Superstore: S03E05 “Sal’s Dead”

Grade: B

Although I’ve been watching Superstore for years, it somehow never occurred to me until today to describe it as a sitcom. To some extent this is because I associate that word with multi-cams, which we all know have fallen out of favor among hip TV comedy lovers. But I think it’s also because Superstore is, usually, so witty and full of commentary on matters outside of its immediate situation. The humor is never exactly subtle, but the best Superstore episodes make the jokes feel original and organic. Yesterday’s episode had its bright spots, but it was also the first time I occasionally felt more like cringing than laughing. In a word, it was sitcommy.

Let’s talk about the bright spot first: Mateo and Cheyenne’s makeup plot. Over the past few seasons, Nichole Bloom and Nico Santos have quietly established themselves as MVPs in an MVP cast. Both actors have an uncanny ability to elevate any material they’re given, whether it’s through Cheyenne’s combination of sweetness and surprising insight, or Mateo’s ambitious disdainfulness towards everyone he meets. It’s a rare Superstore plot that pairs them together without being the highlight of its episode.

This is never clearer than tonight, when we see Cheyenne put her special effects makeup skills to good use. (Can I just say what an inspired career choice that is? It feels right for the character, as a way to showcase both her femininity and give her some much-needed edge. It also makes sense, given the exploding popularity of DIY SFX makeup. I sincerely hope Superstore lets Cheyenne become a Youtube makeup sensation.) She turns Mateo into Sal, with an eye towards helping him use Sal’s passport to attend a wedding in the Phillippines. Unfortunately, she does such a good job that Mateo can’t stop himself from acting like the creep he now resembles. Nico Santos ably turns this into comedy gold. He even makes eating a grape hilariously creepy.

The episode’s A- and B-plots don’t deliver quite as well. Somewhat surprisingly, the whole idea of Sal being found dead behind some drywall works just fine — the dead Sal prop strikes the balance exactly, plausibly looking both like a mummified body and a fun Halloween photo-op. In fact, this is what drives most of the laughs as Dina and Glenn try fruitlessly to keep people away from the body while waiting for the authorities. But those efforts themselves aren’t especially full of humor. Glenn does his normal Glenn thing of phrasing what he wants in a way that guarantees that the opposite will happen, and it’s a bit of a yawn. We’ve seen this before, and the lack of either run-up or follow-through to that scene makes it fall flat. Similarly, Dina mistaking a costumed guy for a real coroner feels like the kind of lazy joke anyone could make about those couple costumes. Moreover, it feels like a mistake that Dina — someone who prides herself on being able to read everyone’s character in a snap — wouldn’t actually make.

Meanwhile, Amy and Jonah’s continuing non-romance didn’t do much for the B-plot. True, Superstore has established that Amy can be a bit sensitive about not being considered fun or hip, leading her to take jokes too far. But still, her long, over-the-top texts to Kelly didn’t feel like something Amy would actually do. (Not that I think she’d actually confront Kelly — I expected her to go tell Jonah about it and make it his problem to dump Kelly. That would have been classic Superstore.) Jonah and Kelly’s staged combat scene felt truer to those characters, but also felt like a much less interesting replay of that Community episode where the Dean won’t stop talking about his Time Desk novel. It lacked self-awareness and wit. By the end, it was pretty clear that the whole plot was just there to put another roadblock between Amy and Jonah.

By the way, Garrett, candy corn is disgusting. Always has been, always will be.

Overall, while this episode had its fair share of laughs, it also felt weirdly disconnected. Not in terms of the plots overlapping — Superstore has never been that Seinfeldian — but simply in terms of the normal, organic progression of events. For example, why didn’t we get to see confused customers follow Glenn’s directions and then wonder where the haunted house was? Or, if the root of Amy’s weird ideas about preventing Jonah and Kelly from talking was jealousy, why not explore that further in her conversations with Garrett? Parts of this episode felt like all setup and no punchline, and that’s not a great look for a comedy.

Best interstitial: By far one of my favorite things about this show are the three-second scenes depicting weird things customers or employees are doing in the store. For this episode, I’m awarding it to the kid who was so matter-of-factly determined to fill up his cart with as much candy as possible. The running gag with the scary clown was also pretty great.

Stray observations:

  • “I was like, no way, Gary, that’s not a dead body! Then Gary showed it to me and it turned out it was a dead body.”
  • “Do you know how badly I want one of those Instagram photos of the wing of the plane?”
  • “I know we don’t specifically promise no dead bodies, but we shouldn’t have to!”
  • “This one says ‘professional wanderer,’ AKA on her parent’s phone plan.”
  • “I’m not a bumblebee, I’m the disappearing bee crisis!” I love all of Jonah’s ultra-concerned-liberal Halloween outfits.
  • “‘Bethany said Logan was the cutest boy at Wakefield, and he wanted to ask me to the dance.’ Huh. I’m in.”
  • “Okay, we need to Freaky Friday this. You need to find a cursed object, switch bodies with Jonah, have a whirlwind romance with her, and learn an important life lesson.”
  • “Well, you guys got me. But to be fair, there are a lot of stabbings in this store.”
  • So whose foot did they find??