Blockbuster is now streaming on Netflix.
Netflix’s Blockbuster series was about to offer a modern look at a self-sufficient relic from a bygone era. A comical, yet candid show, in which equal emphasis is placed on the machinations of the cast and the alignment of opposing forms of media consumption. The premise is as sound as the question you ask: What would it look like to work in the last Blockbuster on Earth? Apparently, it’s the same as working at any other brick and mortar store, if you believe Netflix’s interpretation of it.
The show depicts the plight of Timmy Yoon (Randall Park), a manager of a local Blockbuster company who struggles to keep the lights on after learning that his store is the last in America. Modern trappings such as streaming services and lack of company support put financial strains on the business. Plans are made to gain new customers, but few succeed in this. Others lead to embarrassing pitfalls and potential lawsuits. It’s a sad case for sure, given that Timmy’s one passion in life seems to be related to this job. His love for movies has never been overshadowed by his feelings for Eliza (Melissa Fumero), a long-timer and recently returned to the store as an employee.
Blockbuster’s setup was initially promising. Inspired by the franchise’s last actual video rental store, the sentiment expressed here can serve as a lasting time capsule – a collective reminder of the past at work in the present. Essentially, portraying a crew trying to keep this old store alive in our broadcast-based world is intriguing, given how the show was written and produced by Brooklyn Nine-NineVanessa Ramos, sense of humor. Unfortunately, Blockbuster fails to display the exact perspective one can derive from such a predicament.
The majority of issues that appear over the course of 10 episodes are common. Trying to get customers to visit a store in person, rather than shopping online, is a dilemma that most small businesses – even those that have recently been part of a larger group – face. A veteran employee experiencing anything application-related to which a teenage co-worker is exposed is a familiar thing. Tough decisions about layoffs. Mishandling of money. Even “office” romance, where unrequited love leads to awkward exchanges and marked favors, is to be expected. This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a problem…at least, it’s not far from the fact that none of these dilemmas have much to do with managing Blockbuster specifically.
Rather than relying on the unique situation the actors found themselves in, the show focuses on their (sometimes) turbulent relationships. Interesting aspects of their teamwork are avoided for things that could happen elsewhere. There are moments when characters might mention wanting to see a streaming show about renting something or how the shop can bring people together as a beacon to the community. But the cast rarely gets to grips with the idea of late fees, missing movies, shelving issues, how many people don’t own DVD players that aren’t game consoles, or much of anything rental service in today’s market. Outside of random movie quotes and set design, it’s easy to forget that Blockbuster is supposed to be a dying video rental store.
This does not mean that the societal aspects of Blockbuster are not important. Viewers need to pay attention to the characters in order to invest. Write them well enough and most of them will beat the derived story beats. This group of characters, while as eccentric as some of them are, are unable to carry the show on their own. For example, there is not much in the way of humor. The cast is obviously trying but none of their jokes are up to par. Meanwhile, don’t feel like the hearty moments are earned. JB Smoove in particular as Percy (Timmy’s best friend) struggles with this; His dealings with his estranged daughter Kayla (Camia Fairborn) provoke emotional reactions because of the sad nature of their relationship, not because of the strong performance.
The same can be said of Timmy’s efforts to keep his business and his friends. It is as easy to stand behind his various plans as responding to his predicament. And while Randall Park does a decent job in the role, his charm as an actor only goes so far. Melissa Fumero has done better at times, thanks to her charismatic and sometimes emotional portrayal of Elisa. Madeleine Arthur and Olga Meredez often steal the show with their bizarre behavior / outbursts as co-workers Hannah and Connie respectively. Alas, the occasional smile they produced was always a short-lived event.
Blockbuster is at its best when the focus is on the actors regarding their unique dilemma. Late-night stock checks, position fumbling, a washed-up movie star destroying an event—these are the parts that shine as actors have to deal with the reality of their situation in chaotic ways. The problem is that Blockbuster is rarely at its best, and at its worst, the show fails to justify its existence.
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