On the surface, NBC’s Superstore is a comedy about bargain hunters and Black Fridays, polyester vests and off-brand products, suck-ups and inane training sessions.
And while the humor that comes out of tracking a group of employees at a Walmart-ish big box was certainly a draw for America Ferrera, who plays a hard worker who dreams of ditching her Cloud9 punch card and getting a degree, the Ugly Betty Emmy winner tells Yahoo TV that what really sold her on the show was how relatable the story was.
“I think that television and film have certainly moved in this direction of aspiration, about being rich and powerful and having access and being the best superhero, the best lawyer, or the best athlete. But that isn’t what most people live everyday,” Ferrera says. “I really responded to this setting and how the point of view is from the perspective of everyday, working-class people. I think we need more of that on TV.”
In the Q&A below, Ferrera also discusses just how far the burgeoning relationship between Amy and the new kid on the block (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman) will go, the episode she is most excited for viewers to see, and filming in a real Kmart while registers were still open.
What was it about this show specifically that made it something you wanted to be in?
It was a number of things. First of all, I really responded to [creator] Justin Spitzer’s writing. I thought his writing was funny and smart and heartfelt — three of my favorite things. I also really liked whose story we would be telling. … This setting is relatable; sort of the most common shared experience is just an everyday person in the world, and the humor and the beauty and the pain of being a person. And what’s more corporate America than Walmart-type stores? It felt like an opportunity to have some social commentary about the state of our country and the way we run. Who are the people that actually make these things possible on a day‑to‑day basis? What is that life like? And having those conversations through the lens of comedy, and being able to laugh at how insane sometimes the truth is, felt very enticing to me.
America Ferrera (Amy), with Colton Dunn (Garrett), Nico Santos (Mateo), Ben Feldman (Jonah), and Lauren Ash (Dina)
There’s a Roseanne meets The Office feeling.
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely relatable. More people have the experience of punching a clock and cashing in a paycheck to live than aiming to be James Bond. There’s so much opportunity in the episodes to come to establish this world and then dig and reveal these characters and make them feel more and more human and more and more like the people we actually know.
I’m sure you’ve been in places like Cloud9. Do you look at them differently now?
Yeah, absolutely. When I signed on, I started doing espionage trips to Targets and Walmarts. I walked around feeling very, very dangerous observing people’s behavior. It felt a lot cooler than it actually was. I was literally just walking around Target. But I definitely, intentionally observe closer and look for little nuances and behaviors. It’s not just people who work in big box stores. I observed people who work in airports or drive cabs. We interact with people everyday and our lives are so dependent on them. And yet, we very rarely take in [that] they are a whole person with a whole life and a whole life story and a home and a family. Apart from that, every time I walk into a Walmart, I feel like I should be working [Laughs].
Does it make you look at the People Of Walmart website differently?
I’ve never really looked at that. It feels like it’s more than anything about people who walk in with very little clothing, and it feels a little mean. I think this is more an opportunity to be a point of view of the working class, people who work to survive and whose work is not their life’s passion, who identify themselves by things outside of what they do for a paycheck.
There’s a moment in the pilot (which NBC aired as a “preview” on Nov. 30), where you put a ring on as you leave your shift. Can you talk about what that means?
You will soon find out that Amy is, in fact, married, and she has a daughter. The look up to the sky is a callback to the stars moment when Jonah [played by Feldman] puts the stickers on the ceiling. According to my Twitter feed, there are a few people who understood it a different way. They think it means that her husband’s dead. That is not the case. Her look up and smile were a recall to the nice moment, and just how this day was unexpected with this person that is now in her orbit and wasn’t there the day before.
Do we see her husband and daughter? Is her home life good?
We do in season one. I don’t want to say more than that. You’ll find out.
It seems like Jonah tries very hard to impress her and likes her. Is that going to be explored?
That’s what the rest of the season is for — to explore whatever their chemistry is, whether it’s flirty or combative or just challenging. It’s a very thin line between loving and hating each other. What the real possibility is for what this relationship can become is revealed and explored. But to be clear, that’s not what every episode is about at all. It is not, in any way, a romantic comedy. But certainly, Jonah and Amy’s relationship is very much at the center of a lot of the episodes, not necessarily in a romantic way. There’s a lot about their very different experiences of the world, their very different backgrounds, their very different points of view, and how they clash up against each other. That creates a little bit of heat, and naturally people want to know what’s happening. Do they hate each other? Do they love each other? What could this be? That’s just part of what we’re exploring with these characters. We’re not necessarily saying this is going to be the love story of Amy and Jonah, but we definitely evoke the audience to wonder what is this relationship between them? Will they crash up against each other, and what’s that going to result in ultimately?
For the pilot, you guys set up shop in a real Kmart.
It stayed open the whole time we were filming. And then we built a store on two sound stages. It added to the ambiance, and a lot of the customers bought it. They kept asking me where they could find shampoo or other items. They couldn’t tell the difference between me and people really working there. Usually I couldn’t help them. But every now and then, I did actually know where the thing was that they wanted. Sometimes it was easier to help than explain that I am an actor and we were shooting a TV show. They were none the wiser.
Related: Ken Tucker Reviews ‘Superstore’
What’s something coming up that you’re excited about?
I really feel like the last few episodes of the season end up going more to the heart of the social commentary aspect about working class versus the man. I love that. I’m excited for people to stay with it as we establish the world and the tone and just build these characters, because I think there’s a wonderful payoff. It goes somewhere surprising.
But there’s a particular episode that I’m so excited for people to see, because it was actually inspired by the cast during the pilot shoot. We were shooting a scene in the Kmart all night. Literally, we wrapped at six o'clock in the morning. We got so tired, we were delirious. You feel like you’re drunk, but you’re not. And we like to have fun anyway. On most days, we’re singing and dancing. Colton [Dunn] is our resident DJ, and in between takes, he plays music and the rest of us dance or sing or whatever. But on our loopy late night shoot during the pilot, we got up to all kinds of crazy antics, which ended up inspiring one of our later episodes in the season called “All-Nighter.”
Superstore premieres Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. on NBC.