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For Superstore creator and executive producer Justin Spitzer, it’s a standout moment at the end of season two, when a tornado hits the St. Louis-based Cloud 9 big-box store. The scene, an unexpected turn in the latter of episode’s storyline, is not only ambitious in size and scale -- the show destroys the store, after all -- but also what it does for the many characters, including Amy (America Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman), who finally kiss after two season of building flirtation and chemistry; devout Christian Glenn (Mark McKinney) praying to multiple gods; Dina (Lauren Ash) and Garrett (Colton Dunn) realizing there may be more to their relationship than casual sex; and Mateo (Nico Santos), who professes his love to ex-boyfriend Jeff (Michael Bunin).
In a conversation about the episode, Spitzer reveals the origins of the tornado and why it was different from so many of TV’s big storm episodes.
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“Tornado,” Season 2, Episode 21
The episode is the culmination of so much set-up. In episode three of season two (“Back to Work”), we had some joke we put in randomly about a tornado, when Amy was giving a tornado drill to distract Glenn from realizing Tom’s thumb was severed. When we wrote that joke, we started talking about how it would be great to someday actually do “the tornado hits the store” scene and not just do what the expectations would be—oh, there’s a tornado warning, which forces honest discussions and confrontations, which all leads to no tornado hitting. Wouldn't it be interesting if we actually had the tornado hit the store and what it would be like? Then at a certain point, we found out that Universal had to demolish our soundstages because the studio is connected to the theme park and the theme park was going to be using some of that space. It just felt like fate or karma. With that in mind, we started every four or five episodes, putting in a little reference or little joke to the fact that the store was in no way ready for a tornado.
An episode like this, where something huge is happening, suggests everyone would be acting in a different way. We started with brainstorming sessions about everything that could happen in a store during a tornado. We had everybody writing scenes and I was pruning and rewriting.
The decision about whether Amy and Jonah should kiss or not was more debated than anything we've done in the past two years. And really, up to the last minute, I decided not to have them kiss yet. It’s very important to me to be incredibly slow in how we get them together or if we get them together. I didn't know if we had earned it yet. So we kept going back and forth on it: is it holding hands, a look, are they going to kiss? I think it was my wife who was like, What are you doing, just have them kiss!
There are a few scenes that I think are standout for the show, but part of what I love about “Tornado” is that it’s different from what we've done in the past—and we have to choose those moments carefully. It's not like we want to do scenes like this all the time. Even beyond that, the tornado leads to moments of more drama. There are some sweet moments. There are moments of romance in it.
We try to be parsimonious when we use interesting camera shots, or interesting music that's not store Muzak, so that when we do decide to use it, it means something. So during the entire tornado sequence, the camera feels like it's more involved than it normally does. At the very end, Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” plays over the whole end—we normally wouldn't do that. Our last shot is a crane shot revealing the store’s destruction—we don't do that very often either. It was always part of the intent of the show, when we made the pilot, where we made the decision to keep the camera handheld and not do fancy shots until the very end, when stars came out. We try to keep a baseline of normalcy and then really let it pop when we go out of it. This episode felt emblematic of that.
If I was happy about anything, it was the idea of a storm episode where the storm does actually hit.
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Superstore airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.