This story contains spoilers for the first episode of Superstore’s fifth season.
Unfair labor practices might not seem like obvious fodder for prime-time comedy, but NBC’s Superstore has tangled with the subject often since its 2015 debut. The sitcom, set at a fictional mega-retailer called Cloud 9, ended its last season on a note that felt pointed by the show’s usual standards. Eager to quash worker discussions about unionizing, company executives resorted to a number of extreme options, including contacting immigration authorities. Until that point, the newly promoted store manager, Amy (played by America Ferrera), had been afraid of clashing with corporate. But after a climactic workplace raid by ICE agents, she turned to her boyfriend, an employee named Jonah (Ben Feldman), and asked, “Wanna start a union?”
In its Season 5 premiere, Superstore immediately picks up where the finale left off. The new episode, which aired last week, sees Amy having doubts about store No. 1217’s organizing efforts, but she changes her mind after visiting her co-worker Mateo (Nico Santos), who was detained by ICE for being undocumented and faces deportation to the Philippines. In addition to grappling with immigration and collective bargaining, the premiere also touches on the very real threat that automation poses to many wage workers, both in the U.S. and abroad. Taken together, these story lines suggest that the show may be deepening its engagement with the challenging employment conditions that have shaped the lives of its diverse ensemble from the start.