Thursday, October 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'Superstore' - A Protest Starts After Jonah Refuses to Sell Guns to Anyone in 'Guns, Pills and Birds'

NBC's Superstore - Episode 2.03 "Guns, Pills and Birds"

When Amy assigns an uncomfortable Jonah to the gun section of Cloud 9, Jonah abuses his right-to-refuse sale to anyone that causes concern, causing an open-carry protest to gather in the store. On principle, Glenn attempts to purchase all of the store's morning-after pills, but finds himself in a moral dilemma when he can't afford them. Dina, Garrett and Mateo hunt down a crow that has flown into the store.

Superstore is not an issues-driven series. It's a show about an ensemble of characters all a part of the same environment. That's been a winning formula on many shows over the years. First and foremost, Superstore is a comedy about these specific characters. And yet, it has also shown a willingness to discuss some unique and topical issues from its own perspective. This is a working class show. That's a point-of-view that isn't a predominant part of the genre right now. The struggles of these characters are relatable. But that also means they have different reactions to some of these big issues. Plus, the show never wants to be preachy. It wants to address these topics because they are a part of the big box store life. It knows that guns and the morning after pill are controversial subjects that many people have passionate opinions about. But it also knows how to put both of those issues into an episode that also has a crow flying into the store. "Guns, Pills and Birds" is insightful about the world but it's also just fun and loose enough to make it a great viewing experience.

Of course, Jonah would have moral objections to working in the gun department. He's proud of his beliefs and makes sure everyone knows what they are at all times. He has no problem speaking up when he isn't comfortable doing something. But again, this is his work assignment. Yes, guns are a sensitive issue. There should be someone experienced working behind the counter. But this is Cloud 9. They sell guns but it's just another department at the store where the employees rotate through. It's as common in this place as all the other departments. Jonah's the one who creates the problem. He wants nothing to do with guns and doesn't believe they are effective as weapons for self protection. Of course, some of the other employees disagree - namely Dina. But this is still a responsibility he has to take on. He has to leave his moral objections at the door. This is his place of employment. He needs to follow the rules. He can't just refuse to do so. However, he can refuse to sell to anyone he deems too suspicious. He gets drunk on that power a little bit which leads to a nice escalation of events throughout the episode.

"Guns, Pills and Birds" does an effective job criticizing both gun owners and anti-gun activists. Jonah believes he can refuse to sell for any reason. Yes, the first person who does that to shouldn't have a gun. That was clear to all of the employees. But then, Jonah wouldn't sell to a guy who was just laid off or to a guy simply because he was a redhead. He didn't want to sell anything. That leads to a protest happening in the store where everyone just walks around with a gun for awhile. It's a pretty interesting visual. It's really funny just watching a shopper go about her business in the store while also carrying a rifle. It's a unique image that showcases the absurdity of this situation. Amy can't believe it's happening. She just wants things to be simply and easy. The people around her aren't acting like grown ups. That's so frustrating to her. Jonah is being petty by not selling anyone a gun. Meanwhile, the gun people are being stupid for pointing guns at anyone who pisses them off. Amy was looking forward to a nice weekend alone to herself. Instead, she'll have to take her daughter camping. She doesn't like it but she still sucks it up and does it. Sure, she complains about it while making a point about not complaining about it. It shows that there is hypocrisy in all elements of this story. But it's still a rousing moment for her when she gets to call everyone out for how immature they're being.

And yet, the resolution to the gun story is a little weird. The other employees start telling Jonah and Amy that they should just have sex already. It's an odd moment. Yes, the two of them have always seemed like a potential couple just waiting to happen. But Amy's life is complicated by a daughter and a husband. That husband is really starting to annoy her as of late. He bails on camping with their daughter and ruining Amy's weekend just because he gets a ticket to a conference. It's not something fun or exciting. It's just this weird thing he wants to do that only puts more work on Amy. But it's odd to think that Jonah and Amy continue to clash now because of this sexual tension between them. They have both evolved as characters beyond that. It's still apparent in their interactions. It's still a viable option for the future should the show want to pursue it. It just doesn't feel natural when Garrett or Mateo is telling them they should just hook up. It takes away from the moment where Jonah tells Amy she was right. He does so because he pities her and not because he actually believes it. That's an amusing moment to end on. It's just a little problematic getting to that point.

Meanwhile, the crow story plays well off of the stuff happening between Jonah and Amy with the guns. It's this silly and mundane thing that helps ground the entire episode. It's just something specific to this store that creates a number of fantastic visuals. The customers just continue going about their shopping while the employees are too distracted trying to catch the birds instead of helping them. Garrett's reactions are pretty great. It's wonderful when he has a freakout while still on the intercom. He is such a cool guy but in that moment he is afraid for his life because of the crow. Dina has a very detailed knowledge about these birds. She knows what they like and what they fear. She wants to capture the crow and safely return it to the outside world. It's a rare case of her being gentile and considerate of the rest of the world. She cares more about the safety of this bird than the people around her. That makes it so devastating when she learns that Mateo has killed the creature. Garrett was just coming around on the crow as well. He had a nice conversation with it over a meal. But Mateo took the phrase "take care of it" the wrong way. So, he killed it instead of set it free. He was always confused about the ultimate goal with the bird. It's not a surprising conclusion but it is an effectively funny and brutal one.

And lastly, Glenn is trying to buy all of the store's morning after pills. He objects to them just as much as Jonah objects to guns. His faith and beliefs were an odd and alienating detail at the beginning of the series. But now, the audience understands that he's not doing anything out of malice. He just doesn't understand how any reasonable person could kill a baby. That's all he cares about. It's a somewhat weaker story compared to the other two. It largely focuses on Glenn and how he doesn't really have a plan for what he's doing. And yet, the story still finds a lot of great comedic moments. Glenn objects to the morning after pill but he can't just buy the store's entire inventory. He doesn't have the funds to do that. He didn't think his plan through. He can't just return the pills either. That's against the store's policy. Tate the pharmacist has a great time playing with Glenn through all of this. But the story really reaches its peak when Glenn is trying to resell the pills to the customers at a slightly more expensive price. He justifies it as a donation to the "Choose Life" campaign. But it's mostly just a way for him to recoup his costs. Plus, it's funny watching him come up to people hoping that they are sexually active.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Guns, Pills and Birds" was written by Matt Hubbard and directed by Matt Sohn.
  • It's great that Garrett just keeps a list of all the white person things that Jonah has done in his life and bragged about to the employees. Fencing is certainly one of them. Jonah and Garrett are friends but this is such an amusing detail.
  • Jonah awkwardly handling guns is another solid visual joke. He's not an expert on guns. Plus, he cries out "Gun!" when he drops one on the floor not knowing that it hasn't been loaded yet.
  • The leader of the gun protest and Jonah get on top of the cash registers to argue with one another. It's another great escalation of the tension and immaturity between them. Amy doesn't want to sink to their level and get up there too. But she has to because the guy right behind her can't hear her.
  • It's surprising that there isn't more crossover between the gun and crow stories. That moment when the people carrying guns all point them at the crow is pretty fantastic though. Plus, Glenn gets caught in the middle as well.
  • Of course, it's slightly weird that the crow story is largely about the capture of just one of the birds. Garrett, Dina and Mateo make a mistake in laying bird food at the entrance to the store and bring even more crows in. Those birds just go away on their own I guess.