‘Superstore’ May Be The First Great Retail Workplace Sitcom

If Black Friday videos of people running over and through retail clerks brought you back to a time in your life when you were standing on those same front lines in-between rabid consumers and cheap consumer goods, then NBC’s Superstore may be for you.

The show, which had a soft launch on NBC last night before premiering in earnest on Jan. 4 at 8 p.m., comes from the mind of Office writer Justin Spitzer and was clearly designed to speak to retail drones in the way that The Office spoke to office drones — a neat pursuit considering the dearth of shows and films that have aimed to tell stories about the unique world of big-box retail.

Superstore stars Mad Men‘s Ben Feldman as Jonah (a good-looking and well-meaning late-twenty-something fresh to the world of big box retail) and Ugly Betty lead America Ferrera as Amy (a responsible floor supervisor with a rarely mentioned kid; she’s somewhere between Jonah’s nemesis, friend, and workflirt). Like The Office, Superstore makes it clear that its two leads are circling some kind of will-they/won’t-they courtship that has more than a few roadblocks in its path. The fun here, however, is in Spitzer’s willingness to let the two characters antagonize each other a little rather than fully commit to the pursuit. It’s also nice to see a show that doesn’t bury itself in exposition right out of the gate. Spitzer and company realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and they’re okay with a slow reveal of who these characters are and why they’re all stuck working at the Cloud 9 superstore.

Despite the strong presence of Ferrera (who is firm but fallible in a measured way that speaks to the show’s ability to not go broad in the construction of its characters) and Feldman (who seems looser and more at ease than he did in last season’s A to Z) Superstore feels more like an ensemble show, especially in the episodes that follow the pilot. Stand-outs in the group are militant administrator/boy-crazy oversharer Dina (Lauren Ash), Muppet-voiced store manager and outspoken Christian, Glenn (Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney), and the laid-back and wise Garrett (Colton Dunn), who gets most of the show’s laugh-out-loud lines. Garrett is the clear star of the second episode, “Magazine Profile,” thanks to the way he handles being stalked like prey by a magazine photographer who wants to put him on the cover of the company’s magazine due to the fact that he’s in a wheelchair.

A third episode, “Shots and Salsa,” (which is available on Hulu) will likely get the most knowing laughter from those who have worked retail thanks to the way Garrett advocates abstinence from helping people on the job.

That episode, as well as the unaired ones are also more representative of the show’s comedic tone than the pilot as those episodes make better use of Superstore‘s unique setting, the adversarial relationship clerks have with customers, and the odd camaraderie that exists between co-workers that are busy trying to stave off boredom while dealing with the ill effects of seeing society at its near worst — when it’s on its knees, wrestling a little old lady for a $4 DVD.