We’ve come to a point that some of today’s most avid movie and TV audiences may not remember or even know what it was like to go to a video rental store. The phrase “Be Kind Rewind” may have no significance whatsoever for those for whom DVDs are a distant memory, though they do still exist, and VHS tapes, which used to line the shelves of Blockbuster stores all around the country, are an enigma that wouldn’t have any meaning. The streaming giant that killed the popular franchise has now brought it back to life with Blockbuster, a comedy series about the last remaining store.
The show opens with manager Timmy (Randall Park), who has worked at Blockbuster for decades, getting a call that the company is disbanding on the corporate level and his shop is officially the last Blockbuster on the planet. Fueled by his passion for giving people personalized recommendations and serving the community, Timmy soon discovers how hard it is to run a small business, especially when his attention is taken by a years-long crush on his top employee Eliza (Melissa Fumero) and the overwhelming selfishness expressed by his friend and strip mall landlord Percy (J.B. Smoove).
There’s an incredible irony to the fact that Netflix, which in its early years bested Blockbuster by mailing DVDs out to subscribers, is the one producing a show about its now-dead rival. There is indeed one last Blockbuster open in Oregon (here’s our interview with the director of last year’s The Last Blockbuster), which serves as the inspiration for this premise but is quickly abandoned in favor of typical sitcom tropes for a fairly expected workplace comedy. It’s all centered on movies and TV, however, which may delight a particular audience that yearns for a place to come and browse the literal aisles of new releases and underappreciated classics.
Among the employees at this fictional video store is Carlos (Tyler Alvarez), who dreams of being the next Quentin Tarantino and takes great care in the way that he speaks with customers looking for the right movie to rent. His character is the most potent stand-in for an audience that will love the many references this show makes to lesser-known projects, and will applaud his frustration with Connie (Olga Merediz), an employee who often makes up answers to questions she’s asked and has trouble understanding the difference between the Oscar-winning Room and the cult classic The Room.
Dependably anchoring this comedy are Park and Fumero, who both have experience with network sitcoms on Fresh Off the Boat and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, respectively. Park (check out our interview) is endearing as Timmy, who constantly makes the wrong decision and is all-too-swayed by Percy’s manipulative influence. Fumero is full of energy and spunk as someone who is very unhappy with where she’s been forced to return in her life but does feel a bond with Timmy, even if she doesn’t see that he views her as more than a friend.
In its traditional fashion, Netflix has opted to release all ten episodes of Blockbuster’s first season at the same time. The endorsement of binge-watching means that audiences may have the opposite of the experience of visiting a Blockbuster to see what’s next or, in its later iteration, wait for the next disc to come in the mail, but that’s the way the world works these days. This represents a chance to celebrate some of the magic of getting excited about watching and talking about movies, transplanted to a world in which such a place is indeed anachronistic when all kinds of video content can be accessed instantly from a smartphone.
All ten episodes of Blockbuster are now streaming on Netflix.