A new sitcom starring Melissa Fumero and Randall Park, "Blockbuster," premieres Friday on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix
NEW YORK, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Fresh Off the Boat alum Randall Park and Brooklyn Nine Nine actress Melissa Fumero say their new workplace comedy, Blockbuster, might be a wake-up call to people who tend to isolate themselves or spend too much time staring at screens.
"I hope this is a gentle reminder of the value of human connection," Park told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"There is a longing and a craving for community and for more person-to-person connection. So much of the show is about that very longing," she said.
Premiering Thursday, the show follows longtime friends Timmy and Eliza as they try to keep alive the last titular video-rental store on Earth. Tyler Alvarez, Madeleine Arthur, Olga Merediz and Kamaia Fairburn play their co-workers Carlos, Hannah, Connie and Kayla.
Some viewers may see themselves in the characters, as they struggle to save a sinking ship in a changing world, where most people watch TV and films via streaming platforms instead of on DVD players or VCRs.
"It's hard to have a small business, nowadays, maybe more than any other time. Hopefully, that is something people will really connect to," Fumero said.
Timmy, who has been working at Blockbuster since he was a teenager, is extremely devoted to the store, its employees, customers and the Michigan neighborhood where it is located.
"He lives and breathes Blockbuster, so when this store is hit with such hard times, it is very personal to him," Park said.
"Eliza, not so much," Fumero said, causing Park to laugh.
"She worked at the Blockbuster for one summer in high school and through a series of events in her life has found herself re-entering the workforce," she added.
"Because it's been so long, the only job she can really get is at Blockbuster because her friend manages the store, which I feel like might also be a story line people relate to, especially mothers and women."
The actors enjoyed exploring the "will they or won't they?" romantic aspect of their characters' decades-old friendship, too.
"When we meet them, they already have a rhythm. They already have a banter," Fumero said. "We're not seeing two people get to know each other. We are meeting two people who know each other so well."
Park described the opportunity to work with Fumero as "such a thrill."
"I get to work with someone I respect so much and then work on this material!" he said.
"There's a lot of depth to it and it's important because these characters have known each other so long and the complications of having those feelings amid this history is so fun to play."
Showrunner Vanessa Ramos said she based the series' characters on people she knows and penned the scripts during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-21.
"It was a little bit me trying to feel the people I miss. I'm hoping it scratches the itch of wanting connection more than anything," Ramos told UPI in a separate Zoom interview.
Reasons vary for why the store's staff members stay at a place that is clearly financially unstable.
"Randall's character loves movies and has a prescription for the customers. He knows exactly what you need when you need it," Ramos said.
"Eliza's found herself there due to circumstances, Carlos loves movies. It's a mixed bag of people who are diehards and people who just need a paycheck. Timmy makes them care about the store and each other."
The plot of one episode shows panicked people running to Blockbuster to grab DVDs after a solar storm knocks out the Internet.
"In the writers' room, it was an exercise. Does anyone know their parents' phone numbers anymore?" Ramos said, referring to how dependent people have become on their cellphones for vital information and access to services.
"I don't know how to contact anyone. How do you use Uber? [Internet] is in every aspect of life now. We realized that [not having it] would draw people to the store. Because it's like, 'I'm used to looking at a screen and somehow this is the only way that I can put something on.'"
In real life, only one Blockbuster store in the world still stands in Oregon after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
Viewers who spent Friday nights of their youth hanging out with friends in Blockbusters and deciding what movies to take home for the evening will likely feel nostalgic watching the Netflix comedy.
The characters wear the defunct franchise's signature khaki pants and blue polo shirts, and the show's set looks like a real Blockbuster, down to the movie posters on the wall and the DVD cases on the racks.
Since this is an NBCUniversal-produced series, a lot of the company's projects get the spotlight as they were the easiest to secure the rights for through the legal department.
"We were allowed to use real names, but not actual covers, so they were marked up by the art department," Ramos said.
The writer-producer acknowledged the irony of Netflix adopting a TV series that is a valentine to DVDs as a mode of home entertainment when Netflix's success played a huge role in Blockbuster's demise.
"Netflix was very cool and understanding about letting us address that. When the show was announced, I think a lot of people thought it was us wearing the blood of our enemies," Ramos said.
"I get that, but also Dish Network owned the rights to Blockbuster and they had sold us the rights and they also had someone come down to make sure the layout of the store was right and we had the right blues and yellows in the [decor]. We do, to an extent, have the blessing of what remains of Blockbuster.
"I'm grateful to be able to tell this story and I feel like if I had not jumped on writing about it, someone else would have. I don't regret it."