Remember the blue and yellow ambiance, the sweet candy and microwave-buttered popcorn smell, and those friendly Blockbuster staff who would greet you walking into your local Blockbuster? I do. And if you were lucky enough to frequent the video rental franchise in 1999, there was even a short stint where a Pokemon Snap station would be there waiting for you.
That’s the nostalgia that Netflix’s new comedy “Blockbuster” hopes to capture. The 10-episode series follows Timmy, the manager of the last Blockbuster store on Earth, portrayed by Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat,” “Always Be My Maybe”).
Although a sitcom that yearns for the nostalgia of the ’90s would seem like a perfect fit for Park, he told Mochi Magazine that he was hesitant at first. “I thought, oh gosh, I did a sitcom for six seasons, and I don’t know if I want to do another sitcom,” he said. After reading the pilot script by Vanessa Ramos (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), he changed his mind because the show was about so much more than Blockbuster the store, but also about “a workplace family.”
Additionally, Park was drawn to the complexities of Timmy — a struggling and overnight business owner, as well as a hopeful romantic. As described in the show description, Timmy is an analog dreamer in a 5G world. And it works! Park’s charisma and smiling face are definitely who I would picture greeting me at my neighborhood Blockbuster.
“That really resonates with me. The fact that he likes things down-home and small, and he likes to keep his world simple. He’s all about the people in his life, the community, and the store,” Park said. “It is just a simple way of seeing the world. And I really respect that. It’s a great kind of trait to have, and it’s something that, at my core, is very similar to who I am.”
Filling out the cast are seasoned comedy veterans, including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” alumna Melissa Fumero as Eliza, Timmy’s love interest, and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” alumnus JB Smoove as Percy, Timmy’s best friend and landlord. The Blockbuster store staff is portrayed by younger up-and-coming actors Madeleine Arthur, Tyler Alverez, and Kamaia Fairburn, as well as Tony award–nominated Olga Merediz.
On paper, Park and his motley crew make sense, and together, the blue and yellow–uniformed team would provide hours’ worth of laughs. Sadly, there are major issues with the show, and while it would be easier for me to say it’s just not funny, I adore Park too much to do that.
While the irony of the show’s concept is not lost on me — streaming services such as the one producing this series effectively put the chain store out of business — the irony is lost throughout the script and plot.
For instance, the opening scene begins with a customer who returned their rental late — like years late, not months. The customer squirms as Timmy gently asks why, and after much hesitation exclaims, “It was Netflix!” But instead of Timmy and the crew making self-reflexive and self-deprecating jokes about Netflix’s takeover, the customer continues to share that Netflix just doesn’t know him well enough. His ex-girlfriend left him for a baker and the platform keeps recommending “The Great British Bake Off.” But instead of making jokes about Netflix’s algorithm, the crew quips about what life is like as a baker’s girlfriend and pile on each other.
My problem with this is that we don’t know any of the cast members and what role they play. Moreover, throughout the series, their unique quirks and their relationships with Timmy are never defined. All I remember is that Eliza is the one Timmy has a crush on, and one of the other staff really enjoys making films.
In workplace comedies, it’s essential that these characteristics are exaggerated a bit so that we know the difference between the characters. Anyone who is a millennial or older (dating myself here, I know) can clearly tell you Jim’s feelings about Pam, Dwight, Michael Scott, and the rest of “The Office” cast, and it is fun to connect to the peculiarity and specificity of those characters, even nearly two decades later.
What I will give the show is that like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” the jokes are in 2022 (a.k.a. politically correct). You don’t hear a single homophobic or racist joke, which can be difficult when so many in comedy still resort to the low-hanging fruit that is derogatory and harmful.
“I always feel like limitations are a good thing,” Park noted. “When it comes to art, it’s all about working with what you got. Times change; attitudes change. And that shouldn’t be a bad thing. It should actually inspire you to kind of think differently, and that should be exciting.”
The show comes from a really good place, and you feel like the team behind the series aimed to produce a heartwarming plot. It is clear that Timmy loves his coworkers and they mean a lot to him. Even though we are seeing more East Asian men taking center stage lately (e.g., “Shang-Chi,” “Quantum Leap”), it is a nice reminder to see Park once again break out of the stereotype of a stern, stoic Asian patriarch and be a part of this found family.
But, ultimately, despite the joy that Randall Park brings to the series — and, let’s be honest, Hollywood and, dare I say, life in general — “Blockbuster” lacks the reflexive and honest comedy that illuminates the dire reality of the situation, in the way that knockout sitcoms such as “Abbott Elementary” bring to life. There would be so much more fodder and laughter if Netflix could just laugh at themselves.
“Blockbuster” is a workplace comedy series following lead Randall Park and his team of employees at the last surviving Blockbuster store. It is set to premiere on Thursday, November 3, on Netflix.
Cover credit: Netflix
Last modified: November 3, 2022