Colleen Hayes / NBC

Superstore Is No Bargain

Ben Feldman picks another sitcom loser. How long did it take Sarah D. Bunting to cancel her gold membership?

High-Profile Show Attempted: Superstore, which doesn't assume its regular timeslot -- and, spoiler, seems SUPER-unlikely to stay in it very long -- until January, but got a sneak-preview soft open tonight.

Premise: It's a workplace comedy set at a superstore. It's a top-notch cast -- America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, Mark McKinney -- and NBC's press materials try heroically to sell the concept as somewhat higher than it is with lavish overdescriptions of the stock characters manning the customary work-com roles. Feldman, the only reason I tried to get through the pilot, is "newly hired Jonah ... a naive dreamer determined to prove work doesn't have to be boring." Okay? But the actor is 35, is the thing, and also, it's okay to just write him as The New Guy and take it from there.

How Far I Expected To Get: Not far. The teaser I saw seemed slapped together and unfunny; the show doesn't even look lit properly. Like, it's unflattering lighting, but it's also wrong for a CostFaux. It's also unwise to trust Feldman's taste in comedy scripts at this point.

And the PR department's attempt to pitch Superstore as "from the producer of The Office" (emphasis mine) is disingenuous at best, and not necessarily a selling point in the first place.

How Far I Did Get

4:07 (out of a network half-hour)

What Did It: What didn't. The dialogue that's almost clever, but not quite, and not fresh or thoughtful; the third-gen Melissa McCarthy-in-Bridesmaids photocopy Lauren Ash (Super Fun Night) is obliged to play, who of course is the desperately horny and inappropriate one because she's maaaaaaybe a size 8; toilet-paper display-collapse "humor."

But the primary problem is Amy, "the store's most stalwart employee as well as the glue holding the place together." A few probs with that description, starting with the very first scene in the pilot and Amy's snide attitude with a customer; granted, the guy's trying to buy an $8 engagement ring while styling Vanilla Ice's hair from the late '90s, and I worked mall retail so I get it, but if this is the heart of your show and a loyal employee, why open on her making shitty (both emotionally and humor-wise) wisecracks? Amy's next move is to announce she's taking a "mental-health break" -- not ask the manager, mind you, but tell him.

And her next move after that is to run into new hire Jonah, let him think she's a customer, then booby-trap the conversation by putting her vest on and sneering at him for his condescending attitude towards his pregnant-teen co-worker, and the problem with that is that he's...not condescending to Cheyenne at all. He's pleasant and helpful; he doesn't appear to think he's better than anyone. The writing forces Jonah to act as though he got served by Amy, but really, it just makes Amy look like a defensive bitch. This is the "glue" of Superstore -- a woman who's looking to pick fights with anyone she assumes, baselessly, has stereotyped her based on her race or job description?

Because I would watch a show about that woman, don't get me wrong. I don't need my lady protags to be warm and nurturing; I don't dig Mesdames Mars and Jones because they're open to giving everyone a chance. G'head and be a bitch, that's real, and so is getting spoken to REAL LOUD AND SLOW when you ring someone's doorbell with a pizza, because people decide who we are every day, for a hundred bullcrappy reasons. That's worth unpacking, and it's possible to do it with humor. But while a Latina woman being so over it she's under it with what customers or co-workers or whoever else believe about her based on her CostFaux vest or her heritage is an interesting character beat and Ferrera is more than capable of nuancing it, 1) that isn't Superstore's brief, and 2) it can't meet its actual brief, which is to make me laugh.

Amy almost immediately sets another trap for Jonah during a staff meeting, pretending she doesn't know what "elitist" means so that he can explain it to her and get shown up as an elitist. All that really does is make her look like a jerk, and the show look inept, at both jokes and characters you want to invest in.

Worth Taking Another Run At It? No.

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