No doubt more than one reader remembers Blockbuster, the video store chain with a blue and yellow logo that proliferated in Spain in the 90s. It was a franchise from the United States that, like so many others, made life difficult for local businesses, specifically neighborhood video stores in this case. Today, both kinds of video rental businesses are now just remnants of history because streaming services killed the video store in the same way that video killed the radio star. All of them? Well not quite. In fact, there is still one Blockbuster standing, just one. Since 2019, in the US city of Bend, Oregon, there’s been a store now known as “The Last Blockbuster”, a vestige of the past that attracts a lot of tourists seeking a dose of 90s nostalgia. And that’s the video store that has inspired a new comedy called Blockbuster, now on Netflix, whose protagonists are the desperate workers of this video store. Viewers certainly won’t miss the irony of the fact that it is precisely the most popular streaming service in the world that is behind this series based on the very video store business model it helped annihilate.
The series admits this fact from the outset and its discourse actually goes in the opposite direction to vindicate the video store business model. Situations arise that serve to make the characters argue that an algorithm could never be really effective because it eliminates the human factor and the kind of knowledge that arises only from day-to-day dealings with a customer. From here, this claim is extended to other new forms of business that omit the human touch. (“The smile drawn on a box will never be the same as the smile of a person,” says a character at one point, referring to Amazon). At the same time, the characters are regular Netflix users and even chat about the series they are watching on the very service that is the main cause of the decline of their business and that may soon cost them their jobs. It often seems the script is treading a fine line in its effort to combine the worlds of video stores and streaming without them being mutually exclusive. However, if you overlook some contradictions (which can cause more than one ‘short circuit’), you’ll find in Blockbuster a comedy that harnesses the tried and true to deliver an enjoyable time.
Blockbuster takes the form of a workplace comedy, with the dynamics between the workers’ different personalities providing fertile ground for humorous situations. Much like his character in Fresh Off the Boat (in which he ran a restaurant), Randall Park plays the store manager as the classic innocent and dreamy character who tends to launch into emotional speech with his workers. Deep down, he doesn’t want to lose his job at “Blockbuster” because it would force him to stop behaving like a 20-something. Other characters include a young aspiring film director who works at the video store so he can be like Quentin Tarantino, and a worker who is overqualified for the job and reminiscent of Jonah’s character in Superstore. Indeed, Superstore and Blockbuster have various things in common, which is no surprise, since Vanessa Ramos, creator of the latter, was a screenwriter for the former. The similarities include a storyline of unresolved sexual tension that is the weak point of the series due to its predictability and poor pacing.
The funniest situations arise from the daily grind and are the ones allowing the characters to interact as more of an ensemble. It’s here that Blockbuster shines thanks to snappy dialogue, with many nods to other productions, and the way the actors provide contrast between their characters with different personalities and ages destined to clash. As the first season evolves and the cast fall into flow with the tempo of the script, the series establishes and cements itself as a valid option when it comes to entertaining comedy that, though it doesn’t really contribute anything new (it’s basically the sum of elements that have always have worked), nevertheless fulfills the goal of furnishing viewers with a way to unwind at the end of the day. If Netflix gives it the chance (season one has just 10 installments) it could develop into something that goes beyond just playing it safe as it does in the first batch of episodes. The other option would be for Netflix to instead cancel the series instead of renewing it for a second season, which would be even more ironic, since it would mean killing off “Blockbuster” for a second time.