In real life, the last Blockbuster Video store, the only survivor of the streaming era, is in Bend, Oregon.
But in sitcom land, that retro tech honor goes to Michigan.
“Blockbuster,” which arrives on Netflix on Thursday, is a new half-hour comedy starring Randall Park (ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”) as stressed-to-the-max Timmy, who runs the blockbuster franchise, finds out where it ends up. to be
This leaves Timmy desperate to figure out how to keep the store afloat financially without a corporation to help cover costs.
Timmy’s eclectic staff is played by Melissa Fumero (NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) as his longtime crush Eliza, Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights” and the film version) as mother Connie, Tyler Alvarez as aspiring filmmaker Carlos. , Madeleine Arthur as Timmy’s best friend’s daughter Kayla, and simple Hannah and Kamaiah Fairburn.
JB Smoove (HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) portrays Kayla’s father, Percy, who owns the strip mall that houses Blockbuster and also runs a nearby party-supply store.
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Netflix isn’t hyping the fact that it’s a retail dinosaur setting for this fictional look – renting VHS tapes and DVDs, right, in the age of Netflix? — is set either in the Michigan suburbs or in a small town in Michigan. (This has been described both ways by recent press reports).
But the first two episodes are sprinkled with a few references that make it clear that the action takes place somewhere in Michigan — about 30 miles from Detroit, from the sounds of it.
This is an educated guess. According to Netflix, creator and showrunner Vanessa Ramos (“Superstore,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) was not available for an interview to elaborate on why she sought out a picturesque peninsula.
“Blockbuster” joins a long list of comedy, drama and reality series that have used Michigan as a setting (and sometimes an actual physical location for shooting). The list includes small-screen favorites like “Home Improvement” and “Martin,” crime sagas like “Low Winter Sun” and “Detroit 1-8-7,” and cult hits made in Detroit by Detroiters like “Detroiters.” Great, hilarious Comedy Central series that’s gone too soon.
Current shows set in Michigan include the popular CBS comedy “Bob Hart’s Abishola,” Jeremy Renner’s Paramount+ prison-town drama “The Mayor of Kingstown,” Starz’s gritty drama “BMF” (which is inspired by the real-life stories of two southwest Detroit ) brothers who became drug kingpins) and NBC’s “American Auto,” a workplace comedy set in the corporate offices of a struggling Detroit automaker.
Like “American Auto,” “Blockbuster” balances the weirdness of its characters with sharp dialogue, occasional genuine warmth and often hilarious pop-culture references.
In one scene, Timmy describes Carlos as a movie genius because “he got someone to hire ‘Garden State’ after 2004,” a light dig at the Jack Braff film from the same year. In another, Timmy describes middle-aged Connie’s strength as her relatability to older customers, noting: “Who else would know Hank Ackerman meant Hugh Jackman?”
If “Blockbuster” has one main message, it’s that brick-and-mortar stores should be valued for providing human interaction, as opposed to the often solitary nature of shopping, working and renting movies online in a digital-dominated world.
So how does Michigan fit into the storyline? Well, here and there. In the first episode, Park’s character surveys the stores in her neighborhood that have been hit by the economic downturn. “It was the most popular pill mill in Michigan,” he says of one.
Later, while Park’s Timmy and Smoove’s Percy brainstorm over-the-top ways to attract potential customers with a block party, Fumero’s Eliza complains that her high school isn’t allowed to have a graduation party because of “Franklin’s two students” (aka Timmy). and Percy) who drive a Zamboni through a living room. “Still the only ZUI in Michigan history,” Timmy brags.
Hmmm, that might be a nod to Franklin High School in Livonia.
And the second episode includes a subtle mention of Southeast Michigan’s largest campus town. When Timmy is faced with the prospect of firing an employee to save money, he picks the unlucky one and then insists that he can’t break the bad news until the next day because he wants to buy a gift to soften the blow.
“It’s not my fault that the nearest edible system is in Ann Arbor,” he says.
Blockbuster video was a staple of the 1990s, when browsing the store aisles was almost as entertaining as the original content. It offered a seemingly endless list of titles on its shelves and the thrill of finding a copy of a new release, which flew out of the store faster than you could say: “Be kind. Rewind.”
Once 9,000 stores strong across America, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and faded into oblivion. Yet it continues to fuel a lingering nostalgia as a symbol of what has been lost since the “blockbuster” mine 2022.
It’s a sentiment that’s mostly lost on the show’s minor characters like Kayla, who wisecracks about her work with Timmy: “Walking around in a dusty time capsule every day and having some bad friends in ‘Gremlins’ T-shirts muttering ‘You probably were’ even.” Not even born when this movie came out’ is truly every 16-year-old’s dream.”
Still, there’s something about the place that keeps Timmy, who has worked there since the seventh grade, fighting the good fight — as he rallies his staff by standing above the checkout counter and reciting lines from Bill Pullman’s rousing speech as president, “A freedom. Day.”
Timmy makes a difference for one person, and he believes there’s still a market for people helping other people, at least when it comes to finding something good to watch on a Saturday night.
“Blockbuster” is for such believers. As one satisfied customer said after Timmy recommended watching “Under the Tuscan Sun” to ease his heartache: “Algorithms can suck it. Long live Blockbuster!”
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at [email protected].
The first ten-episode season premieres Thursday