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A Former Blockbuster Clerk Talks Blockbuster, the Pilot

Hands down, the best job I ever had was at Blockbuster Video. I didn’t really know it at the time, but man I’d give anything to go back. I got paid to talk about movies all day and surround myself with unique people. It was a glorious time in my life and one that I’m extremely nostalgic for.

Over the years, I’ve indulged in various video store retrospective documentaries such as The Last Blockbuster. I’ve written some articles about my time working at a video store and even took part in a podcast series Rental Return I wish I had the money/space/a house to set up my own little video store in the basement like I see some folks do, but that just doesn’t seem to be in my future. So, I lean into the nostalgia from time-to-time and love chatting about old movies.

When a Blockbuster sitcom was announced from the writers of Superstore and Brooklyn 99 starring Randall Park I was thrilled. Then I read that it was going to take place at the last Blockbuster and suddenly it became a little less interesting. Still, have a good set of writers that have worked well in ensemble sitcoms left me hoping Blockbuster would be a big hit. Then it debuted, the reviews came in, and I’ve just been sitting idly by waiting till I felt compelled to watch it.

Last weekend, I finally watched the pilot episode and I got to say, it isn’t terrible. It’s just not funny and it struggles with likeable characters and some tone issues.

The premise is of the pilot is: A manager finds out he’s running the final Blockbuster in the world. As his staff becomes depressed at needing to find new jobs, he decides to throw a block party to support local businesses and hopefully increase membership. In typical sitcom fashion, things don’t go according to plan but there seems to be a glimmer of hope for this final Blockbuster.

Okay, so let’s talk about the Blockbuster. It’s believable enough and looks like a store that’s a bit run down. I like the set design and that worked well.

The cast is where things become unglued. I really like Randall Park and I love Melissa Fumero, but these two seem to lack chemistry and honestly, as much as I hate to say it, Park was not the best choice for the lead. Park’s friend played by JB Smoove is also horribly miscast. The character of Kayla, which is a stereotypical Gen Zer, is annoying and completely unlikable. I really think some changes with this cast could have made a big difference in the quality of this show.

The writing seems to struggle to figure out whether it wants to be a typical sitcom or add a hint of dramedy. Because of this drastic shift back and forth, (JB Smoove is an extremely comedic character and Melissa Fumero is a more dramatic character) the transition between scenes and cast is a little rough, to say the least.

What I did really like about the show was the motivation for keeping the Blockbuster alive. The characters feel like the worlds missing a human connection and online shopping has taken over and small businesses have closed. That face-to-face connection helps us connect to one another in a way that social media will never allow us to.

The most truthful scene in relation to working at a video store occurred at the beginning when a man just recovering from a breakup came into the store looking for the perfect film to help him. An algorithm couldn’t predict what he needed, but a personal curated touch could. That was by far my favorite part of the job and heck, it was probably the only job I’ve ever truly been qualified knowledge wise to have.

I tell a story about the night of September 11th. I was working at Blockbuster and the store was dead. Everyone was at home glued to the news. Around 8 PM a huge came busting in the door begging for anything to watch that wasn’t the news and at that moment, we bonded over a film. I was able to provide this man with some relief from his anxiety and it was a wonderful exchange I’ve held onto all these years later.

Blockbuster is not a show written by former store clerks, and quite honestly, I doubt anyone would want to watch that. It’s a show that attempted to cash in on nostalgia and a successful documentary about an underdog story. Sadly, it decided to not fully embrace the true story and instead has tried to find its own footing somewhere in between.

I’m the first one to say, never judge a sitcom by it’s pilot episode, so I’m not reviewing this show based off this one episode. I hope to complete the series sometime in the near future and follow up with some final thoughts. I just felt compelled to share my first impressions and so far it’s just okay.

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