When season four of Superstore returns this month, creator Justin Spitzer will be saying, “I told you so.”
Well, not really. Spitzer is too nice of a guy to shove his success in the faces of critics who took a while to warm to his big-box store comedy. But we’ll be saying it because, over the course of just a handful of seasons, Superstore has become one of the most relevant, insightful shows on TV. With a cast of comedic talents like America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, Lauren Ash, and Mark McKinney, and a talent for weaving potentially divisive issues into plotlines filled with absurdist comedy, Superstore has managed to make politics funny again.
Spitzer, who worked on another little-known show called The Office, has always been a fan of work-place comedies and he’s used his latest to confront stereotypes, tackle taboo topics, and prove that yes, working retail is a comedy goldmine. We chatted with him about how the show’s changed since the presidential election, what’s in store for Amy and Jonah this season, and just what the hell is going on with that Office reboot.
Considering how critics reacted to the show’s first season, does it feel like a win to be able to get to season four and continue to build the show’s fan base?
It definitely feels satisfying to get to season four. I don’t think I’m saying, like, “I told you so,” to anyone.
[Laughs] No. Thank you, but no. Not a lot of shows make it to season four, so it’s crazy when we’re sitting around thinking, “Oh, have we done this, or done that?,” and it actually takes some time to think back on all the episodes we’ve done. It’s like if you start jogging and you look back and you’re like, “Oh man, where am I? I’ve gotten really far.”
I don’t believe in running voluntarily so I wouldn’t know anything about that. But you guys have covered a ton of issues on the show, including problems that have been made worse by our current administration. Have the topics and how you approach them changed because of the “Trump Effect?” Or, are you guys following the Broad City rule?
What rule does Broad City have? They don’t mention Trump?
In season four, they refused to say his name, so they’d just bleep it out.
It’s certainly not a rule for us but we tend not to have an episode where we say like, “Oh, here’s an issue,” and then like, “Everyone’s going to talk about it,” and we’re going to try to bring in different politics and stuff. Sometimes we’ll use a social issue as a jumping off point, or we’re open to it if the story suggests that. But because we’re not thinking that way, it’s just never really come up to deal with the national politics of an issue, you know? They talk about the ways that their lives are affected by an issue and sometimes they’ll go off onto weird random tangents that are suggested by it, but we’ve never done something where they’re talking about the national landscape in [that way].
How do the writers strike that balance then, between humor and political relevancy?
It’s more like we’re starting with the story, and then, is there a way that it ends up aligning with that issue? Early on we did this episode, “Guns, Pills, and Birds.” Jonah feels uncomfortable selling guns in the store, and then Glenn [had to sell] a couple a birth control pill. That didn’t come out of talking about guns or birth control or any of that. It came out of, “Oh, what would happen if Amy assigned Jonah to something, and Jonah didn’t want to do it for whatever reason?” It was like, “Jonah might have a moral issue or a just a fear of it.” And, “Oh, what if it was guns? And what if Glenn was dealing with a similar crisis of feeling unsure about his morality versus store policy?” So, it was like one thing led to another.