This image is from the official trailer for “Blockbuster,” distributed by Netflix.

For a time, Blockbuster was the video rental store. Like countless other movie-lovers, my childhood memories of Blockbuster are imbued with nostalgia — racing around on the starry-blue carpet, mapping the endless aisles of DVDs and candy-lined checkout kiosks. Unfortunately, Blockbuster went under nearly 10 years ago, right around the time that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu rose to prominence. A digital era was on the horizon, with physical media rapidly becoming obsolete in favor of cheap, easily-accessible formats. Yet this surplus of available content is not without its costs (like the fact that I unflinchingly refer to the general art produced by Netflix as “content”). 

Perhaps it’s only fitting that nearly a decade later, Netflix chose to produce the comedy series “Blockbuster” after suffering one of its worst financial quarters in years. This poorly put-together show may just be the latest flop in its expansive catalog, but it is also a sure sign that Netflix itself is going downhill. What can I say — karma’s a righteous bitch. 

“Blockbuster” is a workplace comedy centered around a video rental store that’s recently been ordained “the last Blockbuster on the planet.” Naturally, much of the show revolves around the imminent threat of bankruptcy that hangs over them as its characters jump from one far-fetched scheme to the next, always in a tight fix to keep their doors open. I love a mildly corny sitcom as much as the next person, but I regret to report that the chances of this show living on to see another season are about as slim as Blockbuster coming back from the dead. 

As captain of this sinking ship, Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”) stars as Timmy, an old-school movie-lover and dreamer at heart who genuinely cares about his “work family.” The rest of the ensemble is rounded out by Eliza (Melissa Fumero, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Connie (Olga Merediz, “In the Heights”), Carlos (Tyler Alvarez, “Crush”) and Hannah (Madeleine Arthur, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”). On the surface, this show has all the right elements of a perfectly functional comedy: mundane workplace, lovable protagonist and eccentric side characters. The problem is that it forgets to be, well, funny.

Allow me to elucidate: a highlight reel of the pilot can be condensed down to Timmy repeatedly referring to himself as “Blockbuster daddy,” Eliza unironically saying “Life isn’t 21 Jump Street, Timmy. You can’t go back to high school” and a random side character chiming in with “Algorithms can suck it. Long live Blockbuster.” My personal favorite is Hannah’s line, “The TikTok you made today is better than five of the Star Wars. Okay, I haven’t actually seen any of them, I’m just on Reddit a lot,” which feels like the sort of garbled, meaningless joke an AI that is studying millennialized Twitter jargon would cough up.

What makes this dud of a comedy particularly painful to watch is the fact that it has an all-star sitcom veteran cast at its disposal. With a different actor, Timmy might have been an unbearable man-child who never grew out of his high school summer job or got over his parent’s divorce (ahem, Jake Peralta of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). Park, however, balances out these lapses of immaturity with genuine charm. Without fail, in each episode, Eliza has an outburst in the third act that amasses to “I was right all along and nobody listened to me.” As repetitive and grating as the jokes are, Fumero still salvages what little hilarity she can out of the dumpster pile. Merediz’s impeccable line delivery similarly manages to work with next to nothing, and the scenes in which she isn’t sidelined are some of the show’s best, from her weird dance moves to her endearing quirks. But neither these isolated moments nor a talented cast can fully erase my lingering distaste at how aggressively bland the rest of this show is.   

“Blockbuster” aims to please, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it didn’t reek of desperation. Its humor tries to appeal to about three different generations of viewers, which means it ultimately appeals to no one. Whereas Timmy resides in the realm of slapstick, corny dad humor, Hannah and Carlos bring in more millennial references like Tinder, Twitter or Tarantino. That leaves Gen Z with recurring character Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn, “Holly Hobbie”), whose sole purpose is to dish out biting one-liners and little else. She is “passive-aggressive angsty teenage girl,” personified. This comedic dissonance results in a wildly uneven tone and an inconsistent sense of humor that is not easily enjoyed. Sitcoms don’t have to be mindless, but the ability to resonate well with an audience is something that just can’t be forced or artificially manufactured. Because the jokes and dialogue never make it to the point of organic, seamless hilarity, the show is left to flounder through painfully stilted scenes with varying levels of success.   

All in all, “Blockbuster” is an unexceptional, formulaic sitcom. It is but another mediocre cog in a machine of unremarkable content, and I honestly give it a week to sit on Netflix’s little top-10 trending scheme before everyone forgets it even existed. The original Blockbuster, however, will always be in our hearts. Gone, but never forgotten.

Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at seirani@umich.edu.