Superstore, the workplace comedy for the everyday American, has become the little show that could. In its four seasons, it has grown in how it seamlessly blends social commentary with comedy. While at the beginning it might have felt like any other network comedy, it has now become a show that demands our attention. Superstore has an ability to tell all kinds of stories with a multitude of opinions without ever feeling like it’s preaching. Every topic from gun reform to homelessness, to gay rights, politics and immigration (the list goes on and on) has come up on the show in what feels like the real conversations you have with your friends and families.
Producer and lead of the show, America Ferrera, spoke about Superstore’s ability to tell these stories in such an honest way, “The fact that our cast is so diverse is what allows us to do the stories that we do. You can’t tell stories about deportation if you have a cast of ten people who are exactly the same. You need diversity and that diversity of our cast is the opportunity to throw any kind of issue at this gang and know that everyone is going to be reacting to it from a different point of view, from a different life experience.”
The fraught immigration system and deportation have always been an issue in this country, but it is only now that we are seeing it reflected in such a mainstream way. Art truly has the ability to save lives and is one of the few spaces that has the visibility to make room for humanizing those who are otherwise marginalized. Mateo’s deportation storyline has been building since the second season. During the second season premiere episode, titled “Olympics,” Mateo finds out from his grandmother that he was actually brought to the U.S. as a child and has been living as an undocumented person ever since.
This is the story for so many today and this was a groundbreaking moment for NBC and Superstore. According to Define America, Mateo became “the first Asian undocumented network TV character in a sitcom.” The importance of this reveal came in getting to know Mateo as a character and as a person for the entire first season. It becomes much harder to dehumanize someone we’ve grown to care about. And we continue to see Mateo’s journey throughout the course of the series as a gay man, as a Filipino American, and as an undocumented person trying to get through each day.
This is why the finale episode of season four, titled “Employee Appreciation Day,” became one of the most monumental of the show and has changed the course television takes from here. The premise of the episode focuses on the continued efforts of the Cloud 9 employees to unionize. When corporate catches word of their plans they send ICE agents to raid their store (yes, this happens all the time in real life). The Cloud 9 team comes together to try and help Mateo escape in one of the most suspenseful, hilarious, and heartbreaking scenes on television; those last three or four minutes of the show deserve all the awards in the world.
Superstore truly did what it does best in this finale, continuing to push the needle further with each new topic it tackles with humor and heart. Mateo’s deportation storyline was a big swing, one that shocked fans of the show. The fact that they were willing to show the reality of how things have turned out for millions of people like Mateo on the platform they have, on network television, is a moment of representation everyone in this country needs to see.
We are excited to see how Superstore continues Mateo’s storyline and the complex conversation on immigration into the next season. Please check out the premiere of this incredibly important show, which airs Thursday, September 26 at 8/7c on NBC. Then come back to The Young Folks to read our thoughts on how Superstore kicks off its fifth season.