The Union-Tribune spoke with stars of the hit-series ‘Superstore’ about their gripping finale, killer comedic timing, and willingness to tackle social issues.
NBC’s hit comedy ‘Superstore’ has never shied away from tackling big social issues.
From unionization and healthcare to maternity leave and sexual harassment, the show has managed to tackle the issues with a levity and profoundness rarely seen in a workplace-comedy.
But with its season four finale earlier this year, the show raised the stakes more than ever and took on one of the issues most dominating political conversation today: undocumented immigration.
“Superstore,” created by one of the writers of “The Office,” follows the lives and hijinks of employees of Cloud 9, a large big-box store that is more-or-less a Walmart. The show boasts an all-star cast of comedic talent and is one of the most diverse on television. It stars America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”), Ben Feldman (“Mad Men”), Mark McKinney (“Saturday Night Live”), Lauren Ash (“Super Fun Night”), Colton Dunn (“Parks and Recreation”), Nico Santos (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Nichole Bloom (“Shameless”) and Kaliko Kauahi (“Raven’s Home”), to name a few.
Last season, the show ended with a cliffhanger finale with Santos’ character, Mateo, being taken into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in front of his fellow coworkers, and the workers of Cloud 9 deciding to unionize. Audience members have known that Mateo was undocumented for years and one of the ongoing themes of season four were discussions about whether the workers would unionize.
The finale was shocking and heartbreaking but gained huge praise from audiences and critics alike.
At Comic-Con Thursday afternoon, the Union-Tribune had the chance to talk with the cast of the show about their powerful finale, killer comedic timing and character arcs, and their unabashed willingness to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing America today.
Ash — who stars as Dina, the intense and hilarious assistant manager of Cloud 9 — said she and co-star Ferrera were in tears by the end of the table read for the season four finale. And said she’s so proud to be part of a show that can be really funny while still helping to foster real conversation.
“It would be disingenuous to not address those kind of things that are happening in the country when we are a show that is really representing kind of a cross-section of what this country is and all the different representation, ethnicities, body types and all of the above,” Ash said. “I think it’s great and really cool that we get to do a show that is really funny but also gets to incorporate those real life things.”
Santos, who stars as Mateo, expressed a similar type of pride in the show and felt it was really powerful for the show to talk about undocumented immigration and its different forms in a way that’s usually lost in the current political dialogue.
“A lot of the time, when we talk about undocumented immigrants, it’s these faceless migrant immigrants that people keep talking about that they don’t know and sort of don’t relate to,” he said. “So when something happens like Mateo being taken by ICE at the end of season 4, somebody you’ve seen in your living room for the past four years … then it becomes so much more profound and powerful.”
The cast also talked about the process of filming the fan-favorite “breakroom” scenes, where you have the whole cast and lots of improvisation.
The scenes are really challenging to shoot with 20 to 25 people in an enclosed room. The scenes can sometime take up to six hours to film as directors have to catch all the different angles and cast members have to remember all the different bits of improv they worked in for the various takes.
Despite having so many actors in the scene, the improv and playing off of so many different actors is actually quite easy and a ton of fun for the cast, according to McKinney, who stars as the constantly positive Glenn, Cloud 9’s store manager who stepped down to become a floor worker during the past season.
“It’s not hard to improv, the hard thing is to get us to stop,” McKinney said with a laugh. “I feel bad for the director because that’s our weekly reunion ... in the breakroom scenes, everybody is there and we kind of go off.”
Ferrera — who stars in the lead role of Amy, Cloud 9’s current store manager who was a longtime associate — expressed similar fondness for the breakroom scenes.
Those scenes, she said, really embody a lot of what makes “Superstore” so special, as well as how having such a diverse cast of characters makes those scenes possible.
“You couldn’t do that if you didn’t have the diversity, if you didn’t acknowledge the reality that this diversity of life experiences often have to coexist and what does that mean?” Ferrera said. “Sometimes it makes for a little conflict and drama and sometimes it makes for hilarity, and it’s all grounded in characters who at the end of the day have a love for each other and, at the very least, a little dignity and respect.”
Ferrera added that the respect and love among all these characters of different backgrounds is part of what makes the show aspirational, and is a sign of hope many Americans identify with as they look at the current climate of the country.
“I think ‘Superstore’ at the moment is something that so many Americans are craving,” Ferrera said. “Can we get back to a world where we have different opinions and still coexist and have a normal sense of decency around each other?”