of which are premiering Monday in advance of the series’ official midseason launch in January. At this point in the season, only three of their new shows stand out as distinctive: CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the season’s most highly original (though sadly, not highly rated) new show; CBS’Supergirl, which while less original, nicely fills a female-hero gap; and Fox’s The Grinder, an increasingly offbeat and enjoyable blend of showbiz spoof and family comedy.

Jonah is also speaking on behalf of NBC’s Superstore, the network’s latest attempt to solve its comedy branding problem with rehashes of the low-rated shows that led to its comedy branding problem in the first place. Created and written by Justin Spitzer (an “Office” alum), “Superstore” plays mostly like a pitch for a much more clever show that never materializes. Through four episodes, Superstore absolutely has potential, but it also doesn’t seem like the type of show that will work on a network like this — especially not the way NBC is handling it.

Receiving an early preview tonight after The Voice, Superstore will return in January with the also-OK Telenovela — offering a respectable comedy hour at reasonable prices. Even when The Muppets returned to TV this fall, their interpersonal squabbles and backstage capers were made to fit the prototype that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant rolled out of the Slough Trading Estate at the start of the last decade. It also evokes some of the sensibility, if not quite as bleak, as the 2002 Jennifer Aniston film, “The Good Girl.” Clearly based on Walmart, Cloud 9 is far from heaven for floor supervisor Amy (the winsome America Ferrera, of “Ugly Betty”).

Despite a single-camera format, Superstore only once ventures beyond the parking lot of the fictional wholesaler, Cloud 9, during the four episodes previewed. Like his former colleagues Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, Office alum Justin Spitzer injects more than a little of his previous show’s DNA to his latest project for NBC.

He inadvertently insults his colleagues — several times over — knocks down a display and accidentally reprices all the fancy electronics to a quarter, setting off a stampede to check-out. “Could it be a race riot?” muses dimwit manager Glenn (“The Kids in the Hall’s” Mark McKinney, affecting a Kermit the Frog voice). “It’s so hard to tell in the early stages. Then Superstore will go back on the shelf for a month before returning on Jan. 4, where it will have the advantage of being the only sitcom in its 8 p.m. time period, but also the onus of being only a temporary player, since NBC has already trimmed its order to 11 episodes ahead of the spring return of The Voice. The premiere introduces Jonah (Mad Men alumnus Feldman, last seen on NBC on the short-lived comedy A to Z), who immediately antagonizes the levelheaded Amy (Ferrera) by giving off an elitist vibe. More than once in the pilot of Superstore, the staff of fictional big-box retailer Cloud 9 resemble their Scrantonian ancestors, minus the on-camera confessionals. View Archive Ben Feldman (of last season’s short-lived “A to Z”) stars as Jonah, the new hire at Cloud 9 superstore, where he immediately gets on the wrong foot with/falls head-over-heels in love with the floor manager, Amy (“Ugly Betty’s” America Ferrera), who is mostly unimpressed with his attitude.

Still, as we are approaching the season of goodwill towards all, let’s start with the good news: Superstore brings Ugly Betty’s charming-as-ever America Ferrera back to TV, and surrounds her with some talented castmates, including Ben Feldman (Mad Men), Colton Dunn (Key and Peele), Lauren Ash (Super Fun Night) and Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall). Superstore splits Dwight Schrute in half, with obsequious sales associate Mateo (Nico Santos) inheriting Dwight’s brown nose, and belligerent assistant (to the) store manager Dina (Lauren Ash) getting his authoritarian streak.

But even when they’r e bickering (which is often), it’s obvious that he is smitten and that she is more intrigued by him than she cares to let on. Alongside them is a small platoon of blue-vested employees — mostly benign but unimaginative stereotypes played by comic actors who have all been taught by the TV industry to compensate for thin material by broadly overacting. That version of Community wasn’t the best version of Community, but it was an effective character-driven comedy in a nicely specific environment and it laid the groundwork for the better Community to exist. On another episode, wheelchair user Garrett (Colton Dunn) spends the entire show trying to avoid a company photographer — knowing that an African-American with a disability is seen as irresistible fodder for the corporate magazine. It can be at cross purposes tonally, sending mixed messages; it seems to condescend to its milieu and people even as it explicitly warns against condescension.

A viewer could easily get the feeling that the entire cast is just one blown audition away from actually having to seek retail work — and that, too, would be a funnier idea for a joke than anything seen here. These include the new guy (Feldman); the seen-it-all clerk (Dunn); the typically clueless manager (McKinney), and the ambitious, rule-driven assistant manager (Ash). Feldman’s Jonah is the Jeff Winger of Superstore, a seemingly overqualified guy forced by circumstances to become part of the mismatched family of oddballs working at fictionalized megastore Cloud 9. Teenager Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom, “Shameless”) is six months pregnant and considering a wedding to her rapper-wannabe boyfriend who has an IQ just above room temperature … if that room were in the Arctic and all the windows were open. With recurring sight gags focused on the store’s less savory customers — a child test drives a potty, an adult test drives an actual toilet — that toggle between absurd and acidic, “Superstore” needs to heed its own advice about avoiding condescension.

