Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Superstore showrunners on crafting a rewarding finale and their favorite long-running gags

Nico Santos as Mateo, Nichole Sakura as Cheyenne, America Ferrera as Amy, Jon Barinholtz as Marcus, Kaliko Kauahi as Sandra, Lauren Ash as Dina, Mark McKinney as Glenn, Colton Dunn as Garrett, Kelly Schumann as Justine, Ben Feldman as Jonah
Nico Santos as Mateo, Nichole Sakura as Cheyenne, America Ferrera as Amy, Jon Barinholtz as Marcus, Kaliko Kauahi as Sandra, Lauren Ash as Dina, Mark McKinney as Glenn, Colton Dunn as Garrett, Kelly Schumann as Justine, Ben Feldman as Jonah
Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

Superstore closed its doors with a one-hour series finale on March 25. With its six-season run, the NBC sitcom etched its name in TV comedy history, not just for its superlative humor but also its accurate representation of the working class. The first half-hour of the finale sees Amy (America Ferrera) return to her old St. Louis stomping grounds to help save the store after the staff learns parent company Zephra might be shutting it down. Despite a moving on-air speech by Jonah (Ben Feldman), the company’s rep tells Amy that the Cloud 9 store viewers have come to know and love will turn into a fulfillment center, a realistic depiction of current corporate restructuring. In the final half-hour, set a month after this revelation, the employees come to terms with their circumstance as a big old “store closing” sign is hung.

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But don’t worry—as witnessed in a well-executed flash forward, everyone gets a happy ending. Jonah is running for city council and has a family with high-powered executive Amy, who quit her California corporate gig with Zephra in solidarity. Dina (Lauren Ash) is finally with Garrett (Colton Dunn) and is the head of the new fulfillment center. Glenn (Mark McKinney) revived his father’s hardware store and hired Mateo (Nico Santos) and Cheyenne (Nichole Sakura). The gang, which includes other employees, Sandra (Kaliko Kauahi), and their significant others, still hangs out at backyard barbecue. The series finale ties up everything nicely, complete with throwbacks and Easter eggs that go all the way back to the pilot, including the glow-in-the-dark stars Jonah used to add a “moment of beauty” to Amy’s day. A similar version now covers the ceiling of their kids’ room.

The show worked well because of its ensemble, who all get their due in poignant voiceovers and comedic scenes. It’s not always easy to achieve a rewarding end, but Superstore showrunners Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller, who were writers and producers before taking over showrunning duties for seasons five and six, found their way despite time constraints. Ahead of the hour-long sendoff, The A.V. Club spoke to Green and Miller about the creative choices they made in the finale, the stories they couldn’t tell, and the running gags they loved to throw in.


The A.V. Club: When did you start charting what the finale would look like?

Jonathan Green: Pretty much as soon as we found it was going to be the series finale, which was around Thanksgiving last year. The first thing we did was reach out to America Ferrera to see if we would get her for at least one episode and we were lucky enough to have her for two and a bit.

AVC: How challenging was it to give a firm resolution to all the storylines with only 15 episodes as opposed to the usual 22?

Gabe Miller: When we found out it was ending, we had already shot nine episodes. We did not have a lot of notice or runway to pivot. Particularly with Jonah’s story, we were just about to introduce Hannah [Maria Thayer], so we were suddenly like “Do we do this at all?” We ended up deciding to go forward with that knowing Hannah wouldn’t be a genuine obstacle, audiences wouldn’t buy that, but she would make things interestingly messy and awkward and I like that we gave Jonah the initiative to at least try and move on.

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AVC: It lent credibility to when he sees Amy again and realizes she is the one.

GM: Yeah, totally.

Ben Feldman as Jonah, America Ferrera as Amy
Ben Feldman as Jonah, America Ferrera as Amy
Image: Trae Patton/NBC
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AVC: Jonah and Amy got to reunite in an organic way and reconnect by talking about The Americans. Do you remember how that joke originated?

JG: I actually haven’t watched The Americans.

GM: Yeah, and I cannot remember who pitched that as the show he’s trying to get her to watch.

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JG: But bringing it back did seem like a way to show she has been thinking about him in California. Even though she hated to give him the satisfaction of it, we really liked what that dialogue had come to symbolize.

AVC: Do you guys have other favorite running gags or jokes that you’ve loved doing?

