Thursday, October 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'Superstore' - A Robbery Forces a Confrontation Between Dina and Jonah in 'Workplace Bullying'

NBC's Superstore - Episode 3.04 "Workplace Bullying"

Tensions arise among the employees after an attempted robbery, pitting Dina against Jonah. Glenn has a tough time firing the store security guard. Amy discovers that her co-workers have been hanging out without her.

Two of the three main stories in "Workplace Bullying" feel very familiar and repetitive. They embrace similar situations and jokes that the show has done before without really adding anything new to the conversation. The third story is only different because the main character is in a different place in her life right now and has a different reaction to it. That's fascinating and highlights how the characters have grown over the years. But this episode largely just focuses on how some fundamental stuff of Superstore will always stay the same. It's been a long time since Dina or Jonah have been interested in each other in a romantic way. That was something apparent in the first season that has largely gone away as they've pursued other interests at the store. That was a good thing as well because they became more fleshed out characters. And yet, its sudden reintroduction here is just awkward and weird. It largely serves as a final punchline for their story together to give an explanation for why this bullying situation didn't escalate into anything bigger than it was. That's perfectly fine. But there's also no indication on whether or not any of this will have any consequences on the characters at all moving forward this season. That's disappointing because this season has already given Dina such a fascinating story arc. This episode just seems to completely ignore that and it's a little frustrating.

Dina is in therapy. That's the realization she had after talking to Amy about her post-traumatic stress following the tornado. It's the reason she no longer wanted to be having sex with Garrett. She's still a funny and strong character. Her dealing with her problems doesn't suddenly make her weak or passive. She's still fundamentally the same character. That is fully on display in the opening of this episode. Jonah finds someone robbing the store. He believes it's a situation he can deal with simply by talking it out. He believes the calm nature of the criminal means he should be calm with his response to it. Of course, it's amusing that he just gets out of the way because the criminal is polite. In the moment, it then seems like Dina does the right thing in making sure this guy doesn't leave the store with everything he has stolen. Sure, her mind gets carried away by imagining that Jonah was violated and that's why he didn't do anything to stop the situation. She's opinionated and strong. But therapy or her trauma don't seem to be informing her actions at all. That's perfectly fine too. The show doesn't need to talk about them in every story Dina has this season. But it does seem like she has such an extreme reaction to all of this. Something that could have had more nuance if it pivoted to the work she is trying to do on herself lately.

Instead, it all just escalates into a big fight between Jonah and Dina - literally. Jeff commends Jonah for having the corporate-approved response to this situation. Cloud 9 doesn't want any employee to intervene should they see a situation like this. They would rather have them report it to the proper authorities. They are just suppose to monitor the situation. Jonah didn't know that was the corporate policy. He acted the way he did simply because that's who he is. Just like Dina acted the way she did because that's who she is. It's surprising that this is the first time that Dina has been written up for her behavior in the workplace. She's angry that Jeff used her as an example for what not to do in this situation. She doesn't believe she could possibly be wrong. And so, she lashes out at Jonah because he's an easy target. It just has the unfortunate optics of a manager bullying an employee. That's not okay and Jeff needs to report it as soon as Jonah brings it to his attention. Jonah just wants a simple way to ease the tension of the situation. But Jeff sees it as a formal complaint. Despite the horribleness that is the Cloud 9 corporation, he still does the right thing. Dina should be written up for her behavior. But it's then funny that the situation escalates more. That's the comedic beat of this story. So, it gets worse not better as soon as the report is made which is an odd way to tell this story.

