We Need To See More Minimum Wage Struggle On TV

by Amy Mackelden

There's nothing the world needs more than a great workplace comedy, and NBC just previewed a contender for that title in the form of new sitcom Superstore . Starring America Ferrera, Superstore is a riff on what it's like to work in a retail job full time. While there's a lot of love for the subject matter — co-worker in-jokes, meet-cutes over toilet paper displays, witty intercom announcements — there's also a hidden darkness that the show's not afraid to examine. Supermarket jobs are known for their low pay and lack of benefits. In setting their latest series in a big-box store, NBC is entering into the workplace discussion. If you thought life at Dunder Mifflin was dark, wait until you've been at Superstore a year.

Which is not to say it's not funny. With comedy talent like Lauren Ash in the cast, and that guy from Mad Men who cut his own nipple off (in the show, not IRL, obv!), Superstore has a promising team and premise. But when our focus zooms in on what is a day-to-day necessity for some people, are we laughing at gags, or uncomfortable truths? Either way, now is the time to bring the minimum wage discussion into the mainstream, and Superstore is a start.

Movies like Office Space and Employee of the Month have tackled what it's like to work in the same place for a long time. Notably, a part of the plot of Office Space involves the characters syphoning money from the company in an attempt to get rich, highlighting the fact that many people feel that they don't earn enough, or aren't valued by the companies they work for. Management is playfully made fun of in Superstore , with the try-hard employee (of which there is always one) reporting her manager to HQ for breaking the rules set out in the employee handbook. But how do some people become so committed to the companies they work for when they're forced to work without comprehensive benefit packages, or adequate wages?

In the pilot, America Ferrera's character Amy, says, "I'm sorry, OK, I have been having a long day. Ten years of long days, actually." Working in the store is her career, the way she makes bank, a part of who she is. And she doesn't sound happy about it. Some of this frustration is inevitably down to boredom, the want for a change of scenery. But perhaps another side of this is the fact that as a career, retail often doesn't pay that well, despite the demands placed on its workers to give everything to the brand, and believe in what they're selling.

More than anything, we need TV shows that reflect our own realities, and the challenges we face in everyday life. Sure, we want happy shows too, but perhaps a series like Superstore can find the difficult balance between making us laugh and holding a mirror up to our lives. The more chances we get to discuss the need for fair wages across vocations, the better, as well as an understanding of the fact that retail workers are people too.

Images: NBC (2)