Ever since this pandemic has started, two questions have been on everyone’s minds: “when will it be over?” and “how can I make memes out of this?”.
As usual, when life gets harder people turn to the entertainment industry to find a distraction or a way to cope with the difficulties. The only difference is that this time the industry itself is struggling to stay afloat.
Social distancing has made theaters close (temporarily or permanently), movie and TV production had to be reinvented in order to keep everyone safe, and writing stories about a subject as sensitive as Covid seems taboo.
But is it possible to make some Covid humor without being disrespectful and tone-deaf? Yes, and the TV show Superstore is doing just that.
The 6th season of Superstore dives right into the topic of Covid without holding back on the jokes or on the sad reality.
I’m an essential worker, I’ve been working all year without a break which means that I’ve gone through pretty much everything that the employees at Cloud 9 have gone through in the show. Let’s see if the show manages to make Covid humor relatable or cringy.
Tom Hanks has it???
Episode 1 opens with a montage of the employees at Cloud 9 finding out about the pandemic through a montage.
We see everyone rushing to check on their phones the news about sports events, flights, award shows, and parties being canceled because of Covid.
The title cards tell us what month it is, while the characters comment on the “current” events and the trends of early quarantine.
Other examples of movies shot during quarantine will probably address the topic of Covid but refuse to compromise the “aesthetic” of the show by making the actors wear masks.
While others will try to avoid even mentioning the virus (like it’s Voldemort) and pretend that everything is normal, even though it’s pretty clear that the production had to undergo major changes in order to respect the rules of social distancing.
Superstore doesn’t do that. It actually tackles the topic head-on. This is a brilliant move of the writers, all the characters in the show can are employees in a store, therefore considered essential workers.
Basically, the show can keep their actors/extras/crew/staff safe by making them wear masks and gloves on set, and all this is justified because the story is set during the Coronavirus pandemic.
I have to say, the show perfectly captures the chaos of the early stages of the pandemic. To me, it feels like April and March lasted an entire year. All the trends, regulations, information that were thrown at us all at the same time make those two months alone a very confusing time.
(Unfortunately) Relatable Covid safety issues
Do you know what’s the funny thing about Covid humor? As long as you have lived through the pandemic you can understand it.
Just before Covid, if you saw a movie character rushing to get to the store to buy toilet paper, you would have thought that it was weird. If you heard someone saying “I finished that videogame in quarantine”, you would have asked, “What do you mean quarantine?”.
Now, a few months of isolation later, you can see three characters in a TV show mixing together alcohol and soap and immediately get that they’re trying to make hand sanitizer.
Superstore knows that those shared experiences are (unfortunately) relatable, and uses this relatability to skip the exposition.
After the discovery of the pandemic, the employees at Cloud 9 are struggling to create makeshift masks, hand sanitizers, barriers, etc… using what they already have in the store.
This results in Amy slaughtering teddy bears, Garret hiding behind a shower curtain, and Glen getting housed outside the store.
I was a little luckier than others because the place where I work had a bunch of old first aid kits that everyone forgot about. Inside those, there were a bunch of masks that lasted us until new masks arrived. But still, if those kits weren’t there I would have had to decapitate teddy bears just like Amy.
Another (unfortunately) relatable experience that came with the pandemic is being left out to dry by the corporation you work for.
As I said before, the employees at Cloud 9 are considered essential workers, meaning that if they are healthy they have to work even when others are in quarantine. And, just like in real life, they got left to their own devices when it came to safety.
The show has always been critical of (real) large corporations through parody. Cloud 9 is depicted as a soulless franchise that prioritizes money and ignores its own employees or downright abuses its power over them.
With the advent of the pandemic, Covid humor is the perfect chance to criticize and mock the real corporations that ignored the safety of their employees.
Right off the bat, we get a classic: vague and dumb rules. As Amy is reading to the group a communication from corporate we learn that one of the new rules is to “disinfect everything that the air touches”.
Second, but still messed up is the: “Thank you for all your efforts, but we’re still not going to pay for your masks”. If you are or have been an essential worker during the pandemic, you already know what I’m talking about.
Every letter that comes from the higher-ups praises the employees for their work (which is nice) right before telling them that the extra time they spend at work won’t be paid (which is not nice).
Personally, I’ve had my boss hug me, thank me for the work I had put it in his absence (his whole family got Covid and had to stay quarantined for months), and tell me that I would be generously rewarded for my diligence. He even told me the exact amount of money he was planning on giving me…
Unfortunately, the only things I received were the hug and the “Thank you”. Whenever the topic of money comes up I hear the same “Oh right, remind me about that next week”.
Anti maskers… they’re everywhere
This is one of those topics that fall into the category of “It’s funny because it’s dumb but it’s sad because it’s true”. Anti maskers are an unfortunate reality or our time, they waltz into a public place (very often just to pick a fight) and put everyone in danger.
The reason? “Jesus doesn’t want you to wear a mask” or “There is no virus it’s just a conspiracy” or “I know my rights” or simply “Those things are ugly I’m not wearing them”.
But I have to admit that my “favorite” type of anti maskers is the one that wears a mask when no one is around but takes it off when it’s time to talk to someone. No kidding, one time I had a man tell me that he couldn’t hear me with his mask on, to which I had to reply “Sir, the mask is on your mouth, not your ears”
The “not-BlackLivesMatter” support
In Superstore, Zephra gives its stores a sign to show that the franchise “Believes in the black community” but doesn’t explicitly mentions the Black Lives Matter movement. Isn’t it clever? How big franchises manage to pretend that they support righteous causes, while at the same time avoid enraging potentially (bigoted) customers?
Humanity is not that terrible after all
Well, with all this talk about viruses, corporations, etc… you’d think that the show would be a downer, but luckily, Superstore decided to end this episode on a positive note.
Dina finds out that Glenn has been sneaking out of the store during work hours to sit down and calm himself. When she confronts him, he confesses that he has had problems lately (most likely anxiety) and that he is terrified of Covid.
She sits down next to him and reassures him that being afraid is normal and that he can take all the time he needs to calm down.
Another heartwarming moment sees a customer giving the employees of the store a pack of beers and the whole cast sitting down to have a drink together after a long day of work.
Both those moments are not simply “nice” but also true to reality. Covid has brought out the worst in people, but also the best.
There are some people who still disrespect and mistreat minimum wage workers, as well as corporations that give meaningless “thank you” cards to their employees, or celebrities that clap at doctors to get likes on social media.
But there are also those who spend some time to do something concrete to thank essential workers, even if it’s a small gesture, believe me, it’s appreciated.
And that’s it. In my opinion, this is the kind of writing that many sitcoms aspire to but don’t actually achieve.
Shows like The Big Bang Theory or How I met your mother cash in on the idea of being “relatable” to nerds or to… whatever Ted is supposed to represent.
However, it’s pretty evident that the writers don’t focus on reality while writing those characters. They’re writing stereotypes that reflect more the pop-culture idea of people rather than actual human beings.
Superstore grabs cartoonishly goofy and exaggerated characters and grounds them by dropping them into real situations that real people go through every day. This makes the sitcom funny but also realistic.
And ultimately, that’s the best thing about the show, that it makes people like me and many others feel seen and understood.