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Netflix’s Blockbuster TV Review

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The irony of Netflix, the company that essentially put Blockbuster out of business, making a series set in a Blockbuster store is perhaps one of the funniest things about the new sitcom Blockbuster. Although it’s theoretically inspired by the last existing Blockbuster video-rental store, Blockbuster has almost nothing to do with the real-life store depicted in the 2020 documentary The Last Blockbuster. That documentary is also streaming on Netflix, and it has more distinctive characters and more genuine affection for movies than the entire season of Blockbuster seems to.

While the actual last Blockbuster is located in Bend, Oregon, Blockbuster takes place in suburban Michigan, in a nondescript strip mall that could be located anywhere. The first episode opens with store manager Timmy Yoon (Randall Park) learning that all other Blockbuster stores have closed and the corporate office has shut down, leaving Timmy on his own. He’s been working at the same store since he was in high school, and he has to finally step up and take responsibility. It’s one of many familiar workplace-sitcom dynamics that could have been imported from a show set in any type of retail establishment. Creator Vanessa Ramos squanders almost all the unique potential of setting a show at the last Blockbuster.

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It’s no surprise that Blockbuster was originally developed for NBC before being picked up by Netflix since it has the feel of a network sitcom from a decade or two ago. Ramos is a sitcom veteran whose credits include Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Mr. Mayor, and Blockbuster has all the predictable narrative beats of those shows without the clever jokes or memorable characters.

There’s a perfunctory will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic between Timmy and employee Eliza Walker (Melissa Fumero), but it’s a pale reflection of the similar connection between Fumero and Andy Samberg on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Timmy has had a crush on Eliza since high school, but of course, as soon as he’s about to declare his love for her in the first episode, she reveals that she’s getting back together with her estranged husband. Blockbuster is full of contrived obstacles and artificial deadlines like that, with stories about suddenly urgent needs to raise rent money or lay off an employee.

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The supporting cast includes Tyler Alvarez, Madeleine Arthur, Olga Merediz, and Kamaia Fairburn as the other Blockbuster employees, with J.B. Smoove as Timmy’s best friend, Percy Scott, who owns the strip mall and runs a party store next door. Alvarez’s Carlos Herrera comes closest to capturing the vibe of a dedicated video-store employee with his supposed filmmaking ambitions, but all of his movie references are superficial. An episode in which a new store intern tries to outdo Carlos’ film knowledge comes off as if the writing staff has little interest in cinema beyond casual trivia.

People who dedicate themselves to working at the last outpost of a dying home-video format should have some amount of passion for film, but everyone aside from Carlos barely mentions movies at all. In one episode, Carlos comes up with the idea of exchanging employee picks, with everyone picking movies that they think the others would like, but there’s no sense of what kind of taste in movies any of these characters have. Even supposed cinephile Carlos just occasionally names filmmakers, seemingly at random.

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Those missed opportunities would be less disappointing if Blockbuster were a genuinely funny and engaging sitcom, but even as a low-key show about retail workers, it can feel like a chore to get through. The characters are often irritating, and their personalities seem to shift according to the demands of individual episodic plots. Arthur’s Hannah Hadman is dim and naive except when she needs to be insightful, and Merediz’s Connie Serrano is a sweet, out-of-touch older woman except when she needs to be savvy or ruthless. They’re inconsistent rather than complex, and they don’t build interesting or meaningful relationships over the course of the 10-episode season. Park and Fumero are likable as the dueling leads, and they have enough chemistry that their inevitable romance is unobjectionable. The rest of the cast is somewhat forgettable, aside from Smoove, who tries way too hard as the abrasive Percy.

The jokes are lackluster, and the pop-culture references are often dated. There are occasional self-aware mentions of streaming and the death of video stores, and one store customer says, “Algorithms can suck it!” in the first episode. However, Blockbuster doesn’t come off as a clever meta sitcom with something to say about the new era of cinema and Blockbuster’s place in it, and any jabs directed at Netflix itself are mild at best. The Last Blockbuster is sometimes clumsy and self-satisfied, but at least it offers a look into a unique business run by dedicated people. In the streaming era, it’s easy to ignore this new sitcom and just give that documentary another shot.

The 10-episode first season of Blockbuster premieres Thursday, Nov. 3 on Netflix.

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