NBC’s Superstore has returned for its fifth season, and I’m pretty pumped to watch it! This wasn’t always the case — I started season one of Superstore last year and stopped within a few episodes. Eventually, I gave the show another shot and now it’s become one I look forward to watching. Let’s examine the rocky start and the strong progress through the Scale:
Not offensive to women = 0/1 pt
As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, Superstore had a rocky start. The jokes early on in the series seemed all to be focused on straw feminism/social justice, designed to confound level-headed Amy or mock Jonah whenever either of the two attempted to broach a serious topic with the zany cast. I found this style boring at best and harmful at worst, when so much of feminism is dedicated to helping the very people portrayed in the show: marginalized racial groups, disabled people, immigrants, low-income workers….It told me that the writer’s room was not as diverse as the cast, and the show’s inability to handle complex topics with nuance and humor, a la Parks and Rec or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was the reason I quit watching.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Superstore is an ensemble workplace comedy, but it is helmed by America Ferrera’s Amy, and she is the character with the most growth throughout the series. However, I’m very in awe of how many great female characters there are. In every other sitcom I can think of, there is a max of maybe four distinctive women characters. In Superstore, I can think of seven layered (and hilarious) female characters off the top of my head.
Dina, for example, is the second-most important female character on the show, and her growth from female-Dwight knock-off into one of my favorite characters has been fun to see. Cheyenne, a teen mom and frequent airhead, is believably grounded by her friendship with Mateo, her differences of opinion with Amy, and her occasional words of wisdom, is another strong addition to the cast.
But to me the true gems are the secondary characters. I’m all for Carol and her Fatal-Attraction subplot, made hilarious by the mediocre guy and low stakes. And Justine regularly delivers my favorite lines, as a stereotypical white woman spouting platitudes at the wrong moment, or declaring “I’m so bad!” whenever she’s doing something that’s not really that bad.
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Easily, and all the time. The diversity also makes this cast great. BFFs Cheyenne and Mateo ensure that diverse Asian rep is regularly featured onscreen, (with Sandra thrown in for good measure). Mateo is also gay and also an immigrant, and he’s not the only character with either of those qualities. Honestly the intersectional identities of all the characters are really great and feel very true to life.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
I’m still giving full points here, even though the show didn’t start well. Every show has a first season where they’re getting their feet wet, and eventually Superstore broke out of its The Office mold and made something unique and funny. I like greeting these characters and seeing what fresh hell awaits them in each new shift (as a former barista, server, and retail worker, it’s pretty cathartic).
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
I’m going to majorly spoil the finale of season four, but it has to be done. It’s just one part I swear! You can still watch the rest of the show.
Season four ends with Mateo being taken by ICE for being an undocumented immigrant. I had to talk openly about this stunning cliffhanger ending to truly show how far Superstore has come in telling the stories of retail workers. No longer are serious issues the butt of the joke. Here, all the lovable weirdos of the store are forced to watch somberly as Mateo is carted off, despite their best efforts to protect their friend.
I suspected this would be the ending of the season once I learned Superstore writers had consulted with Define American, an immigrant advocacy group. But I had no idea the story would be so moving.
Superstore started out trying to copy The Office, but in the retail space. However, this isn’t really possible. That’s because The Office is characterized by people too uninspired to leave their mundane job, even though they could if they wanted to. A lot of the character growth is about them learning to thrive, not just survive.
Retail workers don’t often have the same luxuries. As shown by the painful episode about Amy’s poor health insurance, showing the system being rigged against a poor person isn’t funny, it’s sad.
I think Superstore has really grown, and now understands how to better represent these characters and their situation. They understand what’s funny and what’s just mean, and they are able to get some real depth out of these situations. I hope season five continues this positive trend.
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