In 2000, the founders of the then fledgling Netflix reportedly offered to sell their company to the dominant blockbuster Video for a cool $50 million, and were promptly shown the door.
There’s already a degree of cosmic irony to this story, considering Blockbuster went under a few years later, but it makes you wonder how people in the room would have reacted if they had known that Netflix would one day produce a comedy series would labor that specifically records the death of the video store. They would probably have laughed and laughed.
More ironically, those would have been the biggest laughs associated with this show.
Premiering Thursday, November 3, “Blockbuster” stars Randall Park (“Always Be My Maybe”) as Timmy Yoon, the hapless franchisee who left to become the owner and proprietor of the last surviving Blockbuster video (not to be confused with the actual last surviving blockbuster video – set in Bend, Oregon – itself the subject of a documentary on, you guessed it, Netflix).
After Blockbuster’s corporate headquarters have dropped their support, Timmy tries to recapture the old Blockbuster spirit with the help of his colleague and unrequited love, Eliza (Melissa Fumero, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and the other employees who restock the shelves and man the checkouts to keep alive . Occasionally, Timmy’s lifelong friend Percy (JB Smoove, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), also the landlord of his location, drops by, leading to many awkward moments when the entrepreneur acts nice to his pal while overpaying the monthly rent.
Unfortunately, instead of a signature point of view or a genuine character investment, the show leans heavily on the bewildering, stunted nostalgia people still hold for those bygone days when — in the pre-Netflix and Chill wilderness — they wandered up and down through the store’s antiseptic aisles in search of that elusive Friday night entertainment.
As created by Vanessa Ramos, there are echoes of “Superstore” in both the premise and approach of “Blockbuster.” But while this NBC comedy elicited both laughs and pathos from its roster of quirky retail workers in a way that defied narrative expectations, “Blockbuster” fails to rise above the warm memories to embrace something new and different do.
Sitcom veterans Park and Fumero (who recently landed long-term commitments with Fresh off the Boat and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, respectively) are veterans at this brand of comedy, and it’s a testament to their skill that they able to make their roles appealing at all. But the won’t they/won’t they romance – unconvincing at first – stretches unbearably thin over the first 10 episodes of the season and in no way justifies the amount of story time devoted to it.
A key element of any workplace series—whether it’s The Office, The IT Crowd, or 30 Rock—is feeling so connected to the characters that you want to spend time with them at work. For the list of insane minimum wage workers here, that’s not quite happening. Whether it’s wannabe filmmaker Carlos (Tyler Herrera), quirky Connie (Olga Merediz), or cheeky Hannah (Madeleine Arthur), the writers fail to find a consistent tone on how to approach them, resulting in a sloppy mix of approaches, which never works.
“Blockbuster,” while far too ordinary to be actively offensive, is nonetheless somehow made more disappointing by its unique lack of ambition, content instead to being a clone of other, superior shows. The laughs are fleeting, the stories forgotten, and its entire existence feels like a final humiliation bestowed on the defunct video store chain that 22 years ago refused to see Netflix’s potential. It will show them.
K“Blockbusters”: comedy series. With Randall Park, Melissa Fumero and JB Smoove. (TV-14. Ten episodes.) Streaming on Netflix beginning Thursday, November 3.