Nov 07, 2022
By Michael James Hall
Photography by Netflix
The last Blockbuster store in the world is still alive, well, and renting out rom-coms in Bend, Oregon. Though it’s as much a tourist destination and home to retro merch as a hub for local movie lovers keenly eyeing the latest Dwayne Johnson, it stands as a symbol of a rose-tinted time before streaming sucked the life out of the franchise and all but ended the human interaction involved in a Saturday night trip to the video store.
The irony of the streaming service that demolished Blockbuster creating a show that points to nostalgia for the very concept it killed is thankfully not lost on the makers of Blockbuster, a new ten-part workplace comedy from creator Vanessa Ramos. A former writer on the middling yet charming Superstore and the often hilarious Brooklyn Nine Nine, Ramos brings a well worn formula to a novel setting which takes its inspiration from the aforementioned store in Bend.
With Randall Park (Young Rock, Wandavision) taking the role of delusional manager Timmy and Melissa Fumero as his practical counterbalance and unknowing love interest Eliza, the pilot kicks off with references to Netflix and Facebook nestled in with nods to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakup and Under The Tuscan Sun, setting us up for a clash of the old and new world that, really, never comes.
We immediately establish that their old fashioned outpost has just become the last store standing, and it’s down to a motley crue of staff and other local business owners and pals to keep the spirit of rental alive.
An inspirational speech lifted from Independence Day rallies the troops but Eliza neatly observes that while their franchise is set to be eradicated by technology, it was their company that first ran out the mom and pop stores that once populated the video landscape. It’s good to get the irony acknowledged and dealt with, but it’s an irony from which there’s no escape, regardless of how many zingers the cast parry.
You know the score here: elaborate one-liners buddy up with brutally inventive insults and witty observations, as in much of Ramos’ previous work. There’s an inherent appeal to that but this sharpness eventually exposes an occasional thinness in the material. There are times when snappy delivery can’t mask a lack of substance. Later episodes in particular slide into the ridiculous, the wit is somewhat blunted and we roll to a Deus Ex Machina finale that serves only to set up a second season, all matters unresolved.
On the upside J.B Smoove shines as scheming strip mall owner and Randall’s best friend Percy while Madeline Arthur’s ditz Hannah throws out great lines like “I’d like to work with animals but it’s tough with the language barrier,” and “I accidentally confused the hungry caterpillar with the human centipede” while Olga Merediz (Bull) provides a deeply unreliable, amusing anti-matriarch figure.
As the season progresses various wacky schemes are, of course, undertaken in the name of survival and various sub-plot situations contrived to keep the team occupied, including a “ferret Waco,” a possible serial killer, various parties and celebrations gone awry, and quadruple Tinder dating. It’s fun, fluffy stuff. Even at its flimsiest it’s relatively entertaining, such as when the show clutches at storyline straws like doing inventory, or Eliza getting a job interview.
There is some character progression as each is given a little personal depth – be it Percy’s relationship with his daughter, Carlos’ with his future or Hannah’s with reality. There are attempts made at human interest amid the fast-talking one-liners and surreal spiels, and everyone gets the occasional, albeit insubstantial, emotive moment.
There’s a lot of squandered potential here. The lack of focus on the customers is an easy win missed. And while the lack of a “big bad” may be refreshing but means the show lacks any sense of real peril or urgency. By the halfway mark we lose sight of the driving force of the show and slip into soapy silliness. When a stoner customer asks Timmy in Episode 9 “What would they do in the movies?,” you’ll feel a pang for a far more interesting concept that could have been.
Another unexpected miss for a show with nostalgia serving as both its lure and its hook, is the lack of it; the show doesn’t, nor does it try to, recapture the golden era of the video store and the culture around it. Instead, it’s too busy being snarky and quirky to allow itself to indulge in what might have been the show’s greatest and truest pleasure. Be Kind Rewind it is not, and it sorely misses a similar heart and passion.
The budding romance between Timmy and Eliza is ultimately at the centre of the thing, rather than the fate of the store itself. You’ll grow attached to the pairing and there is a genuine sweetness to their tender dynamic. But, these are beats we’ve seen hit a thousand times before and while there are some heartwarming scenes, these tropes can’t fail to feel a little played out.
It’s ten episodes clip along in bite-sized 25 minute chunks, and there are some fun moments, good performances and the occasional, vaguely subversive scenario but, considering the high concept, it’s a definite disappointment. Better to seek out the delightful documentaryThe Last Blockbuster, also available, of course, on Netflix. (www.netflix.com/title/blockbuster)
Author rating: 5/10
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