The first season finale of NBC’s Superstore left the employees of Cloud 9 in a bit of a lurch—particularly Glenn, the store manager played by Mark McKinney. After granting unauthorized pregnancy leave to new mother Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom), Glenn was relieved of his position, prompting many of the store’s employees to walk out in a show of solidarity with their chirpy, socially conservative boss. Prior to taking the part on Superstore, McKinney made himself familiar to television audiences as a member of The Kids In The Hall, a writer and performer (in separate stints separated by a decade) on Saturday Night Live, and co-star and co-creator of the Canadian cult hit Slings And Arrows. While promoting Superstore’s second season—which begins Thursday, September 22, at 8 p.m.—at the Television Critics Association press tour, McKinney spoke to The A.V. Club about the resolution of the walk-out cliffhanger, figuring out how Glenn should speak, and the Slings And Arrows prequel that’s currently seeking a TV home.
The A.V. Club: Let’s start by talking about Glenn in general. Where is he at at the beginning of season two? The end of season one is a very definitive moment in his life—where does he go from there?
Mark McKinney: He has a moment of stalwart integrity. I can’t give too much away, obviously we have an enormous cliffhanger. Not since “Who Shot J.R.?”, sir. But he certainly has to struggle for his job. Corporate has eyes on the store now. So this is kind of the overarching thing. But we pick right back up—the first episode picks up literally a split-second after we left it.
AVC: How was it doing the Olympics episode between seasons one and two? That’s an interesting little side-step for the show, folding its timeline back to before all the excitement of the finale.
MM: I kind of liked it. The writers’ room is pretty agile and pretty good. They cooked up a great episode. Yeah, I was surprised. I thought it would feel like an infomercial. It wasn’t at all. It was a genuine episode just plunked back from this time.
AVC: Even after one season, it feels like we know enough about these characters and Cloud 9 that it’s fairly easy to put them in a scenario like that and still make it interesting.
MM: There was an interesting point midway through the first season where we did an episode called “The All-Nighter,” and it was kind of perfectly timed. I don’t think I could ever—I’ve run shows, and done a bunch of things—it was a perfectly timed thing. It was the exact moment where we were allowed to capitalize on the characters that the audience had come to know. Everything else is sort of degrees of introduction up to that point, and then afterwards, yes, then you can do an Olympic episode, because it’s everybody getting excited by the Olympics and you’re interested in the way that they are excited by it—or indifferent to it.
AVC: Running other shows, starting out with Kids In The Hall—what do you look for in a comedic ensemble?
MM: It’s three-dimensionality of character—like strong, strong character. I’ve always been a character dude. To me, true situational characters are characters that are somewhat 3-D, ignited by some kind of emotion or quest or something, and then realistically colliding. That’s what a true situation in comedy is, and that’s what I look for. I think we get in spades with Superstore. It feels like a rooted world, it feels like you don’t really have to say or do too much to imagine what Glenn’s home life is like or Jonah’s or Amy’s or Cheyenne’s with her baby Harmonica and her boyfriend Bo. I think there has to be a tinge of realism and sincerity in the storytelling. Even if it gets crazy: I think 30 Rock has that. In a way, it’s Tina musing on her life at NBC. And because I went through that mill, I know what she’s doing.
AVC: What do you picture Glenn being at home like?
MM: I love Glenn as a character, because he’s an insanely positive character. He’s spiritually motivated, though not always on target. He has 13 mouths to feed at home, and most of those are foster kids. I don’t know if we ever established whether he has biological children or not. I don’t think he does, actually. So in other words, he runs this kind of zoo, in this positive way, and he’s constantly broken, overworked, and stuff like that, but endlessly shines on. So his place is a little bit overrun. There’s probably a room with just brick on the walls where they throw some of the kids when they’re having tantrums. His wife, Jerusha, he loves, but she may be not totally stable. We haven’t met her yet.
AVC: Will we meet her?
