“Blockbuster” struggles against season length constraints

The first season of Netflix’s new sitcom “Blockbuster” premiered on Friday, Nov. 3 to mixed reviews. With the same vibes as its NBC predecessors, the show tries too hard to stick to the sitcom blueprint without following through with the charm and heart that viewers expect.

In the pilot, Timmy Yoon, the manager of a Blockbuster Video store in Michigan, finds out that the Blockbuster company is going out of business and that his store will be the final Blockbuster on Earth, which is admittedly a fun premise. Timmy and his employees spent most of the rest of the season figuring out how to keep the store open, despite the obstacles of transitioning from a franchise to a small business.

Timmy certainly has a vibrant and quirky crew of employees, with elderly Connie, college student Carlos and airhead Hannah. The most compelling employee though is Eliza, a newly-divorced mom who is trying to rekindle her marriage while fighting off the romantic tension with Timmy. She keeps Timmy grounded whenever he starts to lose his footing in all the chaos.

If “Blockbuster” feels a little bit too familiar though, it’s probably because it is. Created by Vanessa Ramos, hailing from the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Superstore” writers’ rooms, it’s clear that she took a lot of inspiration from those shows. Since they are all workplace sitcoms, there will inevitably be some overlap, but with “Blockbuster,” some of the similarities are too close. It can’t be a coincidence that “Blockbuster” also features a Latina main character who is having marital and family troubles, just like Amy Sosa in “Superstore.”

My biggest issue with “Blockbuster” is the pacing, which isn’t entirely the fault of the writers. Especially within the earliest five episodes, there is a lot packed in, which offers little time for the viewer to digest much of anything. There is exposition dumped on us with little subtlety. There is fast-moving plot and action with problems popping up left and right that don’t let us sit with it or receive a satisfying conclusion.

We are unable to see the characters shine or to feel connected to them, which only hurts the show. Unlike other drama or sci-fi TV shows, sitcoms are character-oriented. If the audience isn’t invested in the characters, then the show simply doesn’t work.

By the time we reach the end of the pilot when Timmy’s block party goes awry, the shock of the moment doesn’t hit because the stakes don’t feel high enough. More than once, it feels like the episodes build to this grand disaster that isn’t so grand because the resolution is so quick. There is no time to deal with the consequences because they need to already set up the next problem.

This is the trend that is hitting much of television right now, though. Networks and streaming services alike order shorter seasons of shows now, which restrains the writers’ storytelling ability. This trend is affecting the quality of sitcoms because those 22-episode seasons were vital to telling the full story. Sitcoms need filler to be comedic and fun because that allows the audience to get to know the characters.

Unfortunately, “Blockbuster” only had 10 episodes to work with for their first season, which may explain many of these issues. It also sometimes takes some time for sitcoms to find their groove during the first season. This is the case with “Blockbuster,” because as the season went on, it became more enjoyable as we got to see more silly and relaxed moments with the characters.

While the first season of “Blockbuster” didn’t meet my expectations, I have hope for improvement in the show’s future. I see the potential, and I hope that Netflix does too.

3/5 stars



Photo courtesy of Ildar Sagdejev, Wikipedia.