Casting and chemistry can, occasionally, trump concept. So NBC’s big-box-store development approach receives an unexpected (and slightly ironic) infusion of energy from “Superstore,” thanks largely to America Ferrera and Ben Feldman as its adorable, meant-for-each-other leads. While much of this is familiar – and even echoes that “People of Walmart” Web meme – the show comes closer to approximating the desired mix of sweetness and silliness than most of the network’s workplace series have since “The Office.” Receiving an early preview behind “The Voice,” “Superstore” returns in January with the also-OK “Telenovela,” offering a pretty good comedy hour, at reasonable prices.
Despite a single-camera format, “Superstore” only once ventures beyond the parking lot of the fictional wholesaler, Cloud 9, during the four episodes previewed. The premiere introduces Jonah (“Mad Men’s” Feldman, last seen on NBC in the short-lived romantic comedy “A to Z”), who immediately antagonizes the level-headed Amy (Ferrera) by giving off an elitist vibe.
The episodes don’t divulge anything about his background, or much about hers. But even when they’re bickering (which is often), it’s obvious that he’s smitten, and that she’s more intrigued by him than she cares to let on.
Not surprisingly, everything else around them is played much, much more broadly, from the hyper-vigilant assistant manager Dina (Lauren Ash), who is convinced Jonah has the hots for her; to the clueless boss (Mark McKinney of “Kids in the Hall”), a Christian who seeks to inspire employees by playing the “Jurassic Park” theme and, in a later episode, awkwardly tries to demonstrate how cool he is with the idea of gay marriage. In another, the wheelchair-bound Garrett (Colton Dunn) spends the entire show trying to avoid a company photographer, knowing that a disabled African-American is irresistible fodder for the corporate magazine.
Created by “The Office” alum Justin Spitzer, “Superstore” is predictable in a lot of places. But then, the show will deliver a surprise, like a riff on “American Beauty,” or someone describing Jonah as being so cute that he’s like “a panda and a Disney princess had a baby” and, later, “like a villain on the CW.”
Admittedly, NBC’s recent comedies have generally done a whole lot of heavy lifting in terms of lowering expectations, and filling the breach between editions of “The Voice” isn’t the most promising of scheduling options. (The network slightly reduced the episode order, maintaining the decision was predicated on budgets and scheduling, not on a lack of faith.)
Whatever the commercial prospects, though, the “Superstore”-“Telenovela” combo not only strikes a blow for diversity by presenting two shows with Latina leads (Eva Longoria headlining the other), but actually delivers some laughs in the process. And even if they’re not actually quite as cute as a panda, for NBC, that’s still pretty, pretty good.