Ben Feldman On The ‘Superstore’ Will They/Won’t They Question And Why On-Set Pranks Are A Lie

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The will they/won’t they question can sit on the chest of a TV show, ultimately transforming it into something it never meant to be — a romantic comedy. NBC’s Superstore (which returns for its third season tonight) knows what it wants to be and it’s not that.

The show, which takes place in a Midwest big box department store called Cloud 9, fits into the mold of a workplace ensemble that mines humor from the absurd turns life can take when a group of disparate people are tossed into a space and tasked with an often thankless and sometimes mindless job. It’s a description that also fits The Office, Parks And Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — three shows that have deftly pursued those will they/won’t they angles to their inevitable conclusion without derailing the larger mission. Can Superstore do the same thing following that kiss in last season’s finale? We spoke to Ben Feldman, who plays Jonah — one-half of that possibly brewing relationship with Amy (America Fererra) — and asked about how the show will navigate those waters, the Superstore‘s topical nature, seeing more of the Cloud 9 crew outside of the store, free ice cream, unrealistic notions about on-set pranksters, and his Mad Men exit.

We just ran an article that praised Superstore for its ability to be timely since you guys do such a good job of dealing with social issues without holding it over people’s heads. Obviously, things have changed a little bit in the world since you were filming last season… with everything with Trump.

I haven’t noticed. I haven’t been paying attention to the news. Who won the election?

Jill Stein, actually. Everybody was shocked. Can you talk a little bit about what the show’s going to do this year to subtly acknowledge the New World Order that we’re facing here?

Let’s see, we’re about seven or eight episodes in [with production], and I don’t think anybody’s name-checked anyone just yet. And if so, it’s only been very lightly. Nobody’s really going out of their way to call anything out, or to call attention to what’s specifically happening in the world, or in the country right now. If it comes up organically, which I’m certain it will over the course of 22 episodes, then that’ll be cool.

That’s sort of our MO, you know? The writers, they want to make sure everything comes from an organic place and really I think, first and foremost is, Is it funny? Do we have a funny way of talking about something? I think that’s one of the greatest things about this show, is that they’re not trying to cram any sort of ideology down anybody’s throats, and no one wants to be preachy, as you guys covered in the article.

They just talk about the things that people are talking about. So like, we have an entire healthcare episode that we shot a couple weeks ago. But it’s all in the context of the store, and health for those particular employees. And it’s all sort of based in a ridiculous situation that just spirals into more ridiculousness, which one could argue is what’s happened to healthcare in the United States of America, as well.

As an actor, do you relish opportunities to comment on the world?

I like being a part of a national conversation. I think that’s really exciting to me and exciting to, I’m pretty sure everybody in the cast. I think I speak for everybody when I say, it’s fun to be at the table talking with everybody else about what’s going on.

And it feels, I don’t know… At least, I guess this is just now me speaking for me, but after a while, I start to think, “Am I just putting on makeup and being goofy for the day, or am I actually getting anything done?” And when we cover stuff that really matters to people, I feel like I’m doing something more than just being silly. I think I go home with a tiny bit more of a sense of accomplishment at the end of those kinds of days, in those episodes.

The fallout from the storm that we saw in the season finale: What can you tell me about what we’re going to see when the Cloud 9 family comes back together? The physical shape of the store — are you guys still in the same store, did they rebuild?

What’s funny is, in real life the actual set had to be demolished. I believe Universal was making way for more theme park. Because when you share… when you’re on the Universal lot, you, the movie and TV people, share a space with people on rides. And those people bring in a lot of money, so I think they needed some more room for the park.

Why not Superstore: The Experience, Superstore: The Ride?

I think that’s maybe once we’re in syndication.

They took down the entire stage, and the writers were like, “Well, let’s do that in the store,” in the actual show. The whole thing kind of was just destroyed, and this current season picks up I think like two months maybe, after the finale of Season 2. The store’s getting put back together. [And] through a series of ridiculous events we’re suddenly having to rush to have it ready to be open far earlier than anybody ever thought. It’s kind of half-assed put together by the time we return to TV.

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