Blockbuster Video. For 90’s and 2000’s kids, that name is a major source of nostalgia. Before video-on-demand, Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+, if you missed a movie in theaters, you had your nearest Blockbuster store to save you. Not just that, you could catch up on old classics your parents and grandparents grew up on, thanks to Blockbuster. But as of 2019, the once-biggest movie rental service provider has just one store left in Bend, Oregon. Apart from the Great Recession of 2008, one of the biggest external sources for Blockbuster’s decline, was Netflix’s mail-order service. Customers could get DVDs delivered home through Netflix and they no longer wanted to go over to Blockbuster outlets. Of course, poor leadership is a big reason why the company eventually went bankrupt in 2010, but that also largely involved Netflix. As this Forbes article describes in detail, it was Netflix’s subscription model which made customers move away in flocks from Blockbuster. That’s more a fault of Blockbuster than a shrewd move on the part of Netflix though. No one likes to pay late fees, but they were a large source of income for Blockbuster. Subscribe to Netflix and that headache would be gone!
Corporate competition is never fair play if you ask me, or rather the employees who lose a job in the competition. But as long as it was about outplaying each other based on policies and winning over customers, it felt above board. Now, making money by invoking people’s nostalgia about the company you had an almost direct role in bankrupting feels a little less virtuous. Named after the company, the series Blockbuster follows the lives of the employees of the last surviving Blockbuster store. It’s reimagined to be located in a nondescript strip mall in suburban Michigan. The employees are Timmy (Randall Park), Eliza (Melissa Fumero), Carlos (Tyler Alvarez), Hannah (Madeleine Arthur), Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn), and Connie (Olga Merediz). The other important character is Percy (J.B. Smoove), Kayla’s father, who owns a party shop in the strip mall and is the landowner of the mall as well. Showrunner Vanessa Ramos, who has been a writer on noteworthy network comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore, says the Netflix executives are aware of the irony about Netflix hosting Blockbuster, and that they were on board the idea of addressing Netflix’s role in the plight of the central characters.
But I still have a bone to pick with Netflix. Apart from maybe two memorable digs at Netflix, Blockbuster is pretty toothless when it comes to talking about the streamer. And not just that, there’s enough favorable talk about it too! There’s an entire episode where Eliza gets stuck in overtime work and complains about how she could be binge-watching a K-Drama on Netflix instead of being stuck at work. As a reflection of our lifestyle and priorities in the hustle culture, it’s a great bit, but it starts feeling self-indulgent of Netflix when all the other employees have to say in response is how great the show is and how they have all already watched it! None of them, not even the manager pointed out that this could be their way of getting back at Netflix by prioritizing their store (I think that fits the bill when it comes to the kind of gags on the show). It is irritating that Blockbuster has so many episodes focused on the strategies that help small businesses flourish, but most of them don’t depict characters hating on capitalism and big corporations, not even the manager Timmy!
Apart from the irony of it being a Netflix Original, and the diluted commentary on Capitalist culture, Blockbuster is a lovely little show, worth every minute of its runtime! Randall Park and Melissa Fumero’s chemistry makes you immediately invest in their will-they-won’t-they drama. But Eliza and Timmy’s friendship stays the focus as opposed to a possible romantic relationship and that subversion of the usual sitcom trope is a relief to watch. Kayla is the typical Gen Z teen who communicates through memes and is more aware of social media trends than what’s happening in her immediate surroundings. Her conversations with the older characters are always fun to watch because they either struggle to keep up with her or dismiss her, and she always comes out on top with a hilariously mean comment. J. B. Smoove as her father makes for a fun camaraderie as they work really well off each other in the scenes they share, making you sympathetic for both of them. Their relationship is a great exploration of how the generation gap affects people. Olga Merediz is at her goofy best in Blockbuster. Her character Connie is the only Gen X employee and if you are a nostalgic person, her pop culture references will be fun callbacks to a time lost in VCRs and record stores. What I love about Connie is her self-loving attitude. She knows herself so well that she can pick herself back up whenever life gets her down. Carlos and Hannah’s friendship is the one I hadn’t expected when I’d finished the first couple of episodes, but I gradually fell in love with the side plots that the writers chose to bring them close to each other. Madeleine Arthur brings a sweet and optimistic nature to Hannah while Tyler’s Carlos is the more skeptical but also practical one of the duo. They are very compatible as friends and it’s fun to see them not think of each other romantically.
The leading man is an Asian-American. Tyler Alvarez, Olga Merediz, and Melissa Fumero are Latinx performers. J. B. Smoove and Kamaia Fairburn are African-American. When it comes to authentic racial diversity, Blockbuster has it all! The representation is well-incorporated into the central theme of a disappearing business as well. Each of the characters is given their own motivation for working at the store. In fact, there’s an episode where Timmy has to consider firing one of the employees due to financial concerns, and the writers perfectly use this premise to flesh out the characters and make you root for the central Blockbuster store as well. Also, Tyler’s character Carlos is bisexual and he brings it up only once in the show, quite matter-of-factly, mentioning he’s publicly out. That’s always liberating to see. His character happens to be a first-generation immigrant and that becomes more the source of stereotypical humor than his sexuality, which is a good change of pace when it comes to comedy that relies on stereotypes. His relationship with his parents is often the butt of the joke with him, but it’s never malicious and that contributes to the welcoming tone of Blockbuster. It’s a light-hearted inclusive show for everyone to enjoy!
The major flaw of the series is that it’s hosted on Netflix and barely makes malicious comments about it despite being focused on the lives of people directly affected by the money-making mentality of the OTT corporation. That being said, I don’t just look forward to more biting jokes about Netflix from a second season if Blockbuster gets renewed for one. I’d like to see the show acknowledge that even if it’s a generational issue and his parents are genuinely supportive, Carlos’ sense of gratitude toward them is self-harmful at times. I’d also like to see Connie playing a bigger role than she does this season. She’s often the wise character who helps her younger peers with their life’s troubles. I believe there are more stories to be told about her, even if she’s two generations older than the youngest characters. To be honest, Blockbuster Season 1 feels so fun and worth the watch because it’s the first season. If storylines don’t become more serious and the comedy doesn’t become sharper, maybe the goofy tone of the show will make it hard to stay with it. Netflix owes me answers and a more biting and engaging tone with a second season. It owes me a second season as well. After the cancellation of diversity-focused content like Everything Sucks!, I Am Not Okay With This, First Kill, and Gentefied, I hope Netflix knows better than to cancel Blockbuster as well, especially seeing that it has potential!