Few shows are better equipped to reflect the current pandemic than one about essential workers in a big-box store.
So those behind “Superstore” felt compelled to rework Season 6 of the sitcom.
“We all decided that it would be crazy irresponsible of us, a show that is tackling hot-button topics and the public and political and zeitgeist-y interest, if we just pretended that this massive, global, life-defining pandemic didn’t exist,” said Ben Feldman, who plays sales associate Jonah.
Star America Ferrera was supposed to leave the show at the end of Season 5, but then coronavirus swept the nation and globe, and that finale never happened as planned. Ferrera’s departure came in the second episode of this season.
Her character, Amy Sosa – Jonah’s girlfriend and manager of the fictional St. Louis store Cloud 9 – had scored a sweet promotion to an executive gig with the store’s parent company, Zephra. The show will still wrap up that storyline, Feldman promises, but first, it has to catch up to reality.
Feldman, known for roles in shows such as “Mad Men” and “A to Z,” wouldn’t give much away about Season 6, but he called it a “complete change in energy. … We needed to start anew after America left.”
“There’s obviously a giant elephant that can’t just sit there quietly in the room,” Feldman said. “But the Jonah and Amy storyline can sit out for a bit while we catch everyone up to what happened in our virus world.”
By the end of last season, Jonah was making plans to move to California with Amy and her children after she got the Zephra promotion.
“His whole MO is finding himself and his place and how he can contribute to the world,” Feldman said of his character. “What is the best use for Jonah? This season, far more than the others, he doesn’t have the second half of his identity. He has to scramble and figure out why I’m here or should I be leaving? Is it useful for me to still be here?”
Jonah, a college graduate who landed at Cloud 9 out of desperation, never quite fit in. Over the years, he’s seemingly gotten over his elitism and sense of superiority. As recently as last season, he was using his education to unionize the company, rather than hold it over his co-workers.
“Superstore” has never looked down on its blue-collar workers.
“These people are just everyday people,” Feldman said. “They’re all of us. A lot of people ideologically or aesthetically are all represented on our show. The show is a giant mirror to the American way of life. If we were making fun of them, we’d be making fun of people.”
The show laughs with its characters, not at them. At times, it can be serious, like last season’s ICE storyline with Mateo (Nico Santos) or Amy’s internal conflict over being a token promotion in Zephra’s lily-white executive suite. “Superstore” balances both the fight for maternity leave for employees and the ridiculous nature of Glenn Sturgis (Mark McKinney), the former store manager whose high-pitched voice and childlike innocence led to more confusion than anything.
Now, it’ll cover coronavirus too, even if that ruins some of the escapism.
“‘Superstore’ talks about what’s happening in life right now and the American conversation,” Feldman said. “It would be bananas not to do COVID-19. If you don’t want to watch people in masks dealing with things in a funny way, then watch another show.”