Thursday, January 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'Superstore' - The Employees are Uncertain About a Potential Cloud 9 Upgrade in 'High Volume Store'

NBC's Superstore - Episode 3.10 "High Volume Store"

When corporate announces that the store is getting an upgrade, Amy, Jonah and Dina set out to discover the pros and cons. Cheyenne accidentally volunteers to be Glenn's surrogate, and tries to get out of it.

It seems crazy that I'm giving an "A" grade to an episode of Superstore featuring Cheyenne's husband, Bo. In the first season, he was the most problematic and annoying character in this ensemble. And now, he only appears sporadically. He's still a frustrating character. But the show knows how to handle that more now. He's a character who can only be utilized in short bursts. His connection to the store is still largely through Cheyenne, who's probably the regular character the show knows how to use the least amongst the ensemble. All of this could be seen as a problem for the show. But it's just such a minor part of this tremendous episode. At times, it feels like the subplot featuring Glenn, Cheyenne and Bo is completely tangential to what's going on with the rest of the store. Glenn is completely oblivious as to whether or not it's a good thing that this Cloud 9 becomes a high volume store complete with a Pizza Hut. Cheyenne isn't a part of the big staff meeting where Jonah, Dina and Amy change the objective of the employees for this shift. And yet, Bo becomes a significant part of that story with a major purchase that is such a crushing realization for the rest of the employees. His annoying qualities are the joke. That's what makes his inclusion effective here. He doesn't know what's going on but that's not because of him either. He doesn't know what's going on with the employees or how Cheyenne wants out of this deal to be Glenn's surrogate. But his actions have consequences that are still amusing to watch. That helps allow "High Volume Store" to be one of the funniest episodes of the season so far.

Everything gets off to such a strong start immediately in the cold open. It's just a simple staff meeting like the show has done so many times already. Glenn is leading the charge and making announcements that are way too personal and inappropriate. He talks about Jerusha not being able to get pregnant because of her atypical anatomy. That's just ridiculous and not something that Glenn should be talking about here. But the employees are used to it by now and can't even muster up any kind of reaction. Meanwhile, Jeff comes in with the big announcement that they are $80,000 away from being re-designated by corporate as a high volume store. It's an incredibly exciting time for him. He is motivated into making this promotion happen. He just can't express himself in a way that motivates the rest of the staff into action. He's talking about super-technical rankings amongst the corporate hierarchy. It doesn't make any sense to these employees. There is no personal connection for them to get excited about. As such, it's incredibly funny to watch them all get so pumped after learning that this upgrade means the installation of a Pizza Hut in the store. That seems so simple. But it's absolutely life-changing to these employees. The idea of having pizza for lunch every day is very tantalizing.

It then becomes an episode where it's just funny to see the extremes the employees will go to in order to ensure that this promotion happens. Everyone is pumped because they blindly believe that making this goal will ultimately improve their lives. Of course, they are taking Jeff and corporate at their words and they have never been a reliable source of information. In the immediate aftermath, Jonah is the only one inherently skeptical. Everyone else is rejoicing and figure out ways to meet their monetary goal. That allows for a pretty funny montage. Brett changes the signs on the produce to say that they will help with sexual performance. Mateo is helping Kelly sell the most expensive televisions. Garrett doesn't care when a child comes in with a credit card to buy an Xbox and candy. It's just lots of minor details like that. They happen in quick succession. But they are very amusing to watch. This has frequently just been an okay job for these characters. It's hard for them to be excited about anything while working at this store. But here, they are just because of Pizza Hut. And of course, it's too good to be true. That seemed inevitable. But the way that the show makes that pivot to show the cost of this promotion for the store is very amusing as well.

