Five episodes into your favorite new comedy, there's an almost indescribable high. You're getting to know new characters, laughing every minute, and taking in all the sweet little details that make it your kind of show. But nothing good lasts forever. Before you know it, you're three seasons in, then five, then seven (if you're lucky). You know you're jetting through a little too fast, but you can't stop. Then one day it happens: You arrive at the dreaded final episode. Yes, I'm talking about my experience binging The Office — my all-time favorite comedy and arguably the most re-watchable series ever made.
Fellow diehard fans of the legendary NBC series will understand when I say that the day I watched the final episode, I experienced palpable grief. Since then, I've had trouble discovering other shows to fill the void. Parks and Recreation — with its impeccable acting, sharp comedic timing, and well-written story — was the closest series I've been able to hunt down since. But even Leslie Knope's time was limited. When Parks ended in February of 2015, I was once again left wondering if I'd ever find a comedy quite as addictive. Luckily, I didn't have to wait long.
NBC's Superstore, which debuted in November 2015, is the show that renewed my love for network TV comedy. Set in a southern big box store called Cloud 9 (similar to Wal-Mart), the show follows a diverse group of employees who are forced to work together to navigate the zany, flat-out hilarious situations they find themselves in during their long shifts. Superstore's showrunner, Justin Spitzer, is a former producer of The Office, and the humor is delightfully reminiscent of the sort you'd find at Dunder Mifflin Scranton. Interestingly, Superstore also channels Parks and Rec, and that's all thanks to one special character: Lauren Ash's Dina Fox. Good-natured, no-nonsense, and tough like Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson, but also to-the-book, bizarre, and ambitious like Rainn Wilson's Dwight Schrute, Ash's Dina is a striking combination of both beloved roles.
During a recent chat with Zimbio, Ash said she never actually watched The Office or Parks and Rec before filming Superstore.
"What's funny is that [Dwight and Ron] weren't influences. I didn't actually watch them before I started [Superstore]," she shared. "They're characters that are so beloved and so funny that it's such a huge compliment when people compare me to them, and I love it."
As Cloud 9's assistant manager, Dina steps up where mind-mannered store manager Glenn Sturgis (the amazing Mark McKinney) can't. As a viewer, it's not long before her very unique personality, staunch dedication to justice, and unapologetic confidence win you over.
"For Dina, she does genuinely care about everyone, she just cares about the rules more," Ash explained. "But she follows the rules because she wants everyone to be safe; because she deeply cares about everybody. She may not want to admit that, and she may not say it in those words, but that's really where it all comes from, this instinct to protect people."
Dwight Schrute, anyone?
While Ash wasn't personally inspired by Spitzer's work on The Office (Dina is a more developed version of a character she made up at Toronto's Second City), she credits him with creating a show of incredibly rich characters.
"I think what's really cool is that we improvise a lot on the show, and we use it. He uses it a fair amount," she explained. "He's created this thing that's so vibrant and fun, but he's also open to collaboration and to us because we know these characters better than anybody. It's an awesome experience to get on a network television show as an actor because it's, you know, money, and you can live. But when you're on a network TV show that also feels creatively fulfilling, that's the life dream."
And that on-set collaboration, respect, and joy shows. Ash and co-stars McKinney, America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, Colton Dunn, Nico Santos, Nichole Bloom, and Kaliko Kauahi (to name a few), have managed to echo the camaraderie and spirit of shows like The Office with a modern, socially relevant twist.
"I go to work to catch up with my friends and hang out, and we happen to make a show in the process. If it's a full cast day, there'll alway be some sort of ripping on Ben," Ash laughed. "He's such a good sport. He's one of the funniest people who takes no credit for being hilarious. It's a lot of fun on set every day. I love the break room scenes because everyone's usually involved and we're all there like a big family, which is really nice. There's a lot of singing between takes, there's a lot of dancing. We rap a lot of Drake. There's a lot of joy."
If you haven't heard of Superstore, which was recently renewed for Season 4, you're not alone. As Ash points out, fans are still discovering its glory.
"I get contacted on social media all the time from people who've just discovered Superstore and have binged up until where we are now," she shared. "And that's a similar thing to Parks and Rec, I think, that people started finding it halfway through its run and became rabid fans."
This is likely due, in part, to the show's younger-skewing fan base. Millennials like me don't watch as much network TV as older people. And this year, Hulu added all three seasons to its streaming site.
Thankfully, for fans like me, shows like Superstore tend to have long runs. With a larger than average cast, shorter episodes, and a world of tales to tell, the series could easily rival The Office's nine-season run.
"When I read the pilot for this, I said, this show will get picked up, it will go to series, and it will run for at least seven seasons," Ash said. "So far, I'm on track to be right. To me, there are infinite possibilities of characters you can see working [at Cloud 9], of characters you can see coming in and shopping. There are so many different pairings that the opportunity for story and comedy are endless."
And thank goodness for that because I am not emotionally prepared to say goodbye any time soon.
'Superstore' Season 4 should premiere on NBC in September.