In the show’s pilot, the first of two episodes airing in tonight’s special preview before its official January launch, those characters mesh well enough to give you some slight hope that Superstore might be more than just empty shelf filler. Whatever the commercial prospects, though, the Superstore/ Telenovela combo not only strikes a blow for diversity by presenting two shows with Latina leads (Eva Longoria headlines the other) but also delivers real laughs in the process. Jonah’s past is cloudier, but Spitzer’s pilot script and Feldman’s nervy performance make it clear that he’s not “better” than working in retail.

And the pilot ends with a rom-com move whose predictability and practical impossibility I found bothersome; others may just be happy with the Big Effect. Mateo (Nico Santos, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”), another new associate, likes to point out Jonah’s many mistakes and seems determined to win a gold medal in brown-nosing. Ferrera and Feldman have a nice chemistry, but a serious obstacle to potential romance thrown in at the end of the pilot also means that the writers will need to be very careful with the pair’s work flirtation. For some twisted reason that I heartily endorse, there are nice little transitional scenes that all seem to feature neglected, possibly abandoned children, who sit on the floor and gorge on chocolate bars or relieve themselves into plastic potty chairs on display.

Through the early episodes, we don’t learn the circumstances that brought Jonah to Cloud 9, and I like to believe that creator Justin Spitzer is intentionally denying viewers the answer so that we don’t treat Jonah as a source of pity or as a cautionary tale. But Erik Adams’ pre-air review of the series isn’t too hard on it, though he states that “the store may prove more interesting than the people who work there.” Here, you decide for yourself: “Jonah (Ben Feldman) begins his first day at the store, but his relationship with his supervisor (America Ferrera) immediately turns rocky, in the series premiere of this workplace comedy centering on offbeat staffers at a megastore.” Is it a megastore or a superstore?!? Garrett (Colton Dunn, “Key & Peele”) is a sarcastic slacker in a wheelchair who knows all the tricks to avoiding work. “Superstore” is a product of “The Office” co-executive producer Justin Spitzer, and like that already classic show, it digs into the mundane indignities of the work experience for its laughs, right down to the company magazine that blasts “Minimum Wage is Maximum Fun.”

They, and their humor, become broader and nastier, as the show veers between honoring people in blue-collar retail jobs and condescending toward them. With the annual horrors of Black Friday and holiday shopping mobs fresh on the mind, “Superstore” might also have had potential as a snarky antidote to the season’s psychoses.

Worse yet, though, is the sense that everything you see, and every joke you hear, is being recycled — making this less a superstore than a consignment shop. You think you know what the jokes are going to be with Mark McKinney’s ultra-religious store manager — think Shirley meets The Dean, if we’re sticking with Community comparisons — but by the fourth episode, they’ve been subverted a little, by both the writers and by McKinney’s limb-flailing energy. Pilot director Ruben Fleischer (who’s also an executive producer) puts his action-comedy experience to use in a pair of showstopping set pieces, but later episodes make those look more like an exception than a rule.

On the plus side (if that’s the side you’re picking), the show is from Justin Spitzer, who wrote for The Office and an episode of Scrubs (as well as an episode of Mulaney…). It’s easier for Superstore to flesh out its characters when they’re freed from storylines about the daily grind, but the show does find occasional inspiration there: Building a groom-and-groom wedding-sale display helps Mateo find the compassionate side of outwardly conservative manager Glenn (Mark McKinney), while Amy bonds with Dina on a quest to track down Cheyenne’s runaway fiancé (Johnny Pemberton, doing scene-stealing work with an objectively aggravating character). Supergirl (CBS, 8 p.m.): “Personal and professional stress get the better of Kara when she goes too far during a training exercise against Red Tornado, a military cyborg commissioned by Lucy Lane’s father, General Sam Lane.” Naturally, the episode is titled “Red Faced.” Get it? I know that because today is just like yesterday.” If there’s not much chemistry between Feldman and Ferrara, each has good scenes with other actors; he does well with Colton Dunn (in a wheelchair, knows the ropes).

Jonah’s also funny when he can be the source of some jokes from his co-workers, when Superstore is able to capitalize on its diversity for some knowing gags about conventional TV casting (“He looks like a villain on The CW,” one character says of Feldman’s leading-man looks). Other actors partner well: Nichole Bloom as a pregnant teenager and Johnny Pemberton as her urban white trash musician boyfriend (his proposed entry in a jingle contest: “Cloud 9, come inside/ Society’s a mirage and sex is a prison” ); McKinney’s comically Christian store manager, Glenn, whom he plays in a fretful upper register, and Nico Santos’ competitive employee Mateo. (Glenn is evolving.

