NBC’s Conjoined Triplets of Comedy

by Quetzelcoatl

Thought about Atlantis lately?  I hadn’t until Thursday night, February 16th.  NBC was airing an episode of “SUPERSTORE,” followed by “POWERLESS.”  For an island that sunk out of sight, Atlantis popped up like an atoll when the subject was raised in both sitcoms, broadcast back to back.

Starting at 8 pm, the crew and customers at “SUPERSTORE” felt a heatwave when the temperature control system broke.  Glenn, the oft befuddled manager, tried calling corporate to fix it but was brushed off in a perky, yet authoritative voice.

Enter Sales Associate Garrett, played by Colton Dunn.  Paralyzed from the waist down, Garrett enters Glenn’s office in his wheelchair.  Garrett might be the first physically challenged sitcom character who seems natural, adjusted to his situation and funny on his own terms.

Remarking that Glenn had turned his small office into a cool oasis with the one working air conditioner, Garret then encourages his manager to go outside to fix the main temperature control system with his own bare hands instead of pleading further with the corporation.

As newly empowered Glenn leaves the room, the opportunistic Garrett encourages him to take his time so he can literally enjoy chilling in Glenn’s office for as long as possible.

Glenn arrives at the roof, accompanied by ditzy, lovable, Cheyenne Taylor Lee, a teen-aged employee. Bracing the cold weather, Glenn embarks on rendering order unto the chaos caused by the infernal machine.

Back inside, Assistant Manager, Dina Fox, walks past Glenn’s office and can hear groaning coming from within.  She opens the door and finds Garrett, moaning with pleasure in air conditioned bliss.  She uses the situation to be offensively authoritative, but soon joins Garrett to chill out with him.

After some boredom, she languidly suggests sex to pass the time and the two co-workers pursue carnal knowledge with a tragic-comic lack of passion and anticipation.

Back outside, Glenn is feeling helpless, (dare I say “Powerless?”) as fixing the heater proves to be overwhelmingly complicated.  Cheyenne tries to boost his morale.  Searching for a means to make his life matter, 57-year old Glenn invites the blossoming young woman to accompany him on a trip around the world.

She makes valid excuses to reject the offer, but Glenn clearly feels hurt.  Guilt ridden, the good-hearted Cheyenne agrees to participate in the globetrotting adventure, after all.   Glenn mentions that it will mean obtaining plenty of vaccinations, causing Cheyenne to grimace with fear and loathing.

Still in Glenn’s office, Dina answers a phone call meant for Glenn in which corporate admits that the malfunctioning air conditioning system was indeed, caused by a glitch in their own all-encompassing computer and that the problem has been fixed.

Glenn and Cheyenne return inside and notice that it’s getting colder. In a celebratory mood, Glenn exposes his disconnect from reality by planning his world trip aloud.  Among his destinations is “Atlantis.”

Cheyenne backs out a second time from the trip, while still allowing Glenn to save face.  She says, “I really wanted us to travel the world together but I feel that the store needs you.”  This makes Glenn’s day.

His dignity is not restored for long.  He immediately slips on the yogurt that had been left on the floor due to heat related labor disputes.

It’s a rough ending for a character we liked.  It didn’t work for me.  Obnoxious Marcus, who had dodged his duty to clean up the yogurt several times should have fallen on his own mess.  Maybe it’s the show’s comment on the way good people at work often pay for the dereliction of others.

A few minutes later, NBC continued its Thursday night comedy lineup with the third episode of the new sitcom, “POWERLESS.” The teaser opens as a broadcast of news taking place in where else? Atlantis.

Coincidence? A certain TV writing guru once said, “There are no coincidences in Art.”  The peacock network has a proclivity toward carrying a joke from one show to another. In this case, the mention of Atlantis on “SUPERSTORE” was meant to whet our appetite for mythical places and heroes in the upcoming sitcom, “POWERLESS.”

The tradition of sharing segments between shows that are not related as spinoff and original series dates at least as far back as November 17, 1994.  On that last Thursday before Thanksgiving, two New York-based shows had a turkey of a time dealing with the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The “Seinfeld” episode entitled, “The Mom and Pop Store” started off on a high note where Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt, had finally won the chance to hold some of the strings for the Woody Woodpecker float.

Sadly, Jerry attends a party thrown by a dentist and his friends in a building overlooking the parade.  As a dentist tries to examine Jerry’s teeth, the comedian inadvertently knocks a replica of the Empire State Building out the window toward the parade below.  The statuette pierces the Woody Woodpecker float with Mr. Pitt beneath it.

On the same evening, Monica and Ross Geller try to have a quiet Thanksgiving celebration at her apartment on “FRIENDS.”  As various peoples’ plans go awry, they all end up crashing Monica and Ross’ supper.

Monica starts preparing a hodgepodge dinner to suit everyone’s sensibilities when Chandler interrupts to say the Underdog balloon had slipped away from its handlers.  The gang goes out to the roof for a better glimpse, causing themselves to be locked out while their meal burns in the kitchen.

Upon first seeing one theme carried over to another show, it came across as a cheap gimmick to make NBC shows seem like a parallel universe.  I wondered if other audience members were as critical.  Today I see it as an intrusion of network “suits” on the scripts to keep the viewer from reaching for the remote after the first show.

The newer shows, “SUPERSTORE” and “POWERLESS,” had more than Atlantis in common:  they both dealt with the powerlessness of the individual against such forces as bureaucracy and privilege.

Just as Glenn slipped on yogurt left on the floor by Marcus in “SUPERSTORE,” the grunt workers at Wayne Security might lose their jobs when “Da Boss,” Van Wayne, mishandles an email sent by the representative of their biggest account, ACE Chemicals.

Trying to apologize to his subordinates, it becomes clear that Van fails to grasp its full significance.  Emily Locke, his new Head of R&D, encapsulates one of the show’s major themes, scolding him with “It’s great that you can mess up and there’s never any consequences but the rest of us don’t have your dad to care for us.”

With further encouragement, Van uses hard work and ingenuity to win a sizable chunk of business from the Island of Atlantis, thus regaining his father’s respect and earning Emily’s admiration.

The episode ends on the reassuring note that seemingly powerless people can actually work with those at the top of the heap for everyone’s mutual benefit.

When I hear writers complaining about the encroachment of corporate interests into their creativity, I as an outsider can at least imagine the relationship between network executives and writers as similar to the Van Wayne/Emily Locke dynamic and hope for the best.


“Quetzelcoatl,” AKA “The Feathered Serpent of Snark” is a frequent TVWriter™ contributor who has chosen to use a pseudonym because why the heck not?