Blockbuster: Season 1 REVIEW – Old Kid On The Block

There's nothing groundbreaking in Blockbuster - but then, what did you expect?

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There’s no avoiding the overwhelming sense of irony that pervades Blockbuster. Commissioned by and airing on Netflix, the streaming service predominantly responsible for the demise of home video rental stores across America, it’s hard to escape the strange paradox of watching an affectionate eulogy for a bygone era of commercial media culture on the very platform that helped to destroy it. It’s like having a gritty crime documentary about a missing housewife narrated affectionately by the maniac responsible for her disappearance.

It isn’t a conceptual issue that Blockbuster’s writers really attempt to broach, only making a few passing comments as to what has caused the demise of in-person video rental and being careful not to lay the blame squarely at the door of that one streaming giant that uses the big red ‘N’ as its logo. In fact, in one instance the finger of guilt instead appears to point at Jeff Bezos and the evils of Amazon Prime, a platform still with far fewer subscribers than the mighty overlords over at Netflix.

As far as the show itself is concerned, Blockbuster is about as by-the-numbers as it’s possible to be, a sitcom clearly pumped out of the Netflix assembly line to fill a gap in the roster next to The Good Place and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Following the struggles of chirpy-if-deluded store manager Timmy as he and his disaffected employees try to keep the last eponymous store in existence afloat, Blockbuster is an exercise in expectation management. It’s far from breaking any moulds, but as a warm place to go on a chilly evening when everything else is shut and you’re waiting to meet your friends (i.e. when you have nothing better to watch and/or do), it’s still striving to provide a valuable, if increasingly redundant, service.

No, the dialogue doesn’t elicit many actual laughs, mainly because most of the jokes are so dialled-in or old hat that you can see them coming at you from the year 2005. Blockbuster instead tries its best to get around this dated, stilted feel by peppering its exchanges with so many contemporary movie and pop culture references that it often feels like it was written by somebody who spent the last three years of their life locked in an empty cell scrolling endlessly through IMDb.

Nor is there much of note when it comes to characters or plotlines. If you’ve ever seen a sitcom, and I mean any sitcom, you’ll see the plot beats coming a mile off and recognise every character archetype before they’ve even uttered a single pre-rendered pop cultural reference. It’s the usual suspects: young aspirational type stuck in a dead-end job, catty Gen Z-er welded to her phone, ditsy airhead who looks like she can’t be trusted around metal cutlery. If the next great step in civilisation’s evolution is to have sitcoms penned by AI programmes, most will, ironically, probably look and sound exactly like Blockbuster.

Nor does Vanessa Ramos’ throwback comedy really get into the nitty-gritty of why it exists at all. A show about a dying cultural phenomenon could have served as the chance to explore some more interesting themes not only about the actual death of video rental services but also the broader struggles of our increasingly fractured sense of human connection, but these are ideas that are teased and flirted with rather than ever fully developed.

The idea that Blockbuster stores represent a lost part of human culture (a stretch, I’ll admit) serving as a driving metaphor for each character’s need for authentic human interaction would’ve been a welcome layer of much-needed texture, but Blockbuster isn’t daring enough to comprehensively explore such themes. Perhaps it never intended to, but this still smacks of a missed opportunity.

And yet I couldn’t find the requisite bile within my deep reserves to truly come out and hate it. Maybe my age is showing, maybe it’s the spirit of the season or maybe there’s an unknown gas leak in my house, but I couldn’t find it within myself to find Blockbuster worthy of untethered vitriol. It may be as predictable as a North Korean election and as mild as American cheese, but after a few episodes, I realised with a creeping sense of discomfort that I wasn’t experiencing the sort of scorn I had prepared myself for.

Worse still, I began to sense a genuine feeling of investment in the will-they, won’t-they central dynamic between Timmy and Melissa Fumero’s Eliza, sharing his frustrations that no, her ex-husband Aaron doesn’t deserve her and willing the pair to express their feelings after every lingering glance next to the racks of horror Blu-rays. Either there’s something wrong with me, or Blockbuster did its job in making me care about its central romantic duo more efficiently than I had initially prepared for.

And let’s give credit to the actors, doing their best to inject a bit of pep and spice into a relatively flat and unseasoned script, at least trying to convince the audience that they are watching a show that’s far better, and far funnier, than it actually is. Even among the predictable setups and by-the-numbers plotlines, I didn’t feel an atmosphere of active cynicism or crushing misery from a sitcom that immediately struggles with its confused, paradoxical heritage. It’s Park who really pulls Blockbuster through, possessing the strange, slightly insecure charms of a lost puppy crossed with your favourite high-school geography teacher. If there’s an actor you inherently just want to root for, it’s Randall Park.

No, I didn’t sit with my nose pressed up to the screen laughing maniacally at every contemporary pop cultural reference, but nor did I find myself thumping the walls in frustration or cursing my luck that I, of all people, should be subjected to such torturous, aching misery.

Ramos’ tribute to America’s extinct commercial dinosaur is nowhere near laugh-out-loud funny, but it chunters along with so few peaks and troughs that I felt overcome by a sense of banality-induced serenity, lulled and comforted by its reassuring mediocrity, cheerful blandness and two-dimensional characters. Blockbuster is more like a meditation aid than a raucous laugh-fest, but don’t be surprised if you eventually find yourself rooting for the little video store that could.

READ MORE: 5 TV Sitcom Characters Who’d Thrive In A Purge

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Bland, basic but not an absolute bust, Netflix’s by-the-numbers’ workplace sitcom is easy to watch and even easier to forget.