Ben Feldman, America Ferrera (Image: NBC)

The last time we checked in with Superstore, I commented that the show had worked its way up to being one of the best network comedies currently on TV. Since then, it’s not only gotten a well-deserved season three renewal but it’s gotten even better at what it does, falling into that second season comedy sweet spot where all of the pieces fit together. The writers and actors have an equally steady grip on the characters, the plots that don’t work are jettisoned in favor of ones that do, and it’s able to indulge in flights of fancy not just limited to its interstitials of the weirdos who shop at Cloud 9.

As the title “Glenn’s Kids” implies, this week’s set piece is Glenn bringing together all of his foster children, in the hopes of getting a good family photo for his wife. (“Obviously, we’ll Photoshop in the prison ones.”) The detail that Glenn has a large foster brood has been dropped before, but this is the first time we’ve seen him parenting anyone who isn’t his apathetic employees. Given how often Superstore gets comedic mileage out of Glenn’s pathetic nature, it’s nice to get a reminder that he’s a fundamentally decent guy and cares about helping these kids out. Similarly, it’s also nice to get the reminder that this doesn’t work out so well for him either, between the kids drawing on Mateo and eating Jonah’s breakfast with no fear of repercussion.

The most well-behaved of these kids is the oldest, his 25-year-old daughter Kristen. Brenda Song is a welcome presence on any show from New Girl to Scandal—even shows as transparently awful as Dadsand Superstore is no exception to that rule. She gets a good opportunity to bounce off the main cast by becoming a potential love interest for Jonah, a move that sets off some of the usual frictions in the store. Glenn doesn’t want anyone questionable dating his little girl but can’t say it himself, Amy tries to fix it but winds up making it worse, and the whole thing builds to a web of lies that Kristen has to cut through in frustration. She fits nicely into this world, and it’s welcome that the door’s left open for her to return.

Glenn and Jonah interacting in this new context taps into something that the show’s been playing with, they’re taking on more familial/adversarial edges as recently as “Wellness Fair” a couple of weeks ago. There’s a lot of great beats here from Mark McKinney, caught between his affection for his newest employee (“Who doesn’t fall in love with Jonah? So gorgeous”), his care for his daughter, and his inability to take any position that makes him look like the bad guy. While any serious conflicts between the two are postponed by Amy’s sacrificial nature and an abundance of squirrels, his threat to Jonah had just enough steel in it to feel like an explosion is in the realm of possibility.

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Adding a love interest for Jonah also throws another wrench into the will-they/won’t-they of Jonah and Amy, which has grown gradually more plausible this season. Amy’s marriage has deteriorated at a believable rate, Jonah’s more unbearable traits have been ironed out, and they’ve displayed a more genuine chemistry in their workday shenanigans. Yet the writers are still smartly taking their time with it, appropriately casting her efforts to sabotage Jonah’s burgeoning crush as her constant need to help everyone. (And being predictably terrible at it, given that a meth habit is her best excuse why Kristen shouldn’t date Jonah.) There’s no major seismic changes, but the subtle change as Jonah gets into the photo is enough, as much as Amy’s smiles and grimaces—and given the strength of America Ferrera’s expression, that’s saying a lot.

Across the rest of the store the kids cause their own level of mayhem, particularly toddler Bobbie Sue. She slips out of Cheyenne’s care as she’s busy discussing parts five and six of the Step Up series, and Garrett and Dina get drafted to track her down. Here we go into the ever-welcome montage mode: Cheyenne darts around the store, looking for Bobbie Sue in progressively more absurd places and causing progressively more damage each time. Dina’s thrilled to execute one of her emergency scenarios—Code Periwinkle this time around—and takes to kicking down doors and setting traps with survivalist ease. And between sounding like a pedophile over the intercom and arguing with a middle-aged man about free candy, Garrett is reminded why he’s reluctant to get involved with anything.

Nico Santos, Lauren Ash, America Ferrera (Image: NBC)

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The person having the best time with the kids is Mateo, who’s still in a funk post-breakup, spending his time eating bags of candy and scrolling through Jeff’s Instagram. (He’s training for a 5K now.) “Glenn’s Kids” pulls a bit of a misdirect here, first making it seem like he’ll be driven to compete against the kids, only for his manipulative side to win out and pull a Tom Sawyer by challenging them to finish his work. From there it goes into a therapy session, spurred by the discovery of his “Valentine’s Day” keychain. On balance, it makes perfect sense: Mateo can be childish about so many things, kids are the best people to get through to him on serious topics.

It’s a bunch of good beats for each of the characters, though they’re largely lighter plots. Cheyenne has one line about what this means about her as a mother, one that quickly slides into a joke about giving Harmonica to Glenn in trade. (Dina thinks he’s getting a better deal, because she’s younger.) No time is spent on Dina and Garrett’s relationship despite their proximity and the weird way they left things last week, though given their emotions or lack thereof neither is even in the stratosphere of discussing children and adding that would feel off. And while Mateo seems to be motivated to move on, given how much time was spent on his relationship—and the ambivalence about why it ended—it’ll take more than four Jeffs in class to clear this up.

“Glenn’s Kids,” while not hitting the same heights of recent episodes like “Wellness Fair” and “Mateo’s Last Day,” is a necessary breather from the relationship chaos that’s helped Superstore rise to such heights this season. It lays some groundwork for said relationships to get even more complicated down the road, peppering it with the right beats in between: terrifying matter-of-fact observations from Dina, sardonic asides from Garrett, near-breakdowns from Glenn. It remains clear Superstore knows what it’s doing, and things are teed up nicely as we head into season two’s home stretch.

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Stray observations:

  • We’re adding weekly coverage of Superstore to TV Club. Comment now and get 20 percent off your next review of equal or lesser word count!
  • Best “Life In A Big Box Store” interstitial: A series of Bobbie Sue scenes prove she’s doing just fine in the store without her guardians. And they’re terrifically adorable to boot.
  • Amy’s Nametag: Susan.
  • No Sandra this episode, which is always a disappointment.
  • At this point, Jerusha’s joined Vera and Maris in the unseen sitcom wife pantheon. All three of them seem like they’d hang out together to get their legs done. (We are also too afraid to ask.)
  • Cloud 9 photo backdrops include Jerry’s apartment from Seinfeld.
  • Cheyenne on Mateo’s head drawing: “You have one, but I don’t, but we both like them, and sometimes they’re curved.” And if that’s not enough of a clue, the image is also pixellated.
  • Dina continues to remain the absolute best, between her pants-less lunch habits and the fact that her calls for children sound exactly like her bird calls. “I also checked the ovens in Cafe. She’s either not there or she’s been there too long.”
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Marcus remains the absolute worst. His Batman impressions was the most ineffective way to appeal to children since telling them a trick is something a whore does for money. (Or cocaine!)
  • “What do you make of that?” “The woman drinking red wine out of her purse? Yeah, pretty sure she’s an alcoholic.”
  • “The man with wheels has free candy!”
  • “Let me tell you a story about a man named Jeff, and why you shouldn’t date white guys.”
  • “Glenn is right! I am a sassy little liar, and I am very sorry.” Sassy Little Liars, coming to either Freeform or HBO next season.
  • “Good thing you already look like an elf.”

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