All it takes is Jonah, Dina and Amy driving out to another Cloud 9 that is already a high volume store. Jonah is the only one who sees the redesign as suspicious. It's only after talking with the employees that Dina and Amy come around on it too. These employees all say the exact same thing about the store. It's as if they have become robots. Yes, that's an extreme in order to get the point across. But it's very effective as well. With this promotion comes the expectation that the employees are better representatives of the corporate brand. They need to be the ideal that the corporation can point to as examples for how their employees behave. As such, there is more pressure for success. Yes, there is a Pizza Hut. But the employees can't eat there. Moreover, the store is open 24/7. It never closes. So, it is just complete chaos all of the time. There is no time to actually clean the store and ensure that it is in its best shape before customers walk through the doors. The Cloud 9 that Jonah and company work at isn't great. But it's also manageable for these characters at this specific point in their lives. They are solid employees but not great ones. That's all they need to be in this job. And now, they are tasked with tanking this monetary goal in order to ensure that nothing changes for them in the workplace.

That then produces yet another montage of events where the employees are sabotaging the store. Amy reassigns all of them to the positions where they all the least effective. That's just a very amusing sight. Yes, Brett is still dealing with the produce. But this time, he changes the signs to warn that they all have e. coli. That's dark but very amusing. Meanwhile, Garrett says there is a carbon monoxide leak in the store and Kelly is working the cash register despite never doing that before. And Marcus is just tasked with being everywhere and annoying all of the customers. It's a very effective and hilarious sequence. They are all trying so hard not to sell anything. But in the end, they fail because Bo buys a hot tub. He can't return it either. All hope seems lost. The store will get these upgrades and ruin their lives. Then, Kelly reveals that a significant amount of cash in the register is counterfeit. It's such an unexpected ending to this story. Yes, it's expected that the store would still exactly the same. But it's a surprising resolution that still works because it plays into Kelly's incompetence on the job despite working at Cloud 9 for awhile now. Plus, it still has importance through Jonah distracting Jeff by getting him to talk about his disastrous personal life. Jeff has been going through a midlife crisis all season long. And here, all of his pent up feelings come out. At first, it's just a conversation between him and Jonah as Jonah offers to be a comforting friend. But it quickly turns to disappointment as soon as Jeff learns he has failed to meet this new designation for the store. He really wanted it and has no idea that the employees were actively undermining him the entire time. That feels like the fate he deserves even though there still is some sympathy for his personal struggles as well. That's a unique blend that really works in the moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "High Volume Store" was written by Owen Ellickson and directed by Jay Hunter.
  • Cheyenne is only roped into possibly becoming Glenn's surrogate because she says any woman would be lucky to carry his and Jerusha's baby. She talked herself into a corner and didn't know how to get out without hurting Glenn's feelings. And in the end, he does recognize that and does just enough to push Cheyenne away. It's sweet while still being absurd.
  • Of course, Glenn's hunt for a surrogate does reach a pretty interesting conclusion here as well. Cheyenne isn't going to do it but another employee will. That person is going to be Dina. She would be the last person you'd expect to do this for Glenn. She hates him so much. And yet, she is motivated by the money and the interest in knowing what it's like to be pregnant without having to deal with any of the responsibility afterwards. That's amusing and should be very funny moving forward this season.
  • The only scene that doesn't quite work in this episode is the one in which Glenn is talking to a woman in his office whom he connected with on Craigslist in order to find a surrogate. He's confused and doesn't realize he's trying to buy a baby from the black market for awhile. It's a dark twist that the show doesn't seem all that interested in talking about. That's strange and doesn't really fit in with the rest of this episode.
  • Before Jonah decides to distract Jeff by getting him to talk about his life, Jonah distracts him simply by talking about the Netflix show Bloodline. For the longest time, it seems like Jonah is just making stuff up as he goes along. But in the end, he does have a point. It's one that doesn't form a connection with Jeff though. So then, he has to try a different approach which is ultimately successful.
  • Is there any aspect of this job that Kelly is actually good at? She isn't able to sell televisions because she doesn't know any of the technical details. She doesn't know how to work the cash register. And yet, she's still seen as a competent member of the Cloud 9 family. She's important because she's dating Jonah. But what else does she bring to the store?