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Superstore - Essential - Review: Socially Distant

Full disclosure: I have not felt particularly “essential” these past few months.

I’ve worked retail for over a year and, when the pandemic started up, I saw a lot of praise on social media for the “bravery” of retail workers continuing to do their jobs while everyone else sheltered in place. It was a sentiment that didn’t translate very well to how we were treated in real life, and soon the term “essential” became hollow. There were so many problems cropping up in my life in the wake of the pandemic that simply being called a “hero” couldn’t fix.

Long story short, that’s why I found myself shouting “THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT FEELS LIKE!” at my TV last night.

Superstore has always been a rather timely show. Featuring excellent storylines about ICE and unionization, among other taboo things, it has always been able to find the perfect amount of levity while also giving these sensitive topics the seriousness they deserve. Season 6, themed around the COVID-19 pandemic still devastating the world, is not only a great example of this, but may just end up being the show’s crowning achievement.

The episode starts all the way back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic - ah, remember those days? During a meeting in the breakroom, the Cloud 9 gang is discussing Amy and Jonah’s impending move to California so Amy can take a job at Zephra corporate. The meeting is interrupted as the news about many of the early major pandemic developments come in all at once: public places closing, the NBA season cancelled, Tom Hanks’ COVID diagnosis and - as Cheyenne sadly confirms to Mateo - Rita Wilson’s, too.

One week later, Amy’s Zephra start date has been pushed back indefinitely and the first guidelines from Zephra corporate come in on how to handle the virus. “It’s all a little up in the air - just like this virus!” Amy says. “Just kidding, it’s not airborne. Well, we don’t know that, it could be.” Meanwhile, Marcus is taking the “Everyone is overreacting” approach to the situation, while Jonah warns that everyone should already be wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings - like an enormous enclosed building constantly filled with employees and customers. “That sounds like here!” Glenn gasps.

Glenn and Dina celebrate when Zephra’s memo calls them “heroes,” although Garrett wonders if they’re still heroes if they’re only there because they have to be. No matter, Dina takes her role as an essential worker to heart, and begins using a whistle to corral shoppers as the store gets more and more rowdy. As customers fight over the last package of toilet paper, Jonah and Amy watch in horror, but still convinced that the whole ordeal is a temporary situation. “A couple weeks, we’ll be back to normal!” Amy says. Remember those days?

The rest of the episode takes multiple time jumps as the pandemic progresses, starting in April as the employees get their first guidelines for social distancing, mask wearing, and extensive cleaning procedures - “Oh, okay, so (clean) everything the air touches. Got it, easy” (As someone who was on cleaning shift for a month and a half, I can relate).

Marcus, we learn, is out of commission after catching the virus at a spring break party by the lake, possibly a reference to the clip that went viral early-pandemic of an enormous pool party in the Lake of the Ozarks. As just an aside: did anyone else think that the joke later in the episode, where Marcus gets frustrated for missing the Tiger King craze because he was in the ICU, was shockingly dark (even for a show with a recurring bit about finding severed feet in the parking lot)?

Zephra won’t provide masks or other PPE to the Cloud 9 employees, meaning that Amy has to get creative - chopping off a stuffed bear’s head to get the bandana off its neck, although Jonah then points out that she could’ve just untied it. As they’re working on getting masks from wherever they can find, Amy gets a call from her new boss, asking that she jump onto a Zoom meeting for her new position. It’s just one meeting, she figures, and agrees. Around the rest of the store, Garrett puts up a piece of plastic over customer service as a makeshift shield, and Cheyenne and Sandra begin to hide toilet paper and other essentials in the ceiling of the store so that there will be some left for the employees at the end of the day.

Glenn and Dina, meanwhile, are still basking in the joy of being “local heroes,” but that doesn’t last long when a customer takes off his mask to sneeze directly on Glenn (something which I confirm with a heavy heart is disgustingly true-to-life). As they go out back to hose Glenn down, Sayid discovers Sandra and Cheyenne’s stockpiling plan and asks them to hide a few things for him as well.

Jumping to June: the breakroom has moved to the warehouse to help enforce social distancing, and we see the employees react with distaste when they find out that Zephra has yet to send them PPE, but managed to send anti-looting gear in response to the George Floyd protests (which Jonah points out have been mostly peaceful). After Sayid told other people they were doing it, Sandra and Cheyenne’s supply hoarding has turned into a small business, and Glenn and Dina have to deal with a maskless “Karen” who insists she has a medical condition, but also says that if Glenn is asking her to wear a mask that he must be a “Satan worker” (“Satan? He’s the one person that I would never work for!”).

