Workplace comedies seem to be all the rage these days. Blockbuster, which debuts on Netflix later this week, is the newest addition to the sitcom canon, following the dynamics and shenanigans of a group of employees struggling to keep the last Blockbuster Video store from going under.
During a recent press junket, Blockbuster creator Vanessa Ramos—along with cast members Randall Park, Melissa Fumero, Tyler Alvarez, Madeleine Arthur, and Olga Merediz—sat down with Paste to discuss their upcoming workplace comedy, building multi-dimensional characters, and creating an on-set community.
Blockbuster follows Timmy Yoon (Randall Park), an old-fashioned movie lover still at his first and only job managing his hometown Blockbuster video. After discovering that his store is officially the last Blockbuster in America, he realizes that he—along with his employees and friends—needs to start actively engaging with their neighborhood’s community in order to not only keep Blockbuster afloat, but also restore the human connections that have been lost to a digital age of streaming.
The 10-episode comedy series is the latest from showrunner Vanessa Ramos, who is notable for her comedic contributions to shows like Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crashing and more. She came up with the idea for the show around the peak of the pandemic, during a period of isolated loneliness and limited interactions with other people that had her longing for her loved ones.
“The characters kind of came from a place of missing my family and friends,” Ramos explained. “The Connie character is based on my mom, Connie. It was, I think, a bit of a way of feeling like she’s around. Hannah is based on my sister-in-law, Carlos is based on this kid I kind of knew growing up. It became these people in my life I was wishing I was around, but then I started to build kind of a fantasy team around all of them and then figured out characters that would complement them well.”
Leads Randall Park and Melissa Fumero were initially wary of joining the show, Fumero having just come off another workplace comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Though neither could pass up the opportunity to bring Ramos’ offbeat and eccentric characters to life. Park explained, “My initial hesitation was, ‘Oh it’s about Blockbuster, it’s going to be just a pure nostalgia grab.’ But after I read the script, I was like oh my gosh, this is about so much more than that. It was an opportunity to play a really fun character amongst this really diverse—in terms of different ages and different perspectives—group of people, and it just really warmed my heart.”
One of the staples of a successful workplace sitcom is its leading slow-burn couple. Fumero plays Eliza, Timmy’s childhood crush who has returned to work her high school job at Blockbuster. There’s a state of yearning that exists between the duo, both unbeknownst to the other as they bounce around one another and miss opportunities to share their feelings. On building the relationship between their characters, Fumero explained, “They gave us all 10 episodes to read before we started shooting and I just remember tearing through the pages like, ‘What’s going to happen with Timmy and Eliza?!’ And Randall is such a dream to work with, so we kind of just fell right into who they are together and their dynamic.” Park playfully added, “As the kids say, I ship Timmy and Eliza.”
While the series is filled to the brim with lighthearted humor, the core of the show lies in its individual, character-driven arcs. “Even if we didn’t know what the story was yet, we knew it’s like, ‘Okay, we want to do a Carlos relationship story in Episode 3, and then we want to maybe do a film school thing,’” said Ramos. On balancing all the different layers together, she continued, “We approached the season going, ‘What is this character going through this season? How is it going to change them by the end?’ Almost write it, not like a drama drama, but we just know later on we’ll pack in the jokes and we’ll find a funny way of exploring what will change them or get them there.”
Tyler Alvarez plays Carlos, a first-generation Cuban-American with a passion for movies. He’s dying to become a filmmaker, and working at Blockbuster is his way of being around his dream while he’s studying a degree of which he has zero interest in. “He’s dealing with having immigrant parents and pressures that they put on him,” said Alvarez. “It’s like, do I decide to chase a career that is stable, that is safe? Or do I take a risk and go for my dreams? [...] I think we all kind of deal with that. I come from immigrant parents; my dad is from Cuba. Even him, he’s like wanting me to go to school and get a stable career and yada yada yada, and I took a risk and I think that’s an interesting thing to explore.”
The cast’s on-screen chemistry and love for one another was mirrored in their interactions with one another off-camera, as the set environment was one filled with laughter. “I feel like from day one, we hit the ground running and had a really good time,” said Madeleine Arthur, who plays the quirky character of Hannah. “The Blockbuster video store itself I feel like provided ample entertainment for us to bond over. Like the DVD covers and [how in] every episode, there’s different movie trivia that’s up on the screens.” Alvarez continued, “This was probably one of the easiest experiences I’ve had in my career. Just smooth sailing, we all really got along, we had no bad eggs.”
Blockbuster’s heart lies in the characters’ relationships with one another, how they interact and support each other through their highs and lows. The tenderness shared between their beloved work-family is placed at the forefront, and it’s a theme that the actors hope will resonate with viewers. “The story is about connection and community,” said Olga Merediz, who plays Connie. “I think people are just longing for that now. Also with everything that’s happening in the world, this comedy is just going to make you forget about everything.”
Blockbuster will be available to stream Thursday, November 3rd on Netflix.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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