SUPERSTORE Finale Post-Mortem: Justin Spitzer on That Heartbreaking Twist - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

SUPERSTORE Finale Post-Mortem: Justin Spitzer on That Heartbreaking Twist

May 16, 2019 by  

SUPERSTORE Season Finale Mateo ICE

SUPERSTORE — “Employee Appreciation Day” Episode 422 — Pictured: (l-r) Nico Santos as Mateo, Nichole Bloom as Cheyenne, America Ferrera as Amy — (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the SUPERSTORE season 4 finale. Please do not read it until you’ve watched “Sandra’s Fight” and “Employee Appreciation Day.”]

SUPERSTORE has done big finales over its first three seasons—an employee walkout, a store-destroying tornado, and an accidental world-wide sex tape—but the season 4 closer, “Employee Appreciation Day,” was arguably the biggest yet.

After the bigwigs at Cloud 9 did deep background check on its employees—as a way to curtail the workers’ attempt to unionize—ICE came to get the undocumented Mateo (Nico Santos). Initially, Mateo’s friends tried to help him get out of the store undetected, but he was surrounded…and was taken by agents.

SUPERSTORE creator Justin Spitzer—who is stepping down as showrunner; executive producers Gabe Miller and Jonathan Green will run season 5—breaks down why the show made this big of a move, possible unionization, and saying goodbye (of sorts) to the show…

The Mateo undocumented storyline was first brought up in season 2. What made the time right to play this card?
It was a move we intended to do a little bit earlier in the season. It took us a while to lay the groundwork to get to the point where Amy was a manager, there was talk of unionizing, and how it all came together. That’s why we didn’t do it earlier.

As for the general arc, it’s something we talked about for a while. It’s one of the more talked about parts of the show. We felt how many times can we do another story where he’s being found out by this person or that person? Or he can’t do something because he’s undocumented? It felt like our show should explore what happens when that threat is realized.

The other cliffhangers were huge, but there seemed to be easier outs. With this, what conversations did you have about how to plausibly resolve this?
We had a lot of discussions. We did a lot of research on our own, we worked with advocacy organizations for undocumented people, just so we didn’t write ourselves into a corner where Mateo was going to be immediately deported. We also didn’t want to be in the position of keeping him on the show in an incredibly unrealistic manner. We wouldn’t want to say is, “Oh, he files a paper and everyone is happy again.” We want to be relatable whenever possible.

We didn’t really start talking about [doing] this until we were confident we had ways to keep him within the world of our show.

So can you officially confirm Nico is staying with the show?
Yes! I don’t know exactly what Gabe and John are going to do, but it’s not like that afternoon he’s going to be put on a plane to the Philippines. A lot of people get pinged by ICE—it’s not a good thing, it’s something they have to deal with, there are challenges. But Mateo is part of the world.

Nico was fantastic in the episode. What can you share about his performance?
What’s so great about him and the way he plays this character is he’s a larger presence. He’s not a subdued, quiet character. But when you see the drama, in an appropriate and great way, he is really subtle and real. I think that works even better for a character like that. You really feel it. Mark [McKinney] does the same thing with Glenn. So when we had the moment in episode 8 when Glenn finds out Mateo is undocumented, they have this very real, sweet moment at the end, that you get when two big characters go to a very real place.

Amy understandably struggled with her conflicting loyalty to her friends and Cloud 9 in the last episodes of the season. What was the line the writers had to toe with her when you were crafting this arc?
That was certainly a challenge. We didn’t want it to feel like she was selling them out because things were really good for her. To me, it feels very real, when you’ve finally been promoted to management and you have a family to take care of, that even if you believe in unionizing, that gives you pause. Portraying that on television becomes difficult. It’s hard to show those grayer shades of morality. And one thing, to her credit, America [Ferrera] was all on board with playing it. [She said,] “It just feels real to me. Amy wouldn’t just want to jump into this when she’s making all this money.” She was completely on-board for showing the more conflicted side of Amy.

But once they learned that corporate is alerting the authorities, and not only calling in ICE, but making this horrible move, that distills everything. It makes it black and white, and she’s back in with the workers.

The union issue certainly could have been used to break up Jonah and Amy. What led to ultimately keeping them together?
When we originally talked about this arc, we had wanted to do a few more episodes of increasing tension between them. Both because of the power dynamic, [plus] Amy would start identifying with corporate a little more, and Jonah wouldn’t. We never intended to break them up. I don’t know if they will or won’t going forward, but it certainly felt too soon for that. And we just really didn’t have enough episodes to play that for too long.

