Thursday, November 17, 2016

Visual Comfort Food

Disclaimer #1: Basketball season has begun and thus my often regular blog posts may becomes less regular. I am doing more this year than last (both within and outside the basketball world), so it might be harder to keep the twice weekly schedule.

Disclaimer #2: My recollections here are the impressions of a ten year old, filtered through a quarter century of memory. Please do not use them to judge anyone as they are very likely wrong and almost certainly inaccurate.

That being said, I've found myself really liking the NBC sit-com Superstore. I know, I know, with all the great TV being made right now, why would you spend time with what has to be the most traditional, uninspiring, predictable show on NETWORK TV? Short answer: it's funny. Yes, it's a very cliched premise: a bunch of diverse people work at a Wal-mart stand-in; chaos ensues. It's a traditional workplace comedy - the show is about the characters and their interactions more than it's about any actual thing. The lives of the characters outside the store occasionally enter the story-line, but only as out-of-place intruders that must be dealt with.

I'm not going to make this post about how Superstore has some deeper meaning and overarching lesson for today's society. It is everything you feared it would be - it's typical; it's traditional; it's a set-up you've seen a hundred times before. One difference, though: it's funny. Really funny. The writing is clever and they make sure to pack every episode with two or three interstitial three second scenes where something funny, yet also believable happens in the store with none of the main characters involved. It's inventive within a very rigid box and I appreciate the creativity. It's also super well written (did I mention that?). The jokes are funny. I chuckle A LOT - which is saying something.

All of that to say, one of the best performances (as one might expect) is Kids in the Hall and SNL alum Mark McKinney, who plays Glenn, the store manager. His character is a take off on conservative Christians, with a little mormon love thrown in there. It would be easy for the performance to be hackey; a boss used for mockery and as a comic foil is pretty typical of these typical network shows. Glenn, though, has heart. He's a real person who doesn't at all fit a stereotype (even as the show tends to play into and then subvert typical sit-com stereotypes - dammit, I did end up making the case that there's more to this show than appears on the surface - honestly that was not my intention; I promise).

What I like about Glenn is how comfortable he is to me. I realized this morning that Glenn is like the evangelical Christians I knew growing up, before they were co-opted by the Republican party. He's religiously devout and morally ultra-conservative (in one episode he buys all the store's "morning after" pills to keep them from being used, but then has to sell them from a card table at the front of the store when he realizes how expensive they are and can't return them), but he's not hardened or ideological. Glenn loves people. All people, in every situation, and he repeatedly works to compromise between his deeply-felt convictions and his love for other people.

This is the environment in which I grew up. We were political, only in so far as abortion was concerned. A one-issue community, for the most part. I'm sure people cared about tax policy and whatever else, but none of those things were tied up in their faith. Morality was important (and it is actually important), but in the context of loving and caring for people. I grew up in a worshiping congregation that routinely welcomed people who were left out in the larger world and loved them not only into community, but into a better story for their own lives. When I say routinely, I can think of a half dozen people in a second and probably three times that if I sat down intentionally.

I thought of Glenn this morning at random, but I realized he perfectly embodies that thing so many conservative Christians are known for these days: he is "love the sinner, hate the sin." The guy's got integrity and purpose - he has views that he's pretty up-front about, but never in the context of condemnation. He doesn't disprove of some mistake or choice a friend has made in the moment - he just think the best of everyone and tries to help.

Yeah, it's just a sit-com. It's not a life lesson. But certainly the things we watch shape us in some way - that's why we like deep story and creativity. Superstore is really none of those things, but it does speak deeply to how people who are profoundly different can also be united in common cause. There's no big message there, but it's funny and comforting and well made.

That's all I wanted to say.

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