Netflix is really mining the ’90s nostalgia caves these days.
On Blockbuster Season 1 Episode 1 we are introduced to Timmy and his staff, who just happen to work at the last Blockbuster video rental store on Earth.
Look, nostalgia’s not a bad thing. I used to work in a Blockbuster, and it was my favorite service job. All the staff and customers loved movies. I made friends for life and got ten free rentals a week. I’ll always have a soft spot.
If you don’t know the history of Blockbuster’s downfall, it’s a lesson in corporate schadenfreude.
In 2000, Blockbuster turned down a deal to purchase Netflix for $50 million. How the mighty have fallen — in 2011, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Blockbuster has now gone the way of the mom-and-pop shops and indie video rental stores it swallowed up and put out of business.
There is still one remaining Blockbuster franchise store in the world, in Bend, Oregon, upon which this series is loosely based.
As a workplace comedy, Blockbuster is not reinventing the wheel.
You’ve got your lead male, Timmy (Randall Park), who’s developmentally arrested due to his parent’s divorce.
Eliza: What you need is to grow up.
Tim: What? I’m hella grown up.
There’s romantic tension with his co-worker, Eliza (Melissa Fumero), who’s way overqualified and not thrilled about having to work at her high school summer job now that she’s separated from her cheating husband.
The cast is diverse, which is always great to see. The characters are relatable because who hasn’t worked an entry-level customer service job?
We haven’t had a chance to get to know most of them beyond a surface level (apart from Timmy and Eliza), but it’s only the first 30 minutes, so we can reserve judgment there.
I’d love to work with animals, but it’s tough with the language barrier.
As it is, they are inoffensive and charming. Madeleine Arthur has perfect comedic timing as the vapid Hannah. As Carlos, Tyler Alvarez confidently portrays the aspiring filmmaker who believes in the mythos of the video store as a rite of passage.
How am I supposed to be the next Tarantino if I don’t work in a video store?
The show is funny in a familiar, comfortable way. It’s modern, despite being steeped in nostalgia. The juxtaposition of Kayla’s (Kamaia Fairburn) digital acumen with the older generation clutching at a “simpler” time will likely be explored continually throughout the series.
Blockbuster is about clinging to the past and how it’s gotten to the point that we’re nostalgic for corporations now.
We can’t go back to the way things were, but we can preserve the relics of our past and look at them with rose-colored glasses and forget about all those damn late fees.
(Fingers crossed that late fees become a major conflict in future episodes — you can’t have Blockbuster anything without late fees! It’s a cornerstone of the brand!)
Sometimes the digs at Blockbuster’s failure seem a bit petty. I’m not sure what Netflix is getting out of this.
And, for real now, shows to stop lampshading in the opening episodes. All this talk about algorithms, and the Bridgerton references, it’s not original — it’s just pointing out how self-aware the writers are. We see the irony. We don’t need it spelled out. It’s getting old.
Isn’t it ironic that the small business taking a stand against the big corporation in this scenario is actually a franchise of a once huge corporation named after the exact type of big corporate movies that killed off smaller movies?
Streaming has been a welcome revolution in how we consume entertainment, both in quantity and convenience. But you must admit, there was something fun about walking to the video store with the family, picking something out, buying snacks, and all cozying in to watch it together.
However, we can still do those things, but we have cut out the middleman, rendering service workers obsolete and increasing the divide. Now, all interactions, film and television discussions, are primarily done online, like so much else in our lives.
This show is more about the damage being done to a community in a digital age, especially at the hands of large corporations pushing out local businesses and replacing real people with algorithms and AI.
This town’s not exactly the land of milk and honey, especially since they closed down the dairy and the apiary.
It is a genuine concern in our world, one that promises to get worse and threaten many livelihoods.
So, while I enjoy the show for its familiar lifting up of the scrappy Americans working to save something meaningful to them, it’s just a bit weird that Netflix is the one creating it.
It’s skirting a performative line, and it’s hard to know how to feel about that aspect of it.
In some ways, it bears a similarity same way to Apple TV’s hit Severance.
It makes many good points about the current state of the jaded American workforce, and all the points it makes are valid — but the company making the show is guilty of causing so many of the problems plaguing its characters!
The conflicts in Blockbuster are all fairly surface-level, at least in the first episode here. We’ll see if it delves, gets into the nitty-gritty, and tackles the big questions.
Or maybe, who really cares? It’s just a workplace comedy, and we shouldn’t think too hard about it.
So, enjoy the characters, the clever one-liners, and think back to a time when days were simpler and human interaction was required to procure a night’s entertainment, when there was camaraderie with customer service workers instead of indifference.
Taking it at face value, Blockbuster is a sweet, funny show with likable characters and the usual tropes you find in a solid half-hour comedy.
It’s got potential romance to root for, plucky underdogs, and a setting that hearkens back to the good old days while remaining firmly planted in a modern world.
What did you think of the pilot? Will you keep watching?
Let us know how you feel in the comments — and remember to support your local small businesses!
Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.