A premise like Superstore doesn’t need conventional normals, which Spitzer probably knows from his experience on The Office, where Jim and Pam’s romance made sense when they fell for each other as kindred oddballs, rather than just as the most conventionally attractive employees at Dunder Mifflin. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW, 8 p.m.): If the past seven episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend haven’t been heartbreaking enough—but in a fun way!—then tonight’s fall finale definitely sounds like it will fit the bill. (Just kidding, the past seven episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have been plenty heartbreaking enough!) So here’s what we’re getting in “My Mom, Greg’s Mom and Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves!” besides a lack of Oxford comma: “It is the holidays and Rebecca’s mom (guest star Tovah Feldshuh) decides to come visit her in West Covina. I thought you might be, but I wasn’t sure, and then I forgot about it.”) The action is punctuated with vignettes of a sometimes surreal bent: old people dancing close on the showroom floor, a worker eating food from the spill he’s cleaning up, twin little girls who suddenly disappear as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” plays in the background, a parade of lawn tractors, a man in his underwear doing laundry in a floor-model washing machine, a sign reading, “Let Cloud 9 design your Chuppa. The commercials are funny, but they also have the effect of reducing a charismatic cast to little more than the grinning faces next to dubious deals like trick-or-treating knockoffs and Halloween merchandise repurposed for Thanksgiving.

Old habits die hard and Rebecca, eager to please her mom, embellishes some facts about her life, which all comes crashing down at a local holiday event.” Yep, that all sounds heartbreaking. If Superstore is to do for the smock-and-name-tag crowd what The Office did for cubicle dwellers, deep discounts on “Goggle-Wearing Villain Helper” costumes can’t be the most compelling reason for a weekly visit. As the ensemble comes together, it will be interesting to see how Superstore settles into an episodic routine – specifically what it chooses to have these increasingly funny employees actually do at their workplace. That’s all great, but what Allison Shoemaker really wants to know is when White Josh will show off his sweet dance moves. (And by “Allison Shoemaker,” we really mean “your friendly neighborhood What’s On Tonight contributor.”) Gotham (Fox, 8 p.m.): It looks like Gotham’s fall finale synopsis is doubling up on mentioning characters it usually never cares about: “When Bruce Wayne is kidnapped, Gordon must look to some unlikely and dangerous allies for help.” But… But… This is Gotham.

We don’t come to these synopses for Bruce and Gordon—we come for literally any other character (besides Bullock) so we can call out Gotham for not caring about Bruce and Gordon and that whole Batman thing. This synopsis clearly must have been written by a different person, because it’s the “Rise Of The Villains” aspect of it all that is completely glossed over, for the first time all season: “It is a battle of the villains, and not everyone makes it out alive.” For shame, Gotham synopsis. Kyle Fowle’s reviews don’t actually depend on what happens in these synopses, and he wishes we would stop getting so bent out of shape about them. For those of you who had to move right along, you can at least experience Ryan Vlastelica’s Expert Witness piece with—and we quote—“the asshole who got drunk and started shit” on Top Chef, Dale Talde. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas with your slickest dance moves and a retrospective hosted by Kristen Bell. “Included: Kristin Chenoweth sings ‘Happiness’ from the Peanuts musical; and Matthew Morrison performs the original song ‘Just Like Me.’ Also on tap: Sarah McLachlan; Boyz II Men; Pentatonix; David Benoit; and the All-American Boys Chorus.” Definitely a good “family night” choice if you need one.

Guy’s Grocery Games (Food Network, 8 p.m.): “A New Year’s Eve dinner made on a Scrooge-like budget is the second challenge.” Like we’ve said before, we’re preeeettty sure Food Network is one big grift. Part one is tonight, but we’re sure it will play over and over again, until you know of nothing else than all things related to this reunion of love and hip hop and Hollywood. Vanderpump Rules (Bravo, 9 p.m.): “James seeks revenge when he’s convinced Kristen is cheating on him.” Where were you when Vanderpump Rules stopped being polite, stopped being real, and starting being psychotic? Major Crimes (TNT, 9 p.m.): Originally, we read this week’s Major Crimes title—”The Jumping Off Point”—as the “The Jump Off Point,” so here, have some Lil’ Kim: Après Ski (Bravo, 10 p.m.): “Staffers try to boost morale with a group bobsledding experience; Bobby and Charlotte deal with high-maintenance vacationers; Jim’s frustration with Elise peaks; and it’s a slippery slope when the gang tries to mend differences at a team dinner.” But no one’s seeking revenge, so what’s the point? Legends (TNT, 10 p.m.): Eek, this episode was supposed to air last week, but given its subject matter and the Paris attacks, it was switched in the schedule with a different episode.

Super Into (truTV, 10:30 p.m.): “Director, writer and Academy Award® winner, Diablo Cody, is so crazy about roller coasters she even has one tattooed on her arm.” Well that’s… a hobby. We were promised that we’d be surprised by celebrities’ interests, and right now, all we can really think is: “Well that’s… a hobby.” Step it up, Super Into. Bad Santa (WGN America, 9 p.m.): Hit it, TV Guide Guy! “Warped, crudely funny comedy about a boozy con artist (Billy Bob Thornton) who robs the department stores where he works as St. The Walking Dead: Zack Handlen reviewed the fall finale, and we heard that [SPOILER] killed [SPOILER] and then [SPOILER] declared [SPOILER] a [SPOILER].

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