'Superstore': Ben Feldman and EPs on Amy & Jonah's 'Messy' [SPOILER]

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched the 100th episode of Superstore. You are about to enter major spoiler territory.

Pour one out for Amy and Jonah, Superstore fans. NBC’s workplace comedy celebrated its landmark 100th episode by sending America Ferrera off with a bittersweet goodbye and breaking up the central couple in heartbreaking fashion.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for Amy and Jonah, seeds that were planted in last week’s season 6 premiere, when cracks began to surface over their future with her impending departure to California to set up shop at Zephyr corporate. On Thursday’s episode, “California: Part 2,” Amy and Jonah’s relationship implodes when Jonah makes it known that he’s seriously thinking about taking the next step in their partnership: marriage. When Amy balks at Jonah’s revelation that he’s ready to take the next step and relocate to sunny California, it all goes downhill from there.

For Jonah, it all boils down to one big question: “Do you want to marry me: yes or no?” Amy’s response isn’t what he wants to hear: “No.” But she’s even questioning her own answer, asking moments later, “What if I made a mistake?” “Then you’ll know where to find me,” Jonah replies, putting a pin on their relationship after their blow-up fight. Considering their courtship began in earnest on Day 1 of Superstore, and Amy and Jonah have been together for more than two seasons (a lifetime by TV show standards), their abrupt breakup is jarring and gut-wrenching — though their lack of finality leaves open the possibility for a reconciliation down the line. So what happens now, with Amy off to the Golden State and Jonah staying put at Cloud 9 in St. Louis?

ET hopped on the phone with star/producer Ben Feldman and showrunners Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller to discuss Amy and Jonah’s big breakup, why they chose to go this direction and what’s next for Jonah without Amy.

ET: Why was breaking up Amy and Jonah the right call here, instead of keeping them together?

Jonathan Green: Some of it was logistical. We felt if Jonah had to be reporting, “I had just got off the phone with Amy,” sometimes that device can get frustrating for viewers. But also, we wanted to allow him to be free to move on and let us explore more of his life. But we also felt it was spurred by what we had set up with these characters. They really were going in different directions. When Jonah first met Amy, he was the one crossing through and he’s inspired her to seek more than just her circumstances. It felt like she had taken a lesson from him in a way and went after this job in a new place and was going to move across the country.

We just thought that it felt right for their characters. And maybe, even though he had this influence on her, they were still on different pages in the relationship as far as what their future would be. Especially with Amy having had a failed marriage, she might be gun shy about letting life circumstances dictate a big move like this again. So, it just sort of made sense and felt real to us and messy, in a good way. It’s not just a “happily ever after” story, but real people dealing with their differences and different things that they might want. We were also determined to keep the door open to a possible future together, ultimately. But this just felt like the right move for now.

How much of a debate internally was there about whether or not to keep them together? 

Gabe Miller: We definitely discussed it a lot. I think it came down to, when we thought about how it would actually look to have them in a long-distance relationship where we could never see Amy, it just felt like this was a better way to go where they [broke up]. As much as we all liked the idea that they might stay together and date long-distance, because we had laid this groundwork of them finding each other, it just seemed like we didn’t know how enjoyable that would be to watch as a TV show. And how frustrating it might be to not be able to see Amy. What it would do for Jonah’s character too, if that old side of his life was something that we could never explore or see much of.

Were you surprised Amy and Jonah split up?

Ben Feldman: Because I’m an actor/producer on the show, there wasn’t a moment where I read it and was surprised. We’ve been in discussion for a really long time. Honestly, I think the surprise was when America first told me when she would be leaving and that it was happening. That was the thing that was really surprising. But from that moment on, it was always, “How do we tell this story correctly?” And we kind of had to do it twice, because we got cut off making the final episode last year. So there was a script that was different than what you saw that ended last season that was a goodbye. There’s a million talks that we have beforehand, and you’re going throughout the season, you’re planting things and you’re building towards something, and you know that as an actor or a producer. It was a really long goodbye. I barely remember what it was like to be surprised or even curious because it’s been such a long discussion — and then to redo it this year. But I’m happy with this year. I’m happier with this episode than I think I was with the original plan, so all that talking worked out, I think.

 

So the destination was always the same from the original plan?

Feldman: For the most part, yeah. How we got there and how we kind of left it, whether it’s goodbye forever or leaving room for something in the future, those were all different discussions that everybody had and continue to have. But there was an end goal that was always relatively the same.

One of the most gut-wrenching scenes was Amy and Jonah’s big fight. Why do you think their relationship reached a point where they weren’t on the same page anymore? 

Feldman: I know, I’m dreading Twitter that night. It’s a good question because it’s tough. It’s tough to get there and to tell that story in an economical amount of time. We could have done four episodes of just Amy and Jonah and no one else, and given that story some time, but you just don’t have the luxury of that. And so we had to hit each of those beats and define clearly what both of them were going through. She was confused and she was worried about things she had done, mistakes she had made in the past. She’s got so much changing and so much to worry about that that was sort of her deal, whereas Jonah doesn’t. Jonah has very little to be concerned about, and at the same time, Jonah is turning his entire life upside down to make something happen.

