By Rosana Maris Arias on May 4, 2021
You’re on (or should I say in) Cloud 9 — an American big box retail store with almost anything you’d like at your disposal. No, this is no Walmart. Think something a little more boujee — like Target. Unsure of where the toilet paper is, you turn to a blue-vested store associate who points you to the right location. You see someone fall into and destroy the toilet paper tower, so you proceed to checkout. Just as you’re about to exit, a friendly face tells you to “have a heavenly day.”
We see the everyday heroes in our retail stores reflected on “Superstore.” The NBC comedy concluded in March after six seasons of great stories and laughs.
Jonathan Green ’95 and Gabe Miller ’93 are the two masterminds behind the show’s success.They met about 30 years ago and have been co-writing since their first job together in 1997. Green describes their writing partnership as a marriage of sorts, since a lot of life and career decisions were made together.
Green said that co-writing is a much “more fun way to go through the writing career, which can be kind of a lonely thing or a stressful career.”
Green and Miller first became involved with “Superstore” back in 2015, when the show’s creator Justin Spitzer asked them to join the team after the pilot aired. The two previously worked alongside Spitzer in the Emmy Award-winning comedy “The Office.”
Green mentioned that from the start, the two were really like co-showrunners with Spitzer. He and Miller held multifaceted roles as the show’s executive producers; they oversaw the show’s production as well as casting of customer characters, and were heavily involved with the writing of the show among other responsibilities.
“On a comedy show you spend a lot of your time working collaboratively with a group of writers, so we would run the writers’ room most of the time, but we also then as producers had a say in the overall sort of running of the show,” said Green.
“Superstore” has been praised for its genius comedy, diversity and approaches to issues pertaining to low-wage retail workers. The series’ characters and actors represent different backgrounds, genders and overall identities. Many viewers and real store associates see themselves reflected in the show’s characters. Among its many nominations, “Superstore” was nominated for GLAAD Media Awards in 2018, 2020 and 2021. Needless to say, representation was executed well in this show.
Along with elevating diverse voices on-screen, the show includes political conversations surrounding low-wage workers in corporate America, immigration and more. True to its genre, though, the series effectively balanced these explorations with comedic relief.
“We’re proud of being able to pull that [balance] off,” said Miller. “We did like that we could engage with the real things that people are talking about and have it feel like it’s taking place in the real world.”
Green and Miller also noted that they always tried to lead with comedy, and that this may be the reason behind the artful balance of comedy and controversial topics. The show is never overtly didactic.
This is notably seen in break room scenes where the Cloud 9 Store #1217 team engages in these conversations. Such scenes are comedic, not because they diminish the importance of these topics, but because they depict the trueness of such conversations in the real world. The Halloween Costume Stereotypes scene on cultural appropriation comes to mind.
Ultimately, the show consistently delivered. Characters have their quirks — Jonah and his green juice, Dina and her birds and Glenn and his friendly though sometimes clueless personality.
“I love writing confident idiots,” said Miller. “I did really enjoy some of the side characters like Marcus and Justine.”
The show is strong because it’s consistently attentive to its characters, regardless of the size of their role. Even side characters like Marcus, Justine and Brett — who speaks but two words in the entire series — are solid and have their own quirks. Few comedies are able to provide this depth to secondary characters.
Green and Miller became head showrunners at the start of the show’s fifth season, which ran from September 2019 to April 2020. They mentioned that instead of running decisions by Spitzer, as they had done before, the two now had to make final decisions. Though this was daunting in some ways, the co-writers counted their acquaintance with the series and its motivations sufficient to make these calls.
“At that point we felt like we had been with the show long enough and knew what the tone of the show was,” said Green. “We enjoyed stepping into that role and running it ourselves, but it was a lot more work too.”
It had been decided early in the planning of the sixth season that it would be the show’s COVID-19 season because the real world milieu played into the problems created by corporate earlier in the show.
In season six, the “Superstore” characters shared our reality. I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant about viewing COVID-19 dynamics on the screen while living through it. However the show’s take on the pandemic was well-executed and compassionate. Features of the pandemic were constant, but they never felt overwhelming.
In the context of COVID-19, labor issues previously touched on in the show resurfaced as a result of corporate neglect of employees. In particular, corporate had been engaging in a lot of “lip service to what they were doing without actually sending the necessary PPE,” said Green.
While the pandemic played in the background of the final season, other storylines — like Amy and Jonah’s relationship and Sandra and Carol’s animosity — progressed as well, which was comforting because it recentered the show’s premise.
“Superstore” maintained a lively tempo across its six seasons. It never felt like it was dragging any particular story out. In fact, I felt like I could trust the show to not let me down as I awaited new episodes.
“Superstore” came full circle with its series finale, “All Sales Final.” Even with the disbandment of Store #1217, the finale ends on a meaningful, feel-good note. The crew moves on but sticks together in their “post-COVID-19” world. The series leaves its mark on television and will be missed. Admirably, “Superstore” sold with its witty take on the retail experience. Bravo Gabe Miller and Jonathan Green.