MM: I kind of hope so, that would be really kind of fun, especially with a name like Jerusha. You know two things about her: She’s Belgian, and according to “The All-Nighter,” she’s kind of sexy.
AVC: Do you feel like he has more control at home, or at the store?
MM: Neither. The world exists to sabotage his dignity, which is endlessly replenishing, and deciding to take the high road—well, no, it isn’t even about taking the high road, it’s about just forcing optimism onto things.
AVC: The voice you do as Glenn is a very bold acting choice.
MM: Did you buy it?
AVC: It seemed so big at the beginning of the season, but I became very accustomed to it. Where did it come from?
MM: Well, I sort of did a version of a character like this in this thing that Bruce McCulloch did, but that character was very serious, and not joyful at all. This, when I read the script, and I was trying to sort of have this pleasant but plodding type of person, when I slowed the voice down and let it start to creep up the register it made every line better and better until I arrived at this place [In the character’s voice.] where he’s a guy who talks to you and he’s very sincere. But there’s something [Whistles.] a little spectrum-y, a little bit off about him. But it is a big choice, and it’s fantastic, and I think that you don’t see a lot of the sitcoms I grew up on—My Mother The Car, Get Smart, Bewitched—where people could really kind of throw something out there.
AVC: Wanting to make that kind of impact as early as possible—do you think that comes from your sketch-comedy experience?
MM: It was definitely a sketch choice, but fortunately, the playground that was Kids In the Hall let me see how far you could take a character choice like that, and how much you could play with it, and how well you could be rewarded as long as you were vigilant about not what we would call “schlocking out” the character. Keeping it three-dimensional, trying to keep it rooted, trying to keep it emotionally based—I think you’re safe, I think you can do something like that. But it was never a question of impact, the script just made more sense when I played it that way. Maybe the producers didn’t know that wasn’t my real voice, [Laughs.] and they got there, and they saw me, and they said “Hey Mark, we’re so pleased,” and I answered them, and they went, “Oh, shit.” But they haven’t said anything yet.
AVC: Is there ever any talk of a Slings And Arrows revival? Is that universe closed at this point?
MM: We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now. We have a prequel locked and loaded that we’re going to set up somewhere. It’s a good one. It’s a true prequel, it goes back several years, almost to the foundation of the New Burbage Festival itself. It’s a great story.
AVC: Do you think it might get picked up?
MM: We were with the CBC in Canada, as we were with the original Slings And Arrows—and the original, they dropped it right before, almost at this exact same point, we were ready to go. And unfortunately, I think the almost the identical thing happened. So now we’re looking around. But it’s a vastly different landscape. We might be looking down here [in the United States], we might be looking up there, I’m not sure.
AVC: Do you find that a lot of people have been finding the show after the fact on DVD and streaming?
MM: The afterlife of this show, if anything, has been stronger than Kids In The Hall. It’s constantly being rediscovered and name-checked. It keeps showing up in The New Yorker. I guess there aren’t that many shows that reference the arts as a life, and so, when one comes along and sort of does a nice little play on it, I think it gets held pretty dear. I first started to get a sense of its virality, if that’s a word, when—this is way back—George Wendt, who was touring 12 Angry Men around the country, said, “Oh no, we’ve only got the first two episodes. Can you please send the rest?” So I sent them off to the cast.
AVC: Having worked within the American TV system and the Canadian TV system, do you have a preference between the two? Is one easier? Do they each have their own unique challenges?
MM: I think the Canadian system—and I may be talking about something that’s 10 years out of date now—is creatively very ambitious but without a lot of money. And it’s a slight inversion here, where it’s tons of money, and slightly cookie cutter. But not anymore, because we’re in the Golden Age Of Television. I did do Slings And Arrows in Canada, but I found a huge audience here, and I think if we had done that six years later, we would have wound up on Netflix. It’s that kind of thing. I’m overtly patriotic about Canada—it’s because I’m the son of a Canadian diplomat. I’ve had a great career in both places. I don’t have a preference yet. It’s kind of been a fantastic straddle.