I think what we ended up doing was creating a little bit of tension between them in 21 and 22, but when you have a move like this, everything else gets forgotten.

The show has played with unionization in the past. Now that it’s really moving forward, is this something the show will pursue in season 5?
What I’ve spoken about with the guys, and what I would do, is I think it’s important we just not put a pin in it and move on. We did that once. And when we [delayed it], we had a discussion in the room that now it feels too early to do a long unionizing arc. Before we bring that into the show, we want to earn it. [We said then] if we’re still on in season 4, we’ll bring it back. I think if they were to let it die now, it becomes difficult to believe it’ll ever be brought back. I hope the show will pursue that in some way next year.

One of the fun gags of the season was the numerous animals throughout the store…and they popped up again in the finale. Is this leading to a bigger issue—a la the botched tornado prep—later in the show’s run?
That would be very funny. There wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it! We referenced the raccoon from time to time, which was inspired by the time we had a raccoon infestation on our set a few years ago. So it made it into the show. The service goat was a random interstitial. And, in all honesty, we just had this extra shot of the service goat, so we added it to the finale. And then at the last minute, we digitally put in a raccoon to feel like everything was coming together.

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Kelly was gone most of the season. What led to her return and are there plans to bring her back?
God, I hope they keep using her. I love her, we all love her. It was a big discussion about whether we kept her a part of the show in season 4. Talking about what we wanted to do with Jonah and Amy, [her continued presence would have been] such a big thing hanging over them. But even at the time, we said we definitely wanted to bring her back for at least one episode later in the season, probably toward the end. This felt with a good one.

She comes back in with a whole bunch of employees from another store. There was talk [earlier in the episode] where Jonah said, “We’ll contact employees from other stores?” And Amy said, “Now we’re creating a nationwide movement?” In our mind, that was a piece of it. Kelly is arriving with a huge number of other employees. I think she’s part of this groundswell we may see moving forward.

How seriously should we take Sandra and Jerry’s engagement? Can they even have a happy ending when there’s definitely the chance Carol could kill them at any given moment?
I hope they have a happy ending. It can’t just be happy—I hope this show will go on for many years to come, so they can’t be totally and immediately happy from now on starting with the beginning of season 5, because she’s always getting kicked around.

We actually had Jerry propose to Sandra at the end of season 3. We shot it and ended up cutting it. And then on set, we hadn’t intended for him to propose this episode, and I threw it out like a lark; just to try it. And they asked if it was going to be a thing where every season Jerry proposed to Sandra and we cut it. [Laughs.] I was glad we could keep it.

Looking off-screen, what led to the decision to no longer showrun the comedy and how much will you be working on the series going forward?
What led into the decision was a few things. For one thing, I love the show more than anything, but I’m eager to try new projects. Working on the show for a long time, when you’re running it, it’s all you’re thinking about all the time. I’ve been looking to try something new.

When you’re running a show, frankly, it’s really, really hard. It’s a huge grind. It’s all your concentration all the time. My wife, Jenna Bans, runs GOOD GIRLS—and we have two kids. We said early on, when GOOD GIRLS started being successful, one of us has to take on more of a load, and she’s been doing so much more of it for so long. It really just feels fair that [it’s my turn]. When you develop a show, you can do that from home, you can be there to pick up your daughter from kindergarten.

But I’m not gone from the show. I’ll be sent scripts; I’ll give notes if they want them.

Will you write any episodes?
I don’t have any intention of doing it. I wouldn’t say never; I think it’s possible. But I also wouldn’t want to be the presence hanging out where people are like, “Is he in charge? Or is it Gabe and Jonathan?” Those guys are incredibly talented, and have been instrumental with the show from the beginning. I have total confidence in them going forward. And I want them to do what they feel they should do with the show.

What will you miss the most about the show day-to-day?
It’s bittersweet leaving. This cast is better than anything I could have hoped for, both in how good of actors they are and working with them. The mood on set is fantastic. Visiting directors come and talk about how amazing our crew is. Everything came together in a way that is very special. So I’ll miss that. You miss the little moments when everything comes together in an unexpected and amazing way. I’ll miss that.

I would feel different if the show was ending. That would break my heart a little bit more. The fact that it continues to go forward makes me feel like now I can be more of a fan and help from the sidelines


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