BLOCKBUSTER. With a lot of love

Vanessa Ramos, the series’ creator, has assembled a very talented cast on the set and given them material from which an aura of “charming quirkiness” emanates.

Dawid Myśliwiec

5 November 2022

Perhaps nothing could be more meta-ironic than Netflix, the streaming giant, producing a series about… the last branch of the once legendary Blockbuster Video rental network. On the one hand, it may seem like the streaming giants are tormenting their last-breathing competitors, but on the other hand, Netflix may want to pay homage to the industry it grew out of, after all – it’s possible that not all readers know that the Los Gatos-based company started with… mail-order DVD movie rentals. So what is Blockbuster, whose 10-episode first season has just debuted on Netflix – homage or ironic ridicule? If the determinant is the likability with which the characters are portrayed, rather the former.

A glance at Blockbuster profile on Rotten Tomatoes can be frightening – a mere 24% from critics suggests an absolute disaster, but the usual audience rates the series much higher, although 56% is also not a score to brag about. Dry statistics can be – and usually are – highly misleading, for Vanessa Ramos, the series’ creator, has assembled a very talented cast on the set and given them material from which an aura of “charming quirkiness” shines through. The same, by the way, that accompanied the Superstore series, where Ramos served as one of the screenwriters. This time the supermarket has been replaced by the latest branch of the Blockbuster rental chain, and it’s filled with actors known and loved: the boss here is Randall Park, the leading “American Korean” in Hollywood, his right hand and friend is played by Melissa Fumero, well known as Amy Santiago from Brooklyn 9-9, and the cast also includes the excellent Olga Merediz (she in turn played Rosa Diaz’s mother in Brooklyn 9-9), Madeleine Arthur, Tyler Alvarez and J. B. Smoove. Some of the names don’t tell you much? Don’t worry, many of these actors may not have well-known personalities, but a lot of talent and charm, thanks to which they should gain your sympathy.

Blockbuster begins with an almost Hitchcockian earthquake – branch chief Timmy receives word that his branch has officially become the last branch of the rental network, and the corporate headquarters is closing. This means no less than that the branch managed by Timmy has no business support and must become self-sufficient. The ambitious manager and his team decide not to give up and fight for the future of the branch, which in a world of streaming and widespread access to movie content has a rather slim chance of survival. Timmy and company’s persistence and dedication, however, allows their rental to catch its breath – at least for 10 half-hour episodes. Ramos knows how to create a tight-knit group of heroes who, though they are vastly different from each other – and at times may not even fully understand each other – are able to work toward a common goal. And at the same time, they are usually well versed in what they do – their cinematic discussions bring a smile to the viewer’s face, and the numerous references to very old and brand new titles (as well as completely fictional productions) are a great treat for cinephiles.

Blockbuster is not a sitcom that will make you laugh to tears – the humor you’ll find here is more likely to elicit warm smiles and wide-open eyes, as some of the dialogues and behaviors of the characters can be severely off-putting. Some of the lines hit the mark, other texts miss in concert, but what strikes you most is the atmosphere of familiarity. Blockbuster, of course, preys on the nostalgia for old technologies and ways of consuming film content that has been ubiquitous for some time, but it doesn’t overdo the kitsch and “80s vibe.” Instead, we have a lot of love for the art of filmmaking, a lot of cinephile winking at the viewer (“How am I going to become the new Tarantino if I don’t work in the rental business?!?”) and a great deal of positive energy. I have no idea what the future holds for Blockbuster and possible sequels, but I can say one thing: with such a team in the rental business, I would happily buy a membership.

Dawid Myśliwiec

Dawid Myśliwiec

Always in "watching", "about to watch" or "just watched" mode. Once I've put my daughter to bed, I sit down in front of the screen and disappear - sometimes losing myself in some American black crime story, and sometimes just absorbing the latest Netflix movie. For the past 12 years, I have been blogging with varying intensity at MyśliwiecOglą

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