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Though “Blockbuster” ostensibly takes place in a Michigan strip mall, it immediately feels stuck in an uncanny valley of Netflix’s strategic making. It’s not the fault of the show itself — a workplace comedy set in the last Blockbuster video store — that the biggest streaming service on the planet bought it, but without being set in the past, it has a hell of a hard time getting out from underneath that shadow all the same. Unable to criticize the very entertainment model putting brick and mortar rental places out of business, but trying to sell a scrappy story of comeback kids all the same, “Blockbuster” quickly gets stuck in a low gear that never quite lets it live up to its potential. 

Which is a shame! Even before watching a single minute of the show (which premiered Thursday Nov. 3 on Netflix), it was exciting to imagine what it might do with all the talent on deck to bring it to life. There’s creator Vanessa Ramos, a veteran writer of  “Superstore” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which both found several seasons worth of material in the everyday indignities and triumphs of being part of an office that overzealous managers would call a “family.” Leading the cast are “Fresh Off the Boat” star Randall Park (as the aforementioned overzealous manager) and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” alum Melissa Fumero (as his righthand woman/longtime crush), supported by familiar faces like Tyler Alvarez (“American Vandal”), JB Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Olga Merediz (who has too many supporting credits to name, making her inclusion as a regular cast member even more of a pleasure to see). Rounding out the Blockbuster staff are Madeline Arthur and Kamai Fairburn, who bring some welcome wild card energy to otherwise predictable scenes. Everyone involved is demonstrably committed to the pleasant low-stakes and jocular dynamics at play, even when they fall flat. 

For as hard as its upbeat music and capable actors try to sell it, “Blockbuster” struggles to land on a comedic tempo all its own. Each character ends up talking in the same self-referential way that smooths out any meaningful differences between their personalities. Plus, without the necessary editing that airing on a broadcast network would’ve imposed, each episode the Netflix show drags on several minutes too long for its material, dragging out scenes and jokes that would’ve been sharper given a more discerning eye. There’s no telling whether “Blockbuster” would have found its voice on a network like NBC, where the show was first developed. But the final product’s attempts to find a halfway point between its obvious broadcast rhythms and new streaming home make clear the problems of trying to make the show fit on a platform that clearly doesn’t suit it — a clash that extends beyond how the show works (or doesn’t) on a granular comedic level, too.  

Even though the pilot episode throws out jokes that could’ve used a couple more passes, it at least promises some kind of mission statement for the show to come. After reeling from the news that the corporate structure of Blockbuster is no more, Timmy (Park) rallies himself and his employees to take heart, insisting that “humans need to interact with each other.” As real live film enthusiasts, he argues, they can provide a service that no streaming service truly can. After this point, though, the show quietly drops this thread — or even any real suggestion that the last Blockbuster might follow in its doomed parent company’s footsteps — for so much of the 10-episode season that you’d be forgiven for wondering if it was suddenly taking place in an alternate universe.  

Maybe a broadcast iteration of “Blockbuster” wouldn’t have taken Netflix too hard to task, either; maybe it also would’ve included a B-plot about the hot new streaming K-drama “Trout Royale.” But it still would’ve had the room to follow its own premise to more logical conclusions instead of indulging the fantasy that twentysomething teachers would go looking for a “Titanic” DVD in 2022 instead of finding a Disney+ login, or that harried moms would come to blows in a Blockbuster instead of just resorting to a tablet.  

There are versions of “Blockbuster” that might have worked better, at least narratively speaking. It could’ve let the show’s Blockbuster store adjust to reality (maybe they could try renting only DVDs of titles not on streaming, hijinks ensue, etc). It could’ve ditched the 2022 setting and taken place in the past, even if a more recent one (the late aughts would do!). Even better, demonstrating any hint of self-awareness about the ironic place it occupies on its network would go a long way. As is, though, Netflix’s “Blockbuster” remains as conflicted as the inherent oxymoron that is the phrase “Netflix’s ‘Blockbuster.’” 

“Blockbuster” is now available to stream on Netflix.