SPOILERS FOR SUPERSTORE AHEAD
Medical dramas are always good fun to watch. House M.D., Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs and countless more have an everlasting and loyal fanbase.
Not only is the medical mystery intriguing (although, maybe a little far-fetched) but the characters’ personal lives are just as enticing to watch.
But despite being present in nearly every healthcare setting, pharmacists don’t get much screen time. We’re either represented by a faceless white coat in the background as the doctors fuss over their love lives or by a helpful but bland pharmacy professional behind a counter.
So imagine my delight when I came across Tate, a pharmacist in NBC’s Superstore!
The Realities of Retail Pharmacy
Superstore is set in Cloud 9, a store that sells… well, seemingly everything (think Tesco or Asda in the UK). As with all of these big chain stores, there are smaller departments within, such as an opticians or a pharmacy.
The show follows the antics of Cloud 9 employees and is led by Amy (America Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman). For me, the first two seasons showcased a brilliant comedy with heartfelt moments. I’d definitely recommend you to watch it!
It has all the flavours of a typical workplace sitcom, and then enter the familiar:
Tate Staskiewicz, the pharmacist.
Played by Josh Lawson, Tate is self-centred and unprofessional. He’s only after what benefits him, walks away from responsibility often, and isn’t shown to care much for others.
Yes, you read that correctly. He is absolutely not what a real pharmacist should be, and yet, this character has become one of Superstore’s most loved additions.
Tate is an exaggeration of life in pharmacy, almost a caricature, but his actions are not too far from the truth. Maybe somehow, in some cases, he’s actually saying what we all really think…
When a sly customer asks if Tate can put a few non-pharmacy items through the till, Tate remarks snidely:
“Yeah. I have a doctorate in pharmacy so this is a great use of my time. I live to serve!”
Any pharmacist working in retail or community pharmacy will know exactly how that feels (though it’s not that we don’t want to serve or help customers!).
In the Cloud 9 pharmacy, it seems Tate doesn’t have any pharmacy techs or dispensers helping him out (perhaps he drove them away with his ego or constant reminders about his great salary). In season one, Tate ropes Jonah, a Cloud 9 sales assistant, into helping him deliver the seasonal flu jabs.
But not just deliver the jabs: actually do them himself. Ah, if only I could delegate tasks with such confidence (and recklessness) like that…
There’s one particular scene that sold me on Tate as a character. When Cheyenne, a pregnant sales assistant, goes into labour, Tate walks onto the scene with bravado. He’s wearing latex gloves and his lab coat, looking very much like an authoritative medical professional. Just what they needed, right?
Tate asks Cheyenne what medicines she’s taken, to which she replies ‘just some Tums’. He concludes that it won’t harm the baby and snaps his gloves off, walking away.
Amy demands him to come back, but he scoffs and says that he doesn’t know anything about delivering babies — he’s a pharmacist for crying out loud!
Even after this ridiculous situation, the crowd applauds Tate’s service, to which he replies that his ‘training kicked in’.
As a pharmacist who has worked on maternity wards, I felt this. While we obviously provide a comprehensive pharmacy service to all parts of a hospital, some areas are quite specialised, which means the level of input we have is not necessarily the same as, say, on a general medical ward.
It’s ridiculous and hilarious in equal measure, and yet there’s still a kernel of truth in a scene like this.
A Side Character With Soul
Unfortunately, Tate’s character dropped off the radar after season 3 (out of 6). It’s understandable why that would happen in the real world. Sometimes actors have other commitments and writers just don’t see a reason to keep a character hanging around.
Tate provided a different kind of entertainment from the main cast of characters, as he was pretty much independent working in the pharmacy away from the main store.
In season 3, Tate was involved in a short-lived relationship with Amy (yeah, I know, I wasn’t a big fan either) and then seemed to never be seen again. It wasn’t the most fitting ending for a character that had built up his own flavour of comedy, and I would have definitely liked to have seen more of the snarky pharmacist in subsequent seasons.
Superstore delivered what has been missing from pharmacy pop culture: a real, believable character that can hold their own with the main cast. Sure, he wasn’t the main character, but to be honest, that’s not what I’m looking for.
The media often portrays pharmacists as soulless shop assistants who want nothing more to do with patients than hand out their prescription. But there’s a lot more to life in pharmacy than that.
The job itself can be tedious at times, but what job isn’t? I am certain there aren’t doctors that behave like Sherlock Holmes when it comes to diagnosing an illness, but that’s how you make a compelling story.
The job itself is just a job. But we come back to these shows and dramas for the characters underneath them; in this case, the utter lack of self-awareness and egotistical nature of Tate. His character fits the comedy it is written for (though I’d most certainly never want to work with him!)
Medical dramas are abundant. We will keep watching them because they provide a mixture of comedy, drama and heartfelt moments that we crave in a good show. So why not add a fresh new character that isn’t a doctor or nurse (or even a janitor)?
There’s plenty of humour to be had in pharmacy and pharmacist characters. Not only that, but it fleshes out the world of the show much more: pharmacy is present in nearly every healthcare establishment.
Sure, it might seem like we’re in our own little world of pills and potions, but we are constantly interacting with all kinds of healthcare staff that it’d be impossible to miss us completely. As we saw in the UK during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies are a fundamental part of our healthcare infrastructure.
I’ll end in the words of Tate:
“Have you ever held a dying man’s hand in yours while you have to tell him that we don’t accept rewards points for his medication?”