'Blockbuster' review: Netflix's VHS comedy is a wasted opportunity

Eliza (Melissa Fumero) and Timmy (Randall Park) in Blockbuster (Netflix)
Eliza (Melissa Fumero) and Timmy (Randall Park) in Blockbuster (Netflix)

What could be more meta than a Netflix series set in America’s last Blockbuster store? The new sitcom is set inside the video rental store that was effectively made extinct by the the streaming giant.

Created by Vanessa Ramos, who served her time on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Blockbuster is fronted by sit-com veteran Melissa Fumero’s Eliza, and Randall Park’s store manager Timmy while an eclectic group of characters all seek to make their mark.

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From best friend Percy (Curb Your Enthusiasm's J.B. Smoove) to movie buff Carlos (Tyler Alvarez) — real effort has gone into crafting some interesting creations to populate this quirky show. Unfortunately, all the meta moments in the world and honed character construction fail to save Blockbuster from mediocrity.

Watch a trailer for Blockbuster

After eight seasons of the Emmy award winning Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it is a real pleasure to see Melissa Fumero back on home turf. For fans of the perennial police procedural, which also has a home on Netflix, expectations will be high going in. Randall Park also comes with kudos intact, having made his mark on WandaVision and Young Rock respectively, and is equipped with a disarming on-screen presence and effortless comic timing.

With these two gifted performers on the roster Blockbuster should spring off the blocks and hit the ground running. That opening episode should leave scorched earth in its wake, employing dynamic character introductions, razor sharp dialogue and exploiting an ever expanding premise.

However, what happens instead is a whole load of wasted potential as the fully committed cast work to salvage some dignity.

Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn), Hannah (Madeleine Arthur) and Connie (Olga Merediz) in Blockbuster (Netflix)
Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn), Hannah (Madeleine Arthur) and Connie (Olga Merediz) in Blockbuster (Netflix)

The best sit-coms ever made always create a sense of community, connection and familiarity. Ensemble casts all get their moment to shine and the writing delivers alongside some inspired performances. The Good Place, The Big Bang Theory and Scrubs are some of the best examples of the genre, which excelled in taking a simple premise and establishing a dynamic quickly. Ted Danson, Jim Parsons and Zach Braff might have defined them but elsewhere everything worked in harmony too.

Blockbuster is inherently let down by lacklustre writing which relies too heavily on its cast to deliver anything funny. Melissa Fumero and Randall Park might be good, but even they struggle to add anything original to this show, as they work with plot lines which include impending bankruptcy, cost cutting exercises and imminent closures.

Tyler Alvarez as Carlos in Blockbuster. (Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix)
Tyler Alvarez as Carlos in Blockbuster. (Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix)

The characters might be unique and quirky, but their relationships feel formulaic and forced. Compared to other shows of this ilk Blockbuster also comes across as very safe, while scenarios play out with predictable precision without delivering any punchlines. It also systematically ticks all the boxes without offering anything new, while character arcs are disappointingly signposted throughout.

If anything should save Blockbuster from being another production line comedy lacking in laughs, it would be the cast who give it their all. The dynamic between Percy and Timmy might not be top tier or award winning, but both Randall Park and J.B. Smoove do their best to make it work.

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That being said, as best friends and business rivals, there is so much more that could have been done to make them interesting. Likewise, Perry’s truculent daughter Kayla (Kamola Fairburn) fulfils the dispassionate employee stereotype in style, but rarely breaks any new ground.

Percy (J.B. Smoove) and Eliza (Melissa Fumero) in Blockbuster (Netflix)
Percy (J.B. Smoove) and Eliza (Melissa Fumero) in Blockbuster (Netflix)

Confined within a thirty-minute runtime, which should never feel restrictive, this ensemble consistently struggles with pedestrian pacing and limited dramatic potential. To call Blockbuster a wasted opportunity is a massive understatement, as episodes go by at a rate of knots leaving no discernible impact. Production design might be spot on in evoking that video store aesthetic down to the last detail, but feels wasted on a show which repeatedly misses the mark.

Ultimately, the only emotion people are likely to feel after a few episodes is disappointment, as all this talent slips into autopilot. Not only is it painfully apparent that everyone involved could do better, but for a streaming service which represented the first coffin nail in rental industries everywhere, Blockbuster is really lacking backbone and bite. It feels like Vanessa Ramos and her writer’s room came up with a dynamite premise chock full of meta material moments, but decided to deliver something which missed the point completely.

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Blockbuster could and should have been self-referential comedy gold, for a streaming studio who are now big enough to mock their global dominance. Instead, that satirical stab at an entertainment giant which played a pivotal part in history, has been robbed of any relevance and consigned to ignominy.

Blockbuster is streaming on Netflix now.