Superstore: S03E06 “Health Fund”

Grade: A-

Superstore‘s political episodes are always fun, as the writers have the knack of finding the all-too-human problems in ostensibly simple ideas. My favorite example so far was the guns episode last season, which pointed out how the gun control policy of “Eh, just deny sales to anyone who’ll misuse them” leaves some gaping holes in its implementation. In this episode, the employees try various end-runs around the health care system. Jonah tries to get them to form their own health insurance fund, with disastrous results, which he enlists Amy to help solve. Meanwhile, Glenn tries to figure out what’s going on with a mole on his junk, while Mateo seeks help for his ear infection.

I do think the politics in this episode are missing an important facet of the health insurance debate, which is that insurance companies don’t actually pay the sticker price of health care. Like, Medicare doesn’t keep costs down through pyramid scheming, it keeps them down by using its negotiating power to stop hospital administrations from charging ridiculous amounts of money for basic services. This isn’t exactly uncommon knowledge, so I wish there had been some more explicit connecting of the dots. As it is, there’s a reasonable argument that this veered perilously close to punching down instead of up.

Still, it’s fun to watch Superstore play out the American health care debate in miniature, if only because politics always seems to inspire the writers to new heights of hilarity. This episode was incredibly quotable, ranging from Amy’s love of Vicks VapoRub to the health plan tiers (click to see larger images):

Maybe part of why the political episodes are so good is that they allow Jonah to maximize his Jonah-ness, as Ben Feldman is never funnier than when he’s playing the article-citing elitist hipster that lives in all of us. Of course, he’s the plant that blooms from the seeds the writers sow, and they’re uncannily good at finding the perfect behaviors for him, broad enough to be immediately identifiable as ultra-liberal but specific enough that everyone can agree on their ridiculousness. (True story: I drank a tablespoon of ACV last night and it really helped my indigestion…even as I felt like a complete dumbass for trying it.) (And, yes, I’m the kind of person who abbreviates apple cider vinegar as ACV. #IAmJonah)

And when Jonah is being super Jonah-y, that opens the door for Amy to play off of him.

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America Ferrera is always a treasure, but never more so than when Amy is frazzled. Today she’s torn on several dimensions. On the one hand, there’s her continual frustration with Jonah’s pompousness, which wars with her romantic interest in him. Then there’s her divorce, which, as Dina (of all people!) points out, is negatively affecting her self-image as the responsible provider among the employees. As usual for Amy, her sputtering leads straight to back-room scheming, which is scientifically proven to be the most hilarious thing she can possibly do.

“Health Fund” also goes in an unexpected but welcome direction with Dina and Glenn. Superstore has a weird relationship with Dina. On the one hand, she’s always been a bully, all the way back to her series introduction of sexually harassing Jonah, and Glenn is the most frequent target of that bullying. I am very much not a fan of that Dina. But at other times, in a world of characters who range from overwhelmed to indifferent, she’s the only one who combines the authority, concern, and the obliviousness to social niceties needed to cut through the bullshit and do what needs to be done. This is the Dina we saw this episode, the one who uses her bullheadedness to deal with situations that no one else can. Before this episode, that helpfulness had been directed at everyone besides Glenn, so it’s wonderful to see him benefit from it. In fact, the moment when he thanks her is genuinely touching.

Also, poor Garrett:

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He just wanted his review!

Then there’s Mateo’s subplot with this guy.

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I gotta say, I can’t think of an episode where I haven’t enjoyed seeing Tate, the knowledgeable, qualified, but emphatically not professional pharmacist. Josh Lawson has this guy DOWN. His casual bro-iness in everything he does is such a treat to watch. On many shows, this kind of douchebaggery would mean the character was totally incompetent, but Tate clearly knows exactly what he’s doing, pharmaceutically speaking. He just cares more about money, chicks, and how weird his penis is than about, like, ethics or whatever. The tension between these two sides make every scene with him comedic gold.

In general, this episode gave the bit players a lot of time to shine, from Marcus’s many uses of root beer (and his incredibly disturbing leg) to Sandra finally finding a spine. The tradeoff seems to be the total lack of Cheyenne. In this particular episode, it feels sort of okay, because this springs from a similar place as the maternity leave plot in S1. But I sure hope we get Nichole Bloom back next week.

Last, I want to do a quick compare and contrast with last week’s episode. I called that one sitcommy and weirdly isolated, and this episode is exactly the kind that I’d point to to prove it. There was so much overlap between plots here: Dina spurring Amy to try to take credit for the health fund, Tate’s interactions with Glenn and that poor guy whose face got cut up, Garrett’s contributions to all the plots, and so forth. That went hand in hand with seeing an entire situation play out fully, from Mateo’s ear infection sparking the griping that led to the health fund to the fund’s implosion. This is the snappy, quick-witted Superstore I always want to be watching. I hope this is also what we get next week.

Best interstitial: Definitely Marcus pouring root beer into Mateo’s ear:

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Stray observations:

  • “Again with the VapoRub.” “It’s a miracle drug!” My mother agrees.
  • “I wonder if this is how OBAMA felt when he passed OBAMACARE.”
  • “So if I’m Platinum Select, does that mean I get the stuff in the Gryffindor tier?”
  • “I had to pay to put one of my cats down. She ate one of my other cats.”
  • “Your ability to remain unerect is really impressive.”
  • “Is this OxyContin or a SweetTart?”