Even then, at one point it was written in a way where Jonah was a little more forgiving a little faster. We had a lot of talks with the writers, the other producers and America about, if this were me and I had turned my entire life upside down — he says, “blown up my life for her” — and she was like, “Well, I don’t know,” I would be livid. If it were me telling the story, if we were an hour-long drama and we had a lot more real estate, a lot more time to tell the story, I would have had Jonah livid for an extremely long time. We’ve found we met in the middle a little bit, and I think there’s an ambiguous, melancholic, nuanced ending between them where you don’t get that satisfying, “Don’t worry kids, you’re going to do great out there. I’ll be waiting for you.” You don’t have that. You have a “Well, what is their deal? Is he upset? Are they on good terms? What happens next for them?” And I kind of liked that better. It just feels more real.

At the end, in the parking lot, there’s another moment where the discussion was like, “Do they make up right there and they talk it out, or do they get in a big fight?” And I was like, “No, they live together. They obviously have to get in a car afterwards and drive home.” So we’re not going to be a typical sitcom and tidy everything up in a parking lot outside of their work. These people have real lives that you don’t see on TV, and we wanted it to feel real and nuanced. And I feel like we got there.

How brutal was it to film the breakup?

Feldman: It was brutal and then it was exhausting. Luckily, when you call “cut” America and I are both friends that work together. But that’s an exhausting thing to do over and over again. And also, that scene was discussed like crazy. There were so many different aspects of that scene that we discussed. There was rewriting that we were doing the day of and the day before. Even originally, Sandra came in kind of in the middle and did this whole goofy thing, which was really funny, but it kind of destroyed the flow of the scene, and how do Amy and Jonah just stand there and let her do this goofy thing, and then go back into it? No, we can’t. There was a lot of discussion about that and I definitely came home exhausted that week. But yeah, whatever anybody is going to take away from that scene, they should know, whatever it is was discussed a billion times over by all of us.

How do you decide when to have Jonah potentially move on romantically? Is that something that’s in the back of your minds as he embarks on a new chapter without Amy?

Feldman: I don’t think we even know at this point. We have to obviously go ahead as though that’s maybe the last time you see them, but America has always expressed that she’d loved to come back at the end if that works out. But yeah, I think we left it open. Again, not necessarily for the convenience of the show, but just because that felt real. It’s not like one of them cheated on the other, there was no awful offense that can’t be undone. It’s just wrong time, confused emotions and in real life, that’s something where she’s not going back to her husband, [Jonah]’s not moving to Germany.

Green: Yeah. We had discussions about that. They’ve been together for several years. It was a very important relationship to tell then. Obviously, from the way we presented it in 6×02, it had a big emotional effect on him. So, we didn’t want to rush anything. We wanted to honor the impact that would have on his life. But we also didn’t want him dwelling in that sadness of the breakup. We have him early on maybe throwing himself into other things, trying to focus on work or trying to focus on what’s next for him. What’s his plan now? What he thought was his plan — going out to California and starting a new life with Amy — has just blown up. It’s not only Amy that he’s lost…

It’s also Amy’s child, Parker, who he’s been helping to raise. He’s lost a lot.

Green: Yeah. We did not want it to be, “OK, episode three, Jonah, just back, none of that ever happened,” so we’ll be seeing the effects of the breakup for a while as he tries to deal with what his life is now.

Where does the next episode pick up? 

Green: It’s Glenn taking over again as manager, so it is pretty immediately after Amy has moved.

What can you say in terms of how Jonah is handling the immediate aftermath of the breakup? What version of Jonah will we be seeing for the next couple of episodes?

Feldman: Jonah does not become a monk, I guess is one thing I can say. He continues to be a single guy living his life. We will explore that when the time is right. I mean, obviously, we’re not offering an “Amy No. 2” the day after she’s out the door. We’re finding delicate ways to approach that idea, but I don’t think I can talk about it.

Miller: He will try to throw himself into work and think, “Maybe I can move up here at the store.” That’s the storyline that sort of plays out. We see him try to look at the opportunities in the store. And meanwhile, trying to tell Glenn especially that everything’s fine. People don’t have to be worried about saying the name Amy around him. He’s clearly hurt by it. He’s trying to be adult about it and throw himself into other things.

What are you excited for viewers to look forward to in this next phase of Superstore?

Green: There’s some interesting stuff that happens with the management of the store. Glenn is determined to be a different kind of manager this time around or not stress himself out as much in the job. That’ll lead to a new manager situation, several episodes in. We haven’t seen the last of Dina and Garrett’s relationship at home and that will come to the forefront again for them. Even though Dina is happily dating Brian, it becomes a more complicated situation for her. And Carol is not done bringing drama to the store.

Feldman: This season, I’m really excited to see how people connect to this show in light of what’s going on, and the way our country looks, and the way the world has looked over the past half a year. I think it’s an interesting energy that the show is bringing, telling the story of these characters who were just fun, funny, goofy grocery store workers when we all wrapped last season, and have since become heroes and life-risking frontline workers. I think we owe it to them and to their real-life counterparts to tell the story in the realest but also the funniest way possible. 

You mentioned a new manager. Is that a new person taking over?

Green: More of a new arrangement, not a new person.

Sandra completely stanning Amy and Jonah was welcomed levity.

Green: This season another thing we’re really excited about is we’re seeing more of what Sandra is as a mother. Now that she is in the adoption process with Tony, we’re going to see him more and we’ll see her in this new role as mother.

The interviews with Ben Feldman and executive producers Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller were conducted separately.

Superstore airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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