A few decades ago, TV Guide Magazine briefly ran an annual cover feature called “The Best Show You’re Not Watching.” It was a chance to spotlight series that should have bigger audiences and more awards acclaim. If this were a feature running at Variety today, I would put NBC’s “Superstore” at the top of the list.
“Superstore” had a good run, ending this year after six seasons (113 episodes). And yet, it frustrates me to no end that the comedy never quite got the attention, or entered the pop culture zeitgeist, the way it warranted. It’s worthy of a place right alongside other great NBC workplace comedies such as “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” but it didn’t have the same visibility those shows did. For one thing, “Superstore” has never received a single Emmy nomination.
Ultimately I think “Superstore” wasn’t helped by the fact that it was on broadcast TV. There hasn’t been much room for those comedies in recent years at the Emmys. There seems to be a bit of a “prestige” bias seeping into an overemphasis on streaming and premium series at the expense of broadcast and cable, and that’s unfortunate.
“Superstore” star and producer Ben Feldman tells me he’s still a little puzzled why the show hasn’t received its due. “I felt like we’ve been doing really great, thoughtful work,” he says. “I see what goes into this show and it’s not just some silly sitcom. It’s a show that talks about and deals with really important issues in ways that we don’t see on other shows. And this cast is incredible.” Not only was “Superstore” funny, but it was real.
The set was authentic — it didn’t skimp on the little details of what a big box store looks like these days — and the stories went deep into what the lives of these fictional characters would really be like. Immigration, labor, safety, health care, gun regulations, race relations: This was a show that managed to integrate the important issues of our time into stories about the everyday lives of American workers.
“That was ‘Superstore’s’ main thing: we’re reflecting you,” Feldman says. “We’re going to talk about the things you’re talking about. And it was always organic.”
For fans of “Superstore,” the reaction was deeply personal. I got to see that up close at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, where I had the privilege of moderating the show’s one and only appearance at the event. “Superstore” wouldn’t seem like an obvious Comic-Con show, but there were plenty in the crowd dressed as Amy (America Ferrera) and other characters, and the audience Q&A reflected how much the show has touched their lives. To them, the “Superstore” employees are true superheroes.
Never was that truer than with what ended up being the final season of “Superstore,” which took pains to accurately reflect what the COVID-19 pandemic looked and felt like for the people in retail who were showing up to work every day.
“We worked absolutely tirelessly to make sure that we got the COVID stuff right, showing how COVID affected these people in their lives without making COVID some sort of ideology,” Feldman says. “I think that it really amplified all of the things that we were already talking about on the show. If ever there was a season to really pay attention to the show, it was this one.”
Prestige or not, I agree.