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Netflix's Blockbuster is a Cute, Forgettable Sitcom

Netflix got one of its biggest ha-has (read in Nelson Muntz's voice) when it started hosting last year a little-seen documentary called “The Last Blockbuster,” about its title subject store and the people behind it. Enough subscribers watched it that it reached a Top 10 spot, creating the kind of ownership that has people associating Netflix with a particular movie. So not only did Netflix outlast their once-competitor, which also tried to have a mailer service, but they got their marking on the business’ last hurrah. 

That ownership continues with creator Vanessa Ramos’ “Blockbuster,” a cute, affable, and fairly forgettable workplace comedy that takes place inside the last remaining of the stores, and uses it mostly for general shenanigans that would work any other place. But here, the employees are a pseudo-dysfunctional family who talk about movies a lot (more on that later) and don’t have to worry too much about their store's relevancy. The corporate headquarters shuts down in the first episode, making it an “independent” store along with everything else in the Michigan strip mall in which it resides. (Netflix has a few jokes in this episode that wink at how the viewing market has changed, and it’s tacky if not crass.) 

Randall Park plays Blockbuster manager Timmy in the show, and his sincere comic performance provides an anchor to the wackiness that ensues around him involving his employees. He works alongside Eliza (Melissa Fumero), who is looking to get out of the business while stuck in a bad marriage; Hannah (Madeleine Arthur), who doesn’t understand movie references; Carlos, a film student who helps make a viral video that puts Timmy's Blockbuster into the public eye and keeps it open after a freak accident involving fireworks; and Connie (Olga Merediz), the kookiest and most comical of the bunch, which can make for some of the series’ more eye-rolling character threads. And then there’s Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn), who can’t wait to leave, but is pressured into keeping her job by her father Percy (J.B. Smoove), who owns the strip mall and depending on the day can be Timmy’s biggest friend or foe.

The dialogue is extra sitcom-y, limiting its wit more or less to characters always exchanging movie references like Mad Libs. Here’s one: “You may be slower on a computer than a DMV sloth in ‘Zootopia’ but you’re all I got!” The show tests your sense of whether characters talking about movies so openly is funny—as with that quote, I found it a little draining, but at least it’s consistent. And then every now and then it’ll batch references in a manner that can best be called impressive, like when a single sentence mentions both “Escape Room 2” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And as a film world-savvy show, it did get a big laugh from me when some said “There’s no worse sound in the world than a man describing film terms.” 

“Blockbuster” is one of those sitcoms that exists to kill time, and feels content to do so. Its most interesting or grabbing feature is that it takes place within the blue and yellow environs many used to roam in an earlier era (or like me, you worked there and kept recommending “Fargo”). But there was a moment in which I was watching it that I forgot it was on and just went to do some dishes, only to remember that it was still playing. And yet there was also a time in which I tuned in specifically for the comfort of its corny, drawn-out jokes and bevy of movie references. Whatever purpose "Blockbuster" ultimately finds with viewers, it’s certainly a sitcom that provides Netflix’s authorial idea of entertainment: light, passable, and here on the top shelf until something else light and passable comes along. 

Nine episodes screened for review. "Blockbuster" premieres on Netflix on November 3rd.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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