If Randall Park’s growing spotlight over the past couple years has filled you with joy, then Blockbuster surely signals a new ecstatic era: one in which an Asian-American man can be the star of an ensemble sitcom. While Park’s most famous roles include Louis Huang in Fresh off the Boat and Marcus Kim in Always Be My Maybe, Park’s newest starring role combines his trademark blend of comedy and pathos to portray Timmy Yoon, the longtime manager of his local Blockbuster franchise since his high school years: a fact that amusingly fosters his pride and others’ pity.
When the disintegrating corporate office notifies Timmy that his franchise is now the last operational Blockbuster on earth, it kickstarts a Question which drives the whole season:
When you are the last of something, is it time to hold on or to leave it all behind?
As Timmy struggles with this question through all of Blockbuster's first season, he is supported by his high-key chaotic employees, including Timmy’s longtime crush and hot mess in her own right Eliza (Melissa Fumero), Tarantino-wannabe filmmaker Carlos (Tyler Alvarez), Remixed Manic Pixie Dream Girl Hannah (Madeleine Arthur), well-meaning but slightly bonkers Connie (Olga Merediz), and the effortlessly cool and sullen Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn). J.B. Smoove also has a recurring role as Percy, Kayla’s father and Timmy’s landlord and best friend and - arguably - occasional arch nemesis.
This motley crew of weirdos is, hands down, the best executed aspect and most favourite part of the show. With sitcoms, the right balance of archetypes and motivations can achieve a charisma that sweeps you away, regardless of narrative. In Blockbuster, it is this charm that makes you stay despite the imperfect writing and pacing throughout the series. Character motivations from episode to episode are cultivated by the actors’ total commitment to their roles rather than the actual dialogue or hurdles they were given, which did result in some resolutions feeling slightly unearned, though no less satisfying for the viewer.
Perhaps the draw of this show isn’t actually about Timmy’s Question, but is instead about the characters’ conflicting perspectives and approaches that across each episode, collectively fail to solve a singular problem: Season One’s episodes don't fully commit to a lighter episodic approach, nor do they fully commit to more serious season-long storylines.
What we’re left with is an inconsistent tone and setting that leaves the viewer slightly uncertain of the stakes and the show’s reality. How removed is Timmy’s world from our world in terms of finances, legalities, capitalist monopolies? How seriously - or lightly - should we take a character’s hyperbolic proclamation on, well, anything?
At the end of the day, we search for escapist comfort in our sitcoms and Blockbuster’s stellar cast will still embrace you like a warm fleecy blanket, with its familiar comedic beats and its bright production design. With their collective stellar pedigree, it is easy to believe in show creator Vanessa Ramos (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore) and executive producer David Caspe’s (Happy Endings) talents overcoming these growing pains, provided Netflix gives them the chance by renewing the show for another season.
Season One’s charm and heart make it easy to root for the show’s success; what still feels slightly ambiguous is Netflix’s sincerity towards both honouring a lost and nostalgic business model and era - an era it directly supplanted - and towards portraying authentically diverse yet strongly grounded experiences.For all its missteps there is a lot to merit Blockbuster in these dark times, and after all, many of our greatest sitcoms have needed another season or two to hit truly its stride.
Put your money where your mouth is, Netflix: this cast and crew have more than earned their right to perfect this compelling show premise.