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'Superstore' heads into its Season 1 finale as one of TV's best new comedies

'Superstore' heads into its Season 1 finale as one of TV's best new comedies
Ben Feldman as Jonah and America Ferrera as Amy in the Season 1 finale of NBC's "Superstore." (Michael Yarish / NBC)

There just aren't enough people talking about NBC freshman comedy "Superstore."

With its Season 1 finale airing Monday night, "Superstore" has overcome middling initial reviews to become not just the bright spot of NBC's comedy lineup, but a solid ratings performer, earning an average of 5 million viewers a week with no lead-in programming.

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Starring America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty"), who also serves as a producer on the show, and Ben Feldman ("Mad Men"), "Superstore" centers on a Cloud 9 location, a Midwestern big box store populated by a diverse and ridiculous batch of employees, a straight forward set-up for a workplace comedy, but one that is morphing into one of the best new comedies on television.

"Superstore" is rapidly evolving into the kind of show that becomes one of the best comedies on television in its second season. (Said second season is not confirmed yet, but ratings are good enough that the show's renewal seems inevitable.)

The main reason to expect such improvement from a second season is largely due to the show's pedigree. Creator and show runner Justin Spitzer spent seven years writing on NBC's hit series "The Office," an experience he found formative to his comedic sensibilities.

"I'm not sure if my ideas about comedy were formed because of my time on 'The Office' or if Greg Daniels hired me because he could sense that already present in my humor," Spitzer told the Los Angeles Times in an interview.

Cutting his teeth on "The Office" is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the show itself, a workplace comedy centered on a Scranton, Pa., paper company, has launched several of the best workplace comedies of the modern era.

Michael Schur, co-creator of "Parks and Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" got his start on "The Office," while Dan Goor, the other creator of "Brooklyn," got his start on "Parks."

The similarity of these shows goes beyond the workplace comedy settings, as "The Office," "Parks and Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" all made huge strides in quality in their second seasons. Comedy, particularly ensemble comedy, needs time to gel into something cohesive and often shows are able to perfect that balance by the time a new season rolls around.

Comic chemistry has already improved in leaps and bounds as the first season of "Superstore" has progressed, with its best episode of the season coming in its ninth episode, "All-Nighter," in which the whole of the cast is trapped in the store overnight and forced to entertain themselves.

Spitzer said that the genesis for the episode itself came from watching the cast goof around between takes on the sprawling soundstage where the series has built its reproduction of a big box store. "It's the kind of episode that you can't do second or third, because the audience needs to know and care about who these characters are."

And "Superstore" is never better than when its spectacular cast, which includes Mark McKinney, Lauren Ash, Colton Dunn, Nichole Bloom and Nico Santos, along with Ferrera and Feldman, is allowed to bounce off of each other in a single overarching story line, as opposed to three separate plots.

For Feldman, who plays Jonas, newcomer to the Cloud 9 family, being part of a large cast serves as something of a relief. A veteran of AMC's "Mad Men," Feldman's most recent television role was on NBC's "A to Z," which revolved largely around the performances of Feldman and co-star Cristin Milioti.

"With a smaller cast, the burden of plot always falls to you, but with a larger cast, that pressure is lower," Feldman said.

But another aspect of what makes "Superstore" special stems from its all-American setting.

Regardless of what side of the counter they're on, most Americans have spent more time than they'd like to admit within the confines of a Walmart or Target or the like, meaning that a sitcom set in that environment will automatically trigger a sense of familiarity to most audience members who tune in.

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Feldman recounted the events of filming the pilot saying, "We filmed the first episode in a functioning Kmart and between scenes people would come up and ask us where to find things. We would help them find things as best we could."

Thought it's impossible to say whether a second season of "Superstore" is on the horizon, for now, there's time enough to enjoy the pleasures of a new workplace sitcom's steady improvement into something special.

The Season 1 finale of NBC's "Superstore" airs Monday night at 8 p.m and previous episodes are currently available to stream on Hulu.

Follow me @midwestspitfire

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