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JG: There were little things that I don’t even know if the audience noticed but we talked about in the writers room. One that comes to mind is about a customer in the store and an employee wants to talk to her but she says ‘No, sorry, I’m just visiting from Tampa.’ It’s just one line, she walks away, and the employee is frustrated they didn’t get to chat with her. We got the customer back in another episode for a similar moment and this time she says, “No, I’m busy, I just moved here from Tampa.” She comes back in a later episode and, again, an employee wants to talk to her. I’m not sure if it made the final cut but now we had her say, “Sorry, I’m really busy, I’m moving back to Tampa.” It was spread over several episodes and it’s unlikely someone could catch it but I liked that we were telling this tiny little story about a random customer. It was only for us.

GM: One thing that always makes me laugh is how everyone, but primarily Dina and Mateo treat Amy like she is frumpy and plain. Here’s this beautiful, put-together actress and they are just taking it for granted and are casually dismissive.

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JG: To her credit, America was always totally game for those jokes.

AVC: A series finale has a lot of pressure to wrap up the storylines well but also manage fan expectations. This finale seems to achieve that; how did that balance come about?

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JG: I don’t think there was a big conflict between those two for us.

GM: We started to put up these digital cards of the things we would want to see in the finale and it lined up with what we thought fans would want to see as well in terms of endings, satisfying moments, and final things to tap on.

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JG: Obviously we couldn’t include everything we wanted.

AVC: What were some of those unexplored stories?

JG: We had something in an early draft of the finale that was a sendoff for the Glenn robot. All the characters gathered around it and were drinking and had a sendoff ceremony because they found out the robot was going to be returned to Zephra and dismantled. It was their small way to stand up to the man as they were being closed down. They’re thinking, “We are going to do what we want with this,” so they reprogrammed it to think the garden center in the store is like Buenos Aires or something.

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GM: We were going to see the robot ride off into the sunset. We also talked about Garrett, who had previously expressed interest and talked about applying to GameStop. This was obviously before all the GameStop news happened but for a while, we were talking about how, in the finale, we set it up such that Glenn has helped Garrett finally get that job. In the future pop, we would then see Garrett already on his phone, even though it’s his dream job. It points out that it’s really not the work but the people for him, echoing what he says in the voiceover of the finale.

AVC: We do see Glenn hire Mateo in the finale though.

JG: Sturgis And Sons hardware store reopening felt like a nice ending for Glenn. It felt like he’d really be happy and once we had that in mind, it seemed natural he would keep Mateo employed. Glenn has helped him in the past and it made sense for him to reach out again. We also loved the idea of keeping Cheyenne and Mateo as a duo who are still working together.

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AVC: Cloud 9 turns into a fulfillment center. How did you land on that? It was kind of cathartic to watch the store—the setting of the show—close down as we also say goodbye to Superstore.

JG: Part of it is just the reality of what’s happening to stores right now and the move to online shopping.

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GM: It felt more specific as opposed to just closing it down.

JG: We did talk about it though in early versions that the store would close down. But we liked that this way would give Dina and some of the others a good landing place.

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Lauren Ash as Dina Fox in the Superstore series finale
Lauren Ash as Dina Fox in the Superstore series finale
Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC

AVC: The interstitials were always so great. In the finale, who were the kids during those act break scenes? They looked like they were part of your families.

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JG: Not our families but the two girls in the playpen are our executive producer Ruben Fleischer’s daughters and the girl on the potty is [creator] Justin Spitzer’s daughter. If you watch carefully, they’re also in the pilot episode doing the same things but obviously they’ve grown up now. We did the exact same interstitials with them for the last episode.

AVC: Having previously worked on The Office, what experiences did you want to bring from it to Superstore while making this one so distinctive in itself?

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JG: There was a lot from our time and what we learned on The Office from [showrunner] Greg Daniels on the behind-the-scenes writing process, filming process, and even stylistic things that we wanted to bring with us. But in trying to make the show distinctive, I think tonally we let the show go for more visual comedy. The world of the show lent itself itself to that.

GM: With The Office, it was trickier to bring outside people in or even find reasons to do it. That was one nice thing baked into the concept of having this in a store. You constantly have new people coming in as either customers or even employees without having to explain their presence all the time. We had people like Kaliko, who plays Sandra, who were there for one joke but then she was great and popped and we wanted to bring her back for more. Several characters worked that way, like Justine and Sayid.

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JG: Also, we worked on The Office in its final season and saw the process of wrapping up with a series finale, which showed us the enormity of the task. It really helped that we went through it and watched Greg do it.

Staff Writer (TV)