Mostly, the show just wanted to get to that scene outside the store where the employees were gathering to watch Jonah and Dina fight each other. Jonah is confident that it won't actually get to that point. He believes Dina just wants to be heard and acknowledged. But she truly does want to fight him for putting this mark on her corporate file. She should probably get more for actually engaging in this fight. Jonah doesn't fight back at all. Not because he refuses to punch a girl but because he's a pacifist who thinks that this is an incredibly silly fight. And it all ends with Dina discovering that Jonah has been aroused by all of this. That's such a weird moment. It's the final punchline for this story. It gets Dina to completely forget about why she is angry with Jonah in the first place. Sure, everyone makes fun of him one last time. It's an embarrassing moment for him. But it's still not played as Jonah being interested in Dina in a romantic way. He just got caught up in the situation. It was a lot of touching for him. But again, is that okay? The show says it's basically fine because everything is neatly resolved by the end of the episode. But that resolution may not be perfectly okay either. Will Dina have any lingering consequences for her actions? Will she just assume that Jonah is in love with her once more? It's unclear and not all that effective in the moment.

Elsewhere, Amy has never wanted to socialize with her co-workers before. She has always seen this as a job. They all come to work. They bond here for a little bit. But it's not their entire lives. Amy's life has been fulfilled in other ways. She was too busy with Adam and Emma to care about what was going on in the lives of her co-workers. But now, she no longer has a personal life to return to. She's still a mother to Emma. But her daughter is a teenager now and splitting her time between her parents. It's a new situation for Amy. And so, she's actively looking for a way to have a full life once more. And right now, the only thing giving that potential to her is work. She's never felt like hanging out after work before. She was awkward and annoyed when forced to interact with her co-workers outside of work previously. But now, she wants to be included. She wants to have something else to do. She wants to socialize again. She has the new freedom and a desire to actually embrace it. And so, she becomes obsessed with Mateo and Cheyenne's trivia night. She sees herself as an expert in knowing so many random things. Of course, she's only impressive in the moment because she was just looking things up on her phone. And in the end, she does make her case for why she is interested in going to this event now. It's such a sweet moment too. And this time, the final punchline that resolves everything is actually rewarding and funny. She wants to be included but the event is at 10 o'clock at night. She's still young with many potential opportunities to spend her new free time. And yet, she's also a mother who has grown accustomed to a certain schedule and is already tired after a hard day's work. She can't imagine staying up that late - though she still gives that impression to Sandra instead of walking with her to the bus stop. That's a joke that works in the end.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Workplace Bullying" was written by Bridget Kyle & Vicky Luu and directed by Tristram Shapeero.
  • Glenn and Garrett are always a fantastic character pairing. Glenn takes everything so seriously and is full of love for the world around him while Garrett doesn't care about this job and mostly tries to make things as funny to him as possible. Of course, Garrett is also the sensible one in saying that the security guard who let the robber into the store by not being at his post should be fired.
  • And yet, Glenn's story about trying and failing to fire the security guard just ends with no clear indication on what actually happened. Glenn has struggled to make serious decisions in the workplace before. This story makes it seem like it's the first time he's ever had to fire someone. He's unclear about his intentions and that's basically the whole point of this story.
  • So, the security guard is still hanging around Cloud 9. He goes back to being a security guard after Glenn's first conversation. And then, he becomes a sales associate because he believes that's what Glenn is trying to say. Of course, he's bad at that too. But there's also no clue as to if he'll be sticking around or if Glenn actually found a way to fire him.
  • Jeff wears ridiculous boots this week. There's no point for that. It just means the employees have a common way to make fun of him. They all get to unite against him because they all agree that the boots are awful and don't make any sense. But even that level of understanding isn't enough to ease the tension between Jonah and Dina.
  • Last week I thought that Kelly and Sandra were too similar and served the same function in the show's humor. And now, a distinction is made. Kelly has made friends and is becoming a part of this social group despite being the new girl the managers barely have time for. Meanwhile, Sandra continues to be the punching bag for everyone.
  • Of course, the various tangents the employees go off on in the breakroom while Jeff is trying to teach them the right way to handling robbery or workplace bullying are hilarious. They are trying to come up with ridiculous scenarios where the policies could potentially be challenged. But they get distracted by thoughts of baby Hitler, Oprah, Ellen and Beyonce.