Comedy 'Superstore' is selling nothing new; crime documentary 'Killing Fields' is compelling

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In "Superstore," Mark McKinney plays one of a gaggle of oddball characters we've seen a thousand times before.

I was excited when I heard one of the writers of The Office had created a workplace sitcom set at a Walmart-ian bargain basement box store.

It's a tantalizing idea with plenty of room for goofy fun and social satire alike.

I should have known better. NBC's America Ferrera vehicle, Superstore, premiering at 8 p.m. Monday, is an unimaginative, run-of-the-mill network affair full of stock characters, flat dialogue, and too many poop references.

It's one of two new and very different shows next week.

Tuesday will bring the series premiere of Discovery's Killing Fields, an atmospheric documentary about a Louisiana cop's attempts to solve an 18-year-old murder.

As antic as a mannequin

Superstore opens on a shot of Cloud 9, a massive, brightly colored box store in suburbia. "The American superstore," a voice-over intones, "one-stop shopping for everything you could ever want or need."

Except, it seems, humor.

Created by writer-producer Justin Spitzer, Superstore is centered on the workplace relationship between a mother and wife named Amy (Ferrera) whose job is a serious, full-time affair, and Jonah (A to Z alum Ben Feldman), an over-educated guy breezing through on his way to a real career.

Ferrera and Feldman generate a lot of nervous energy but little else. There's no real chemistry between them anywhere in the four episodes made available to critics. Their lack of connection makes their confrontations less awkwardly cute and more merely embarrassing to watch.

The two leads share floor space with a gaggle of oddball characters we've seen a thousand times before in a thousand better shows.

Lauren Ash is a gun fetishist who falls for Jonah, Colton Dunn is a paraplegic prankster, and Nichole Bloom a pregnant, 17-year-old airhead. Oh, and let's not forget Nico Santos as the studious gay Asian neurotic who is made up to look like Tweety Bird with glasses.

An obsessed detective

Two years ago, Law & Order maestro Dick Wolf entered the crowded field of true-crime TV with TNT's classy Cold Justice.

Now, two other Hollywood heavyweights are trying their luck with Killing Fields. Co-exec produced by Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street, St. Elsewhere) and Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), Discovery's series tries to distinguish itself from the crowd with an interesting gimmick: Filmed in real time, it follows a 21-week investigation as it unfolds.

The entire season will be devoted to one case: The 1997 murder of a 34-year-old Louisiana woman.

The story is told from the point of view of a detective who vows to solve the case that has haunted him for 18 years. His investigation turns up disturbing evidence that he may be dealing with the work of a prolific serial killer.

This is the kind of story that builds over time, so it's difficult to tell - Discovery made only one episode available - whether the rest of the series will stay as compelling as the pilot. But it's a doozy of an episode.


Superstore
Premieres at 8 p.m. Jan. 4 on NBC.

Killing Fields
Premieres at 10 p.m. Jan. 5 on Discovery Channel