A clueless, clumsy sitcom that can’t even muster nostalgia for itself, much less the golden age of video rental stores
The 90s are so hot right now, so it seems like the perfect time for a sitcom exploring the ups and downs of video rental stores. Netflix’s Blockbuster should exist to exploit nostalgia for those sweet days gone by. Unfortunately, the series has a contemporary setting that makes absolutely no sense, much like the show itself.
Perhaps Netflix means it to be ironically amusing that it funded a show about a company it put out to pasture, but that’s not really enough to build the show’s world. Sitcoms often evolve from flimsy premises, because the fun stems from the characters, and the simpler their lives, the funnier it is to see them encounter complications; however, there’s a difference between a gimmick and a concept. Blockbuster is all gimmick.
Timmy (Randall Park) manages the Blockbuster where he’s worked all his life. When corporate calls to announce they’re closing all their stores, Timmy decides to take over operations to run it as his own small business. His six full-time employees, including his love interest Eliza (Melissa Fumero) fully support this choice, and his best friend-slash-landlord (J.B. Smoove) is down. Hijinks (should) ensue!
The first problem here is that the world is mostly bereft of video stores at this point, and only one actual Blockbuster remains, and a documentary exists specifically to celebrate its novelty. It exists in a quirky small city in Oregon, whereas the fictionalized store is in Michigan. If a video store is fighting to stay open now, we need to understand how it survived and why that matters.
Along those same lines, this location has at least seven employees who all clock in first thing in the morning and apparently work all day long. There’s even a scene where Timmy ensures everyone’s full health benefits remain intact after his takeover. It might not take a financial wizard to uncover the source of the shop’s financial woes, and Timmy’s failure to recognize something so obvious makes him a moron, though the show clearly positions him as a clever everyman.
Logistically, video stores don’t offer much space to move around. Clerks spend most of their days standing behind a counter, scanning movies in and out. To avoid an ongoing static shot of seven people crammed in a tiny corral, Blockbuster often breaks up the A/B/C stories so one of them takes place entirely between people stocking movies. Again, if this store is busy enough to warrant a more than full-time restocking team, why is it in financial trouble?
Sitcom logistics are secondary at best if a series offers up relatable, well-rounded characters to drive its stories, and humor handily covers a multitude of sins. The truest problem at the heart of Blockbuster is that it truly has no heart. Park and Smoove gamely aim for chemistry, and sometimes even hit the mark, but Blockbuster gives them nothing to do. On the other hand, Park and Fumero heave and ho with all their might but never manage to lift their cumbersome love story off the ground.
It’s a shame, because Netflix had assembled Blockbuster as less of a cash-grab embodying the soulless spirit of commercialization, it could have been something for people to revisit for years to come. But you could say the same of its namesake chain, so at least that’s one thing they actually got right.