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‘Superstore’ fights ICE, robot takeover in new season


For a run-of-the-mill workplace comedy, “Superstore” has never stayed inside the box.

The NBC sitcom, about the blue-collar workers at a big-box store in St. Louis, in the last season alone, covered unionization and immigration, all while balancing the comedy. Now, in its fifth season, “Superstore” tries to keep the line moving.

“The store is trying to think about its future and our characters are starting to think about their futures,” co-showrunner Gabe Miller, who’s taking over this year with partner Jonathan Green, told the Daily News.

For Mateo (Nico Santos, “Crazy Rich Asians”), that’s the ICE detention center where he ended up after last season’s finale. Even considering “Orange is the New Black’s” final season arc about immigration, TV has mainly shied away from the issue. But “Superstore” found a way to handle the ICE raid with grace and humor. Now, they deal with what comes next.

“How do you earn money? Find another job? In your social life, how do you date someone, roll out the information that you could be deported at any time?” Miller told The News. “Even when we will end up reincorporating him into the show and getting him out of detention, he’s still going to be dealing with that.”

Television, particularly over the last few years, has found itself at a crossroads, maybe more than ever: do you acknowledge the outside world? Do you consider reality when making entertainment? Some shows have done perfectly well pretending the news doesn’t exist; TV is supposed to be escapism. But what happens when the real world and your imaginary world combine?

In “Superstore,” that balance is what makes the show special.

“We weren’t sure about doing (the ICE storyline),” Green told The News. “We wanted to make sure to do it in a responsible and honest way that didn’t trivialize it. It ended up feeling like it was worthwhile. We did as much homework as we could and talked to people to make sure we were doing it in an authentic and sensitive way.”

The season 5 premiere, provided to critics early, mixes Mateo’s plot with the season’s second overarching theme: Cloud 9.0, or, When Corporate Replaces Glenn With A Robot. This we’ve seen before — remember the Myrtle hologram in Season 4? — but it’s still funny and, at worst, more familiar territory for what was originally a simple comedy about retail workers.

Elsewhere, Amy (America Ferrera) is still trying to figure out how to be a manager, a job that the showrunners teased will become more intense with the arrival of a new district manager (Justina Machado, staging an “Ugly Betty” reunion with Ferrera”). Jonah (Ben Feldman) continues his unionization effort. Dina (Lauren Ash) and Garrett (Colton Dunn) keep doing whatever it is that they do. Everything does, in fact, go on, in spite of everything.

“We want it to be as real as possible,” Green told The News. “We want the characters to feel real.”

“Superstore” returns Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.