NBC's Tribute to Americans in Retail
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.6 million Americans currently work in retail. A solidarity of sorts exists among those of us who work or have worked in retail, as it provides memories and experiences unlike any other. Enter Superstore, the NBC sitcom produced by The Office‘s Justin Spritzer and starring America Ferrera and Ben Feldman. Currently in its second season, Superstore encapsulates the previously unexplored world of retail in a manner as unique and unreal as retail itself.
The show takes place in Cloud9, an epitomization of the classic American superstore, stocked with a wide variety of employees. Kindhearted but guileless Glenn manages the store alongside assistant manager Dina, whose abrasive and aggressive nature clashes often with her coworkers and customers. America Ferrera plays Amy, a floor supervisor
who works hard to support her family but dreams of bigger things. Cloud9 hires Jonah and Mateo as sales associates in the pilot episode, but their similarities end there. Jonah is an idealistic academic who dropped out of business school and Mateo is a driven but conniving worker who aspires to be his best, or at least better than everyone else. Garrett operates the store’s intercom and often cruises around the store in his wheelchair having good-natured laughs at the expense of other employees. Cheyenne begins the show as a pregnant 17 year-old high school student who works hard to save for motherhood. Other recurring characters include soft-spoken and oft scapegoated Sandra, arrogant and unhelpful pharmacist Tate, and terrifyingly sketchy backroom stocker Sal.
Superstore follows the interactions of these employees with one another, upper level corporate managers, and customers with ever-persistent and frequently ludicrous requests. Gags around the store interrupt these interactions and demonstrate that anything and everything can happen, from distracted mothers walking off with the wrong child, naked men drying their clothes in the appliance section, to customers using a display toilet. An episode from the first season focuses on Mateo and Cheyenne’s fight over an expensive couch discounted because an elderly customer passed away on it.
While painting a sometimes exaggerated but, more often than not, accurate portrayal of the retail world, Superstore also uses the medium of comedy to address a variety of different issues including social stereotypes and the inherent battle between corporate and associate. In one episode, Glenn asks the Latina employees to pass out the salsa samples in an effort to boost sales, leading to a lecture from Amy on the ethicality of playing to society’s racist stereotypes. Unfortunately, Amy resorts to mocking Chinese culture to demonstrate the hypocrisy as a Chinese family walks by resulting in a mandatory viewing of one of corporate’s infamous educational videos and a poignant comment by Garrett, who is African American, about being lectured on racism by a white woman. In another episode, Glenn utilizes too much glitter and rainbow confetti when he creates a display tailored to same sex couples. When the ballot boxes come to Cloud9, Mateo tries to prove his citizenship as an Asian American only to learn of his undocumented status.
Cloud9 associates engage in a series of battles with corporate throughout Superstore, shedding light on the caveats of corporations. When Jonah and Amy learn that Cloud9 does not offer paid maternity leave, they call corporate - only to bring a corporate union buster to the store. The employees spend three hours listening to how Cloud9 will support them and each employee receives a single donut hole. Glenn’s attempt to circumvent the maternity leave policy by suspending Cheyenne for six weeks with pay results in termination of his employment. During winter, corporate sends a memo about seasonal affective disorder, in an effort to ensure the removal of any liability for employee suicides. Corporate also demands the completion of meaningless tasks, such as switching out all store signs for new ones that are one shade darker. In one episode, Glenn responds to complaints of a leak in the break room with corporate’s budget allocation of a mere fifteen dollars for the break room. Corporate prioritizes keeping associates happy only to the point where it does not cost additional money.
Superstore delves into the life of the American retail associate, which provides an unlimited source of comedic material, while also offering a greater commentary on societal issues that the American superstore can succinctly demonstrate. While one may watch Superstore solely for the comedic value and miss the social commentary, hopefully viewers will all remember the struggles of an associate in retail and be a tad more sympathetic the next time they shop.