In 2019, the Blockbuster in Bend, Ore. became the world’s last remaining location of the once-popular video store franchise. Blockbusters around the world shuttered largely as a result of enormous debt, legal issues and a national shift to streaming. But the Blockbuster brand has popped up in different film and TV projects, including the 2020 documentary “The Last Blockbuster.”
Most recently, Netflix released “Blockbuster,” a workplace comedy series that follows the operations of the last Blockbuster in the fictional town of Iron Creek, Mich. Unfortunately for Netflix — which, ironically, partially contributed to the franchise’s demise — the comedy is largely unremarkable.
The series opens with Manager Timmy Yoon (Randall Park) being informed by the franchise’s corporate office that his store is the last Blockbuster in the country. From there, the show follows an episodic format spanning several months as Timmy and his ragtag team of employees work to keep their store afloat with minimal corporate support. Storylines include Timmy trying to pick an employee to fire to cut costs and competing for a small-business owner award to pay rent.
“Blockbuster” has all the ingredients that should make a successful comedy: an eccentric cast of characters, a unique workplace setting and a run-time short enough that the show never feels stale. And yet, the show fails to use these ingredients successfully.
One reason the show fails is that its setting feels too small for its own good. By the end of the first season’s 10-episode run, one cannot help but get bored of seeing the same empty aisles of DVDs and VCRs — and there are only so many ways to spice up the setting. After an extravagant block party, a Halloween-themed event and an in-store Santa Claus meet-and-greet, “Blockbuster” exhausted all variations to the dreary, beige walls of the video store in a single season.
Far too many romantic storylines also make the plot convoluted. The show is clearly trying to make its audience root for Timmy and employee Eliza Walker (Melissa Fumero) to get together, constantly dropping references to a will-they-won’t-they dynamic between the two characters when they were in high-school. But with Eliza simultaneously entertaining a relationship with her ex-husband Aaron (Leonard Robinson) and Timmy dating next-door business owner Lena (Stephanie Iszak), there is too much love in the air at Blockbuster for any of the romance to resonate.
The largely uncompelling cast of characters doesn’t make it any easier for the show’s audience to be invested in these couples. Nearly every character in “Blockbuster” is a caricature of a tired comedy archetype. Timmy is the awkward team leader who is supposed to be funny because of his inherent unfunniness, but his personality is far more cringeworthy than humorous. Fumero’s character is uptight and one-dimensional — her personality is never fleshed out beyond mentions of her brief stint at Harvard University, a trope tired out by the infamous fictional Cornell University alum Andy Bernard in “The Office.” Employees Connie Serrano (Olga Merediz), Carlos Herrera (Tyler Alvarez) and Kayla Scott (Kamaia Fairburn) don’t have enough screen time for the audience to properly engage with the few storylines they are given.
Percy Scott (J.B. Smoove), Timmy’s best friend and landlord, and employee Hannah Hadman (Madeleine Arthur) are the only characters that stood out, delivering the few comedic lines in the show that landed. Hadman specifically delivers absurd one-liners — which reference her chaotic and stingy lifestyle — perfectly deadpan. But even these characters are unable to save “Blockbuster” from lacking plot. The audience comes to understand why the actors in the show are not more famous — most of these performers don’t portray fleshed-out, likable characters.
But the actors aren’t entirely to blame for this mediocre series; the show’s script does them few favors. It’s difficult to deliver lines humorously when there is nothing actually funny about them, so the script and character dynamics in “Blockbuster” often feel forced. Several lines throughout the show serve as a way for the characters to indirectly speak to the audience, including Eliza pointing out the absurdity of Timmy’s nomination for a small-business owner award when he was very recently part of a major chain. While Eliza is correct in her observations, the actual line she delivers is awkward, eliciting a visceral and physical feeling of discomfortfeeling of discomfort from the audience.
“Blockbuster” also seems to be a step backward from more successful workplace comedies. Though similar in script and directorial style to other shows like “Superstore,” “Blockbuster” lacks the charm of similar ensemble TV. While shows such as “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” are in no way perfect, their mockumentary style makes it so every moment of awkwardness is purposeful and less cringeworthy. “Blockbuster” lacks this quirky element and thus doesn’t feel relatable or raw.
It’s difficult to imagine what direction “Blockbuster” will go in the future. After all, there are only so many seasons that an uninteresting will-they-won’t-they romance between Timmy and Eliza can support. Perhaps this show should meet the same fate as the franchise it owes its name to — cancellation and a lackluster legacy.
Alex Nadirashvili is a University News section editor covering faculty and higher education, international students and undergraduate student life. He is a junior from New Jersey studying English and American studies.