DISCLAIMER: This review of Blockbuster Season 1 contains minimal spoilers.
If you had told me 10 years ago that one day Netflix would produce a comedy about the last Blockbuster, I would’ve stared at you in disbelief. Netflix and Blockbuster had a complicated history, from the latter declining to purchase the former for a cool $50 million in 2000 to the popular video rental store inevitably going under with the rise of Redbox and streaming. While Netflix didn’t solely contribute to Blockbuster’s downfall, its more streamlined business model, which reduced the need for renting videos/DVDs in person, certainly didn’t help matters.
Needless to say, Blockbuster felt like the streaming juggernaut was pouring salt into a decades-old wound. However, given the cast and premise, I was intrigued. Who can say no to Melissa Fumero and Randall Park? The series comes from the mind of Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer/producer Vanessa Ramos. The remainder of the main cast includes Olga Merediz, Tyler Alvarez, Madeleine Arthur, Kamaia Fairburn and J.B. Smoove.
Season 1 follows Timmy (Park), a boisterous manager of the last Blockbuster in Michigan who seems perpetually stuck in the past. To be fair, he also worked at the rental store during its ’90s heyday. Timmy tries to rally his employees together — Eliza (Fumero), Connie (Merediz), Carlos (Alvarez), Hannah (Arthur) and Kayla (Fairburn) — to keep their store afloat. Smoove portrays Percy, Timmy’s BFF and the owner of a nearby party supply store.
Firstly, let me state that this cast kills it. Fumero and Park’s onscreen chemistry is electrifying. As the pilot shows, Eliza and Timmy embark on a will-they-won’t-they seasonal arc. After watching Fumero play Amy Santiago for seven years on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, admittedly, it was difficult to view her as another character. The Amy Force is strong with this one. Once you get a few episodes in, though, the Amy-ness of it all melts away.
The rest of the core cast delivers the goods, notably Alvarez, Merediz and Smoove. They’re distinct, fully fleshed-out characters that you can picture among the Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Superstore crews. Given who’s involved in Blockbuster, it’s nigh on impossible not to draw comparisons between this show and the aforementioned sitcoms.
However, this series hews too closely to its predecessors. It’s like watching Superstore and Brooklyn Nine-Nine … but in a video rental store. Ultimately, it lacks some of the charm, ringing like a more hollow version of the two. Its most grievous offenses are a combination of the vague seasonal narrative that meanders from episode to episode and the underutilization of Park and Fumero, two comedic forces of nature who need the space to go full throttle.
Blockbuster plays it too safe for my tastes. I think the potential to get weird is there — “the last Blockbuster store in existence” is a premise bursting with a treasure trove of eccentricities that are ripe for exciting TV. Instead, the show veers more toward conventional sitcom territory.
That’s not to say it’s terrible; it’s simply not great. Blockbuster resides in the lukewarm middle. You can turn it on as background noise or find mild amusement in the jokes that land. To be sure, there are genuinely funny moments in Season 1, and, as mentioned above, it’s brimming with potential. Perhaps a second season could unlock what we know is there.
While watching it, many jokes reminded me of dialogue from Tina Fey‘s shows. The difference? For the most part, Fey’s gags were better executed and at least fit the tone of her projects. Blockbuster overstuffs its dialogue with pop culture-laden joke after pop culture-laden joke. Almost every line is a joke. It’s as if the writing team solely honed in on the gags, forgoing plot and character development.
Maybe this series would’ve fared better if it were set in the ’90s, although I imagine the writers wanted to appeal to a contemporary audience. The mentions of Netflix are self-aware enough. However, Timmy’s objective to encourage a connection between customers and bring them into a more analog world feels almost too on the nose.
I imagine folks will mostly enjoy this if they love Superstore and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — it’s too similar to them and caters to that niche. Venture into your binge-watching with tempered expectations. It’s not hard-hitting, brilliant, innovative TV, but it doesn’t scrape the bottom of the artless, vapid barrel. You won’t regret watching it; however, you’ll find the experience, for the most part, is forgettable.
The performances are great despite the lack of chances for consummate performers like Fumero and Park to push the envelope comedically. Here’s hoping the writers take bolder risks should Netflix grant Blockbuster a second season. But how oddly poetic would it be if the streamer axed this show after one season, thereby dancing on the grave of what was once the titan of home entertainment yet again?
Blockbuster Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.