A Lackluster Workplace Comedy Only Saved by Its Cast

Dec 17, 2022

The most interesting thing about Blockbuster, a middling sitcom reliant on a strong cast stuck in a comedy as dead-end as the fictional jobs they’re working, is the truth surrounding it. There is a real last Blockbuster that is operating in Bend, Oregon after the company itself filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and subsequently announced it would close the vast majority of its stores in 2013. Some, like the one in Bend, continued in private ownership though most have all ended up closing down as well. Some of this was covered in the documentary The Last Blockbuster, a superficial though sufficient look at what happened to the video rental company and the one remaining store left standing. The fact that there is now a sitcom about the store being released through Netflix, one of the forces that brought down Blockbuster itself, plays as some sort of cosmic bit that proves to be the funniest thing the show has to offer.

Beyond this bizarre meta joke hanging over everything, the latest series from the streamer is not really about the premise of the video rental business in any meaningful or humorous sense. Instead, Blockbuster is a generic workplace comedy that is largely indistinguishable from any other, most committed to hitting all the tropes and conventions we have all come to expect. Any other store could be swapped in as a replacement without much issue. There are some scattered references to various movies and the occasional shot taken at the streamers that now dominate the media landscape — which is again very strange to watch on such a streamer, though this is all rather limited. While not without some occasional chuckles, Blockbuster is a series that is safe to a fault and never creates enough laughs over its 10 episodes to carve out a comedic identity of its own. It may tickle the fancy of those looking for a more straightforward sitcom, but it is hard to see it having much to offer those looking for something more clever.

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If there is one thing holding the entire series together, it’s the cast. Randall Park, as anyone who has seen the stellar romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe knows, can hit all the right comedic notes and does so here. As the show’s central character, Timmy, Park is able to catch us off-guard with some well-timed and delivered jokes, but even those increasingly become a rarity. The show begins with Timmy becoming the owner of his own Blockbuster when all the rest are closing down. Committed to doing what he can to keep the business running and his workers employed, he soon discovers there are more challenges to this undertaking than meets the eye. Shenanigans ensue as he then must keep the store afloat. He also finds himself growing closer to his colleague, Eliza, played by Melissa Fumero of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, whose storyline actually feels like it is trapped in a version of the show Kevin Can F**k Himself was skewering. Timmy’s friend and landlord Percy, played by a chaotic J.B. Smoove, has a daughter he is seeking to reconnect with while she works at the video rental store.

The series is created by Vanessa Ramos, who is no stranger to these types of sitcoms — having previously written for Superstore as well as the aforementioned Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The biggest problem then seems to not be a lack of talent, but a poorly conceived premise that the series remains uncertain about what to really do with. For every fun joke about the customers that come looking for strange movies, there are many more that are centered around generic workplace bits. Characters struggle to figure out what they want to do with themselves or take part in a will-they-won’t-they romance that gets dragged all the way through to little payoff. It proves that a sitcom, even one with some chuckles found in certain parts, is only as good as the comedic premise and creative interest in exploring it.

The banal politics of a small local city government reckoning with its historical identity could be abundantly boring, but a series like the canceled-far-too-soon Rutherford Falls gave it new life. Being a teacher involves a lot of difficult and often dreary parts of the job, though the outstanding Abbott Elementary finds clever ways of breaking these down into endlessly funny scenarios that are sharp because of how specific they are. Sure, they both are very much sitcoms, though they still brought something new to the table in a way that remains as refreshing as it is hilarious. While these are each rather high bars to clear, Blockbuster just seems like it isn’t quite sure what to do other than to play around in the mold. Even when it will find some occasionally silly scenarios to stumble into, there is an inevitable comedic ceiling that it reaches far too quickly and is then incapable of ever breaking through.

Image via Netflix

The biggest missed opportunity in Blockbuster stems from the narrative throughline about an impending event that threatens to knock out the Internet. While not exactly subtle in what this could potentially mean for the physical media store and its staff, the scenario that the series lays the foundation for is one that has a lot of anticipation surrounding it. The recurring news broadcasters who populate the season are funny enough while ensuring we don’t forget what’s coming. Without giving away spoilers on how this all falls into place, it ends up being a letdown despite the very lengthy buildup. It gets a bit explosive in the final episode but still plays out with an odd amount of restraint that leaves everything falling flat. Much of this comes down to how all the various side characters that get thrown into the mix aren’t all that developed — and, subsequently, aren’t enjoyable to see run wild.

There is a clear intention for another season with many plot threads left dangling, although none are resolved in a sufficiently comedic fashion to leave any lingering sense of interest for more — if you even got that far. By the time it all winds down, Blockbuster is ultimately a series you’d likely return to the video store before you actually got around to finishing it.

Rating: C

You can watch all episodes of Blockbuster starting November 3 on Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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