And all the while, Amy has been trying to manage Store 1217 while also doing her new job via Zoom, and we see that her having to split her time has been taking a toll on her, her employees, and her relationship with Jonah. Everything seems to be crumbling around Amy and the Cloud 9 employees - and eventually, the actual store is crumbling around them, as Cheyenne and Sandra’s stockpile in the ceiling gets too heavy and supplies come raining down out of the sky (which the customers immediately pounce on, of course).

As Jonah cleans up the mess, he and Amy talk about her working two jobs. When Amy admits she’s being spread too thin, Jonah agrees that “something has to change.”

Flash forward again, however, and not much has. Glenn announces that the morning meeting will be foregone, because Amy’s on a big Zoom call with the Zephra CEO - something that she didn’t even tell Jonah about. That Zoom call does seem to go well (in spite of a hilariously relatable bit where Amy’s Zoom keeps cutting out), because Amy gets Kira to finally consider sending Cloud 9 PPE.

Dina finds Glenn in the garden center, counting pots, and after her initial confusion, realizes that he’s pretending not to be overwhelmed. We get a really nice moment between the two where they both sit down and silently recognize that being a “hero,” more often than not, is not as great as it sounds.

A kind customer buys the employees some beer, and after close they all sit in the cafĂ© and reflect over the craziness of the past few months. “Well, the one good thing about being relentlessly exposed to this virus is that we’re all doing it together,” Mateo says, then, after a beat - “No one tell Justine we’re here.”

Aaaaand then the episode ended, hooray!

Alright, okay, fine.

In the episode’s closing scene, Jonah finds Amy in her office and tells her that the rest of the Cloud 9 employees are hanging out downstairs and invites her to join. Amy has even more exciting news, however: the Zephra offices are finally re-opening, and the two celebrate that they’re finally moving to California. Everything seems great, but as they hug, the panicked look on Amy’s face tells us that they might not be moving to California, after all.

I’ll get to the rest of the episode in a minute, but first things first: I’m terrified, folks. I’m a ‘shipper ‘till the end, and I’ve absolutely adored Jonah and Amy’s ‘ship. A fresh, unique take on both the “coworkers to lovers” and the “excruciatingly slow burn” tropes, Jonah and Amy’s awkward, flirtatious, mutually supportive partnership was a testament to the Superstore writing team’s ability to write compatible characters, and a shining contradiction to the commonly-held belief that will they/won’t theys can’t be interesting after the characters get together.

When I heard America Ferrera was leaving the show, I tried to hold out hope that the writers would find some way to salvage “Simmosa” - a long-distance relationship, a promise to reunite post-pandemic, maybe even a Maris Crane-style situation in which Amy is around all the time but we never see her. We have to wait until next week’s 100th episode to see, but just by going off the look on Amy’s face at the end of this episode, I fear that the end the writers had in mind is possibly a bit more permanent.

On a much more positive note, I am so thankful that Superstore is back. As a retail worker, it’s always nice to see my day-to-day struggles personified. Especially this year, in these…*cough* in these…*gag* ...unexpected times…*sigh*, it’s nice to see recognition of just how insane our lives have been. Like I mentioned, multiple times during the episode I found myself yelling at my TV in excitement as the Cloud 9 gang went through exactly what I've been going through since March.

What’s more, Superstore has always been unique in the broadcast workplace comedy scene for its ability and courage to consistently call out the injustice thrown at minimum wage workers pretty much daily. While I knew the moment I heard the show would be incorporating the pandemic into the plot that the writers would have some great things to say, I didn’t realize just how cathartic it would feel to see my own experiences echoed and validated in a medium I respect and appreciate.

I’m really excited for this upcoming season. Superstore has consistently been one of the best comedies network TV has to offer, and the current state of the world has given it a smorgasbord of brand new avenues to explore. A big, bright light in the never-ending darkness that is 2020, dare I say that Superstore season 6 will be essential viewing.

What did you think of the Superstore premiere? What do you think will happen to Jonah and Amy? And how sad/excited are you for the 100th episode next week, which will also serve as America Ferrera's last? Let me know in the comments!

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