When it comes to workplaces being a microcosm of the larger world, look no further than a retail store. If you’ve ever had the oh-so-great misfortune of working in retail then you know that the employees tend to be a diverse group of people — all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, ages, and so on — and with distinct personalities that can clash daily but there’s nowhere you can go to escape it. That’s what functions best in Superstore: Cloud 9 is less of a store and more of a small community of people thrust together in a world that the vast majority of them don’t want to be in but can’t get out of.
“Labor,” the final episode in a first season that got better and more confident as it moved on, is a nice little cap to a nice little sitcom that could’ve used a little more attention. During the cold open, pregnant teen Cheyenne goes into labor and the employees have to snap into action to deliver the baby … until it turns out to be false labor. It’s a great example of how Superstore uses its setting to its advantage at every turn: the “labor” is being filmed and shown on the multiple television screen display, Jonah rushes around trying to get various supplies, Mateo gets distracted trying to find the perfect towel, all while Cheyenne lays on artificial turf and customers shrug it off.
What the episode is really about is not Cheyenne’s labor (thankfully; I can’t really deal with sitcoms that have extended birth scenes) but what will happen afterward because Cloud 9 doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. Another element of Superstore that has really been coming together as the season progressed is the way it depicts the actual hardships of being an overworked, underpaid employee at a big corporation that treats its employees like faceless, nameless workers who are entirely interchangeable and replaceable. It’s not as dire as I make it seem — there’s so much humor that can be found in retail, both on the show and in real life, although it does tend to be a little self-deprecating and/or for self-preservation — but it’s certainly an issue that lingers around such as in “Shoplifter,” about Amy being forced to bring her daughter to work even though it’s against the rules. Cheyenne so desperately needs money to take care of her baby that she won’t be able to take any days off work to be with that baby after she gives birth. Right after her false labor, she slips on her pants and returns to work.
Jonah and Amy’s shared concern over Cheyenne — Amy’s concern is more for Cheyenne, Jonah also has some self-righteousness mixed in — results in them calling corporate headquarters even though Amy knows it won’t mean anything. When Jonah utters the word “union” and Amy later says “strike,” the bigwigs spring into action and send a Labor Relations Consultant named Steve to nip that talk in the bud immediately. It’s all so comically played out (the addition of more people on the call, the interruptions!) but it’s also uneasy, watching the way big corporations treat the little guys. The spin that Steve puts while delivering his presentation just continues this: Cloud 9 isn’t anti-union; it just believes that unions are for people whose employers don’t listen to them which is exactly what’s happening at Cloud 9. The whole thing is a hilarious mess, from Glenn’s inability to recall any other name in the human language besides his own and Steve (the second “Hello, my name’s … Steve” was my biggest laugh of the night) to excerpts of writing on the whiteboard (why do people join unions? They’re swayed by Hollywood celebrity culture!). At the end of the day, however, nothing changes. Jonah’s stupid idealism gets them nowhere, nor does Amy’s smart pragmatism. That’s sort of the way it works in retail: You think conditions might change but it doesn’t; you think that 5 cent raise will mean something but it doesn’t. It’s the same, until you’re no longer there.
Cheyenne did end up giving birth in “Labor,” in a funnily-framed scene featuring Amy and Jonah arguing — as they tend to do — while, through the blurry windows, we can see Cheyenne going into labor as her coworkers scramble to help her. After, she casually talks about going to work tomorrow — as if she didn’t just expel a small human being from her vagina a few minutes earlier — and Glenn realizes that he can’t just let this happen. Cloud 9 is his home and these employees are his family. He has to take care of his family. So he suspends Cheyenne with pay for violating company rules (such as leaving her insides all over the floor) for six weeks, allowing her to take maternity leave without losing the cash. It’s very sweet, and it allows Glenn to do something nice (as is his nature) while still sort of within the rules (also his nature). But no good deeds go unpunished and Glenn is soon fired and begging Amy to take over his job.
“Labor” ends on a big note: Amy organizing a walkout to protest Glenn’s firing. The scene with all the employees — so much diversity in a single shot; take note, casting directors — is surprisingly powerful and inspiring for such a funny little gem quietly existing on NBC on Monday night. Lest we get too serious, it’s also nicely undercut by Dina leaving them out in the cold.
It was also a moment that felt totally earned by the ups and downs of the first season. Superstore started off on a vaguely solid note but quickly grew into itself, finding a consistently funny way to balance the sincerity and weirdness of the employees. Superstore even made strong characters out of both Cloud 9 itself (see: the wonderful ”All-Nighter” where the employees are stuck in the store overnight) and of the anonymous shoppers (sometimes it goes big, like Natasha Leggero’s stint in ”Shoplifter” but most often it’s just strange, quick, and funny such as all the interstitials of patrons doing some truly weird shit while wandering the aisles). What’s even more impressive is how Superstore has handled the Will-They/Won’t-They conundrum with Amy and Jonah by revealing, quickly, that Amy is married and has a daughter. There are nice scenes with the two of them opening up to each other or hinting at potential sparks but it all seems relatively inconsequential in comparison to the bigger show itself. It would be nice if they got together but it would be nice if they also stayed apart — neither option would surprise or disappoint me. That’s why I loved that the cliffhanger in “Labor” isn’t about the two sharing some illicit kiss but about the entire store, the entire family of Cloud 9, and their futures — and hopefully, we’ll get to see those futures next season.
- Honestly, I didn’t think that I would like Superstore at all but now I’m going to be the saddest Pilot if it doesn’t get renewed (but I think it will!).
- Watching Superstore manages to simultaneously give me war flashbacks to working retail but also a little bit of fuzzy nostalgia for the strange ways in which me and coworkers amused ourselves in order to forget the frustrating aspects of the job (you know, the condescending customers, the low pay, the refusal of managers to schedule you enough hours to get benefits, etc.).
- But who wouldn’t enjoy a 1980s Arabian Nights Under The Sea Harry Potter theme party?
- Three favorite Glenn moments: “Just swinging that big ol’ wiener around,” baptizing Cheyenne’s baby out of habit, and “I know names besides Steve! There’s Glenn and then there’s …. Steve.”
- Garrett’s been MVP of this season for me. “What if Rosa Parks—” “WHOA!”