If you’ve been paying attention to network sitcoms, and by that I mean anything that appears on NBC, CBS or ABC and yes even Fox these days, you will have noticed that they have an aversion to straying too far from the norm.
They may get occasionally wacky or out there but by and large you have weird but not too weird characters, nice, neat narratives that have some fun but not too much fun, and lesson well-learnt in a timely manner that the characters nod knowingly about in a pleasing, episode-ending way.
Superstore fits nice and snugly into this well-worn mould, its workplace setting the very definition of the “situation” part of “sitcom”, set as it is in a Walmart-type store through which pass the vast wacky (but not wacky thank you; no Weirdos of Walmart here) rainbow of humanity and in which works a motley crew of minimum-wage people simply trying to get through another customer-saturated day.
The archetypes are all here – the Responsible One Amy Dubaniowski (America Ferrera) who has worked in the store for 10 years and wears the sigh-soaked air of someone who knows that every day will be the same as the next; the New One, Jonah (Ben Feldman) who clashes with Amy on his first day – URST is in play even though Amy is married to her high school sweetheart – full as he is of new ideas and lacking the crushing way of disillusionment.
Then there’s the Smart Knowing One, wheelchair-bound Garrett (Colton Dunn) whose stock in trade is wacky instore annoucements, the Young One Cheyenne Tyler Lee (Nichole Bloom) a pregnant high school student who’s sweet but not the brightest, the Store Manager Glenn (Mark McKinney), socially-awkward, very religious but well-meaning, the By-the-Rules One Dina (Lauren Ash) who enforces policy but has little to no nous when it comes to dealing with people, and the Ambitious One, Mateo (Nico Santos) who’s determined to climb the ladder as quickly as possible which involves taking down fellow new hire Jonah at every opportunity.
As casts go it’s pretty eclectic, offering plenty of opportunities for some fun storylines that involve opposite personalities bouncing amusingly off each other (in Dina’s case, she hopes this happens literally with Jonah who spends his time fending off her advances) in a workplace full of some delightfully bizarre Kafkaesque touches.
So as sitcoms go, it’s got all the pieces in place you’d want – a “sit” with plenty of chances for “com”, wacky array of characters, both main and recurring and passing through, an opportunity for social commentary – there are passing references to minimum wage etc – and the promise of getting a little more loopy as time goes on.
It’s that last point that has me living in hope.
For while Superstore is perfectly fine as sitcoms go, funny enough to keep me laughing, and engaging enough that I reasonably care about the characters, it has the potential to go Parks and Recreation or Community over-the-top if only someone will be brave enough to let it off the tropes-leash.
Even if the two sitcoms just name-dropped aren’t NBC’s cup of tea anymore – to be fair they likely never were, tolerated more than celebrated during their surprisingly-long stints on the Peacock Network – you wonder if they might loose the leash enough for Superstore to take on some Brooklyn 99 out-thereness.
The Fox show stays resolutely within its workplace setting but has a huge amount of fun with characters that are allowed to say and do some outrageous things while staying every much in a standard sitcom milieu.
Even if NBC couldn’t stomach another Parks and Recreation or Community, perhaps it could handle some Brooklyn 99 zaniness?
The ingredients are there – the characters in Superstore are quirky enough that they could be let loose to have some real fun; at the point while there are some deliciously seditious lines about the problem of living on minimum weight or the weirdness of corporate life, these are nicely tucked away with some fairly by-the-numbers sitcom humour.
It’s like the producers know Superstore has it in its DNA to be loopy as all hell but are afraid to let things get too out of control.
And that’s pity since you can see the storylines having the propensity to go somewhere really creatively interesting only to see them pull back as if to say “This far and no further”.
The result is a perfectly funny, silly, slightly crazy sitcom that is amusing and even occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and given I’ve watched four episodes so far without my hand tied behind my back, it’s clearly got enough appeal to keep chugging along quite nicely.
The fact that it’s drawing decent enough ratings for NBC to renew for a second season early means there’s some pretty cool stuff going on; there’s some real humanity and understanding tied up in the gently observant situational humour.
For Superstore to truly develop into a must-see sitcom, and not simply remain a pleasing filler you watch on your DVR when there’s nothing else on, it needs to take some chances, play on the potential that is so clearly there.
It’s worked beautifully for Brooklyn 99 and could work just as nicely for Superstore, a pleasingly funny new sitcom for NBC, if it’s just given enough rope to really go for broke.