“Superstore” went big for its Season 2 finale, incorporating a huge tornado that destroyed the show’s main set and left the fate of at least one character in serious question, resulting in one of the most ambitious — and funniest — episodes of the NBC comedy yet.
In a letter to journalists ahead of the finale, showrunner Justin Spitzer joked that the episode proves once and for all that “Superstore” is the “‘Game of Thrones’ of network comedy.” In an interview with TheWrap ahead of the episode, Spitzer elaborated further, saying that the tornado marks the show’s “Hardhome” moment — something that makes the audience say “holy s—, they’re really doing this?”
But for all of the episode’s grand ambitions, the concept has rather unglamorous origins. The soundstage that houses “Superstore” was being demolished at the end of the season to make room for an expansion of the Universal Studios theme park, presenting the perfect opportunity to make the running joke of a tornado hitting the store a reality.
“We thought, ‘Wow, this is the gods of Universal telling us now’s the time,'” Spitzer said. “We were destroying it anyway, and we were going to have to justify why store didn’t always look the same when we came back.”
The prospect of a large-scale natural disaster also presented the show with a number of interesting story opportunities, forcing characters to confront some complicated realities in the face of death. Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Amy (America Ferrera) finally kiss, at last inching forward a multiple-season long will-they-won’t they. Garrett (Colton Dunn) must admit to himself that he really does have feelings for Dina (Lauren Ash), and that he wants her to have feelings for him as well. Mateo (Nico Santos) reaches out to the boyfriend he was forced to shun because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. Glenn (Mark McKinney), a church-going Christian, finds himself praying to any god who will listen, only to have the sky clear when he calls on Allah.
“Plus,” Spitzer said, “it felt big and fun. Why save something like that?”
Read the full interview below:
TheWrap: So first, and most importantly, is Brett dead?
Spitzer: It’s funny, no one’s asked about that yet. I think it remains to be seen. I’ll let that be the one big cliffhanger.
How did the idea to do a huge tornado for the finale come about? Because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you do lightly.
We’d been talking a long time about how it’d be a funny thing to have a tornado in the store. We had a couple jokes early on in the season about it. And it was just always something we thought we would do one day. Then, early on in the season, we found out that they were tearing down our sound stages to expand the Universal theme park, and we thought “Wow, this is the gods of Universal telling us now’s the time.” We were destroying it anyway, and we were going to have to justify why store didn’t always look the same when we came back. So throughout the season, we’d put in more jokes about how the store was not prepared for a tornado. And we knew all year that we were building to this, so we just saved a bunch of money for it.
How does this compare to an average episode in terms of time and budget?
That’s a good question, I should look into that. We definitely got more money for it, but it wasn’t drastically more, as you might think. We definitely tried to find savings wherever we could as the season progressed.
In terms of the time, it took us five days, the standard length for an episode. It was just about moving quickly and making sure that we had good passes of all the non-tornado scenes, but not spending too much time on anything. For the tornado shots, if felt like we were shooting a movie, where you shoot for an hour to get a few seconds. That was quite different than what we usually do.
In terms of story, why did now feel like the right time to do this episode?
For Jonah and Amy, if felt like if they were ever going to have a kiss, at least this early on, it would need something like that to be the catalyst. I don’t think they’re at a place — while she’s still married, while they still have conflicted feelings toward each other — that anything would happen between them. So we needed something big to force them together, or to at least acknowledge that there were feelings [there].
And we thought it was sort of a funny twist to an episode where Glenn is having trouble deciding who to let go. Because he just won’t be able to face those people anymore, and immediately after making that decision he’s locked down with them. It also let us have him make a decision before a tornado comes and changes everything. It was a little less schmuppy way to end that arc. Plus, it felt big and fun. Why save something like that?
Are the people he named still going to be laid off?
I think everything gets re-evaluated when the store gets blown down.
Is Glenn going to convert to Islam after all of this?
It remains to be seen exactly how his crisis of faith affects him. We’ve talked about making him Muslim, but I wouldn’t want to do anything too flippant about faith. I think Glenn has to deal with the fact that he had a crisis of faith in that moment. Whether that’s questioning if he believes in God, or which god he believes in, or questioning himself for momentarily not believing in God, I think that’s going to affect him going forward.
One of the comedic highlights of the finale is the feud between Sandra and Carol, especially that shot of Sandra closing the door and leaving her out in the tornado. What’s going through her head in that moment?
It seems like that moment is paramount to just murdering a coworker, which is a pretty big thing for us. And I kind of justify it by saying that in a moment of crisis people just act viscerally. She didn’t give it a lot of thought. And I think more than that, it was a moment where we see that Sandra is willing to stick up for herself. She’s done eating shit, and if she’s going to die she’s not going to eat any more.
The last we saw of Jeff and Mateo was their big confrontation at Cheyenne’s wedding last week. Can they salvage that relationship or are they done?
We originally had a moment during the storm where he tells Jeff that he’s undocumented, but we didn’t feel like we needed it for the story. Having him reach out in that moment felt emotionally fulfilling enough. We love Michael Bunin, so I hope we’re not done using him. I don’t know if he’ll still be dating Mateo, but that’s not something I just want to drop and move on from.
What do you have planned for Season 3? Is there anything specific you want to do?
We start in two weeks, so we’ll start talking then. I think in Season 1 you kind of figured out what worked in your world, figure out who the characters are. Season 2, you explore everything about that world you created, and Season 3 feels like time to start changing things up in small ways. That’s about the extent of it. I want to keep expanding our world and meeting new people, and thinking about ways these’ people’s lives change, even in a world that feels mundane.