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Netflix lovingly dances on the graves of its enemies in new sitcom Blockbuster
Netflix‘s Blockbuster is now streaming. The original sitcom from creator Vanessa Ramos takes viewers into a fictional Blockbuster Video location in Indiana in the present day. Here, the realities of a brick-and-mortar video rental store in the streaming age take center stage. But a Blockbuster series on streaming behemoth Netflix certainly makes a statement.
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Read on for our review of Blockbuster and our look at its broader implications. The death of Blockbuster was huge in the early days of Netflix. What does it mean for the streamer to celebrate its former foe’s legacy now?
You can check out the Blockbuster series on Netflix by hitting the link below.
What is Blockbuster about?
Blockbuster’s premise is fairly simple.
After some reorganizing at Blockbuster headquarters, only one store is left standing. Timmy, its manager, played by the always delightful Randall Park, is now the owner of the video rental store he has worked at since he was a teen in his small town in Indiana.
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Working by his side is a staff of employees ranging from a recently separated single mom who happens to be Timmy’s longtime crush, a would-be filmmaker learning all he can about cinema to become the next Quentin Tarantino, a young woman who saves every penny hoping to get an education, and more. The cast includes Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Melissa Fumero, Tyler Alvarez, Madeleine Arthur, and J.B. Smoove, who plays Timmy’s longtime friend and landlord at the local strip mall.
The show is a workplace comedy and a celebration of a time before “content” and algorithms put shows in front of you. In a Halloween episode, Timmy mentions how popular the store is on the holiday, since customers come looking for obscure titles not available on streaming sites like Netflix, an acknowledgement that maybe not everything is at our fingertips online.
With other nearby stores closing, the series also explores the precarious nature of small business ownership and low-wage work in small-town America.
Didn’t Netflix, uh, kill the real Blockbuster?
If you find it a little odd to see Netflix putting out a loving tribute to Blockbuster, you’re not alone. Streaming is a big part of what killed video stores like Blockbuster, and the announcement of the Blockbuster series turned some heads.
This isn’t even the first time that Netflix has waded into these waters. In 2020, the streamer put out the documentary The Last Blockbuster, about the actual store the show is very loosely based on.
But did Netflix really kill Blockbuster? As many have noted, including the filmmakers behind The Last Blockbuster, it wasn’t quite so simple. The Netflix vs Blockbuster battle was a major one, no doubt. And for a time, it looked like Blockbuster might win. The video store chain even had the chance to buy Netflix for as little as $50 million in 2000.
So what really happened? Well, a lot of things. Netflix was certainly luring customers away with its mail-order offerings, but Blockbuster met that threat head-on with its own subscription service. By moving its business online though, Blockbuster wracked up some big bills, and the company was already in debt.
Netflix played at least a part in the demise of an industry it's now celebrating.
A few missteps followed by the 2008 financial crisis did the rest, knocking Blockbuster out of contention and paving the way for Netflix’s dominance.
Still, doesn’t the new Blockbuster series feel like it has an odd premise for a Netflix original? In short, yes, absolutely. There’s an obvious irony in Netflix celebrating physical media and the in-person movie rental experience. Netflix is capitalizing on nostalgia, though, and that makes a certain kind of sense. The streamer isn’t really celebrating the competition. Instead, it’s dancing on the competition’s grave, squeezing a few dollars out of a company that no longer poses a threat anyway.
It’s a pretty clever move, really.
Is the Blockbuster series any good?
But how is the show? Should you check out Blockbuster on Netflix?
The Blockbuster series is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a mostly by-the-numbers workplace comedy.
Can the store afford to stay open? Will there be layoffs? Is a workplace romance brewing? These are the major sources of drama and conflict, combined with recurring colorful regular shoppers and their quirks. No one’s reinventing the wheel here. It’s all pretty safe sitcom territory.
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Where the show truly shines, though, is in its charming main cast. It’s not exactly a laugh riot like it tries to be, but its main characters are a joy to watch from episode to episode.
Timmy is a thoughtful boss, who worries about his staff’s benefits and will go to great lengths not to fire anyone. He’s also a compelling lead, who has had to learn how to grow up without ever leaving his high school job. There’s tension in his old and new self, as he navigates his friendship with best buddy Percy. Randall Park and J.B. Smoove are tons of fun to watch together as the manchild duo.
Solid character work elevates Blockbuster above its comedic shortcomings.
The friendship between Hannah and Carlos (played by Madeleine Arthur and Tyler Alvarez respectively) is another standout. Two of the younger members of the Blockbuster staff, their bond is tender and points to mutual respect and affection. They’re friends who love and support each other in a believable, relatable way.
Between a fun, if weird, premise and these engaging characters and onscreen relationships, the show easily overcomes its own weaknesses and left me hoping for a second season.
Check out Blockbuster on Netflix as of November 3 on Netflix.