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‘Superstore’ review: America Ferrera’s ‘Office’ wannabe

America Ferrera stars in the new NBC comedy "Superstore." (Credit: NBC)

THE SHOW “Superstore”

WHEN | WHERE Previews Monday night at 10 on NBC/4 (Official premiere is Jan. 4.)

GRADE C

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Jonah (Ben Feldman) gets a job at a megastore, Cloud 9, and quickly antagonizes the no-nonsense floor manager, Amy (America Ferrera). She already has her hands full trying to keep other off-kilter employees in line, like Garrett (Colton Dunn), Mateo (Nico Santos) and Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom.) Her own immediate bosses, Dina (Lauren Ash) and Glenn (Mark McKinney), make her job even harder.

 Monday's two-parter, by the way, is a series preview; the show officially launches Jan. 4.

MY SAY “Superstore” is what’s known in the trade as a “not” sitcom: Not terrible, not without charm, not a bad cast (in fact, a pretty good cast). But “not” comedies tend to linger in a listless creative purgatory, too. They’re not particularly certain what they are, and as a consequence, not particularly funny or memorable either. “Superstore” is “not” writ large.

Obviously, “Superstore” wants to be “The Office” in a larger space, and in fact, showrunner and creator Justin Spitzer was an original “Office” producer. All “The Office” stereotypes are firmly in place — the Romantic, the Clueless One, the Cynic, the Boob Boss, the Dwight Schrute, and so on. Likewise, regional quirks are celebrated and deracinated. It’s a form of TV humor that finds something inherently funny about big box stores, especially if they happen to be in uncool places like Indiana, or wherever Cloud 9 is supposed to be. It tries not to be condescending, but condescension pretty much comes with this territory.

That’s not “Superstore’s” biggest problem, and didn’t have to be either. (“Condescension” after all worked its own form of magic on “The Office” and “Parks & Rec.”) A much bigger one is the store itself — a bland overlit warehouse filled with lots of stuff and scarcely one  recognizable brand name. It's like a giant 99 cent store, absent the charm.

Bigger still are the human characters. Why is Ivy League-ish Jonah working here anyway? Feldman is a talented actor -- Ginsberg on "Mad Men" and a co-lead in the underrated romcom "A to Z" -- but even he can’t fake his way through this miscasting. As the lone functioning adult, Ferrera’s Amy is full of regret and a sense that life has passed her by. The role has essentially robbed Ferrera of the one quality “Ugly Betty” fans loved most about her — a whimsical lifeforce full of insecurity but also full of joy and fun. All that Amy has retained is the “insecure” part. “I’m a stick in the mud,” she admits. So’s her show.

BOTTOM LINE Not good enough in the first two episodes. With a cast this outstanding, here's hoping for improvement by January, and beyond. 

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