The thing about Blockbuster (which just premiered with all episodes available on Netflix) is that the name, nostalgia, and bitter irony of it running on Netflix eventually fades, replaced by a different kind of wistfulness for a time of goofing off at work with your friends and easily forgotten customers who were little more than obstacles to some great conversations. And while, sure, there are grown-up economic anxieties baked into this story about what becomes a small business in a dying sector, its core is in the act of finding joy in the minutiae of your days together doing menial labor and the preservation of that joy.
Blockbuster is, like every other workplace comedy, a show that will rise or fall with the strength of its characters and its cast. And when it came time to pick a lead, creator Vanessa Ramos knew exactly what the show needed, tapping Randall Park to play Timmy, the owner of the last Blockbuster on earth whose life is thrown into chaos when he has to scramble to save, not just his business and way of life, but the livelihoods of employees that he genuinely thinks of as his family. “You never get the person you imagine when you’re writing it, but the thing with Randall is he makes it even better than I imagined,” Ramos told Uproxx when we were getting ready to talk with Park, adding, “the look he gives at the end of the pilot breaks my heart every time — and nobody has seen it more than I have.”
Ahead, Park talks more about the appeal of the show, his own experience working in a video store, the pull of playing characters that hold onto the past, and both the DVD cover that terrified him and the iconic film he’s never seen (let’s not judge).
What’s your own personal connection or affinity for Blockbuster and video stores, in general? That whole experience that’s obviously gone away.
Video stores were a huge part of my life and my upbringing. I spent hours and hours in video stores walking up and down aisles, looking at the back of the boxes, just reading about these different movies. In my very formative years, it was just the reality. And also in high school, I worked in a video store. For several summers. I worked at an independent mom-and-pop video store called New Wave Video. It was here in Los Angeles on Palms Boulevard. And it was just a great experience, just a neighborhood shop, where we’d have our regular customers coming in and we’d make our recommendations and just get to know people and it was a very, very fun time for me.
Obviously, there’s a lot of nostalgia for Blockbuster, but it sort of became the brand most synonymous with video stores and there are a lot of people who are like, “Yeah, but Blockbuster drove a lot of mom-and-pop video stores out of business.” It’s not exactly a fairytale story.
To me, it’s a part of the story of the show in a lot of ways because a lot of people talk about the irony of Netflix, of it being on Netflix and Netflix being the company that kind of wiped out Blockbuster. But then at the same time, Blockbuster was the company that kind of wiped out a lot of other video stores. And I think there is something really, really fascinating about the show in the sense that it is about a small business trying to survive. But the small business was once a big business that took out a lot of small businesses trying to survive. There is a strange irony there. But I think it’s really interesting because Timmy, the character I play, his heyday was when Blockbusters were on top of the world and that’s when he was the happiest. And here he is trying to hold onto that feeling.
How does it feel to play a character like that with that sort of arrested development mindset where he’s very much focused on, not reliving so much, but remembering and celebrating the past, that nostalgia drunkenness?
It comes very naturally to me. That is me in a lot of ways. I’m a very analog guy.
I have some issues with that myself.
I just love all the things that I grew up with and I feel like those were the best things and the coolest things. And there will always be a longing for that time. And I feel like in that way I really identify with Timmy.
Obviously, the character gets really romantic about movies and the human interaction side of the thing and this sort of anti-algorithm mindset, which I’m sure Netflix loved. Is that something that you find in your own life with your community of actors and friends?
I feel like I have it in my own life but I think I’m very conscious and active in making sure that I keep my world small. And I think it’s just second nature for me to do that. But I do have to remind myself that my happiness lies in those interactions with people, face to face and in hanging out with friends and being with my family. And because I’m very conscious of that, I’m always making sure to prioritize that as much as possible in my life. And going into a store and feeling the fabric of a shirt, to me that brings me so much more joy than buying a shirt online. It’s just that old-school way of thinking. I think I’m very conscious of keeping that in my life.
This question pops up on Twitter from time to time: is there a horror movie that, when you used to go into a video store, the box cover would just hold your eye? For me, it was the original IT. Every time I saw that cover, my eyes would just lock on. And I felt like Pennywise was following me. It’s the source of deep trauma. I’m just curious if you have one.
Yeah. It’s so funny you asked that because it just popped into my head. The box. I think it was called Ichi the Killer or something like that. It was a Japanese horror movie that was in our store and the box, still just thinking about it, it just freaks me out. It just freaks me out.
I think the box covers are why I didn’t watch many horror movies. “Eh, no, I’ll go rom-com. I’ll rent When Harry Met Sally for the 15th time.
Oh my gosh. And it’s so funny you say that because that’s all I’ve been saying in every interview is how much I’d rent When Harry Met Sally over and over again. That’s so funny. I never rent horror. Or I never watch. If I scream when I look at the box, I’m not going to watch it.
Any late fees left over at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video? I think the statute of limitation is expired. Is your conscience clean?
(Laughs) My conscience is clean. I was always good with that. I was so good with that. Because I was so broke. I was so broke. The idea of more debt than all the debt I was already in, it was like just, I couldn’t.
I’ll tell you, I put Hollywood Video and Blockbuster into the ground with about $40 owed to both of them and I won because they’re done.
You won. You got away! (Laughs)
Clean. So I read another interview that you’d done where you said that there are a lot of movies that you haven’t seen. I’m totally in the same boat and I know the feeling. When I tell somebody I haven’t seen Lord Of The Rings they look at me sideways. But now I’ve said one of mine. Can you give me one of yours? What’s one that you’re embarrassed about having not seen?
I mean, I haven’t seen so many. Oh gosh. What’s like one that everyone says to see? I did see Lord Of The Rings. I will say that.
(Laughs) Everybody did, it seems.
Yeah, but I didn’t see Jurassic Park.
Oh, for real?
Never seen it. Never seen any of them.
Any reason? Fear of dinosaurs?
No, I don’t know, it just missed me for some reason. And then once they started making more, it was like, “Oh, well I got to see the first one to see these other ones.” And then it became too much. And I’m too busy watching When Harry Met Sally, so I just don’t have the time.
When these movies hit the culture, they sort of seep into you even if you haven’t seen them. I haven’t seen any of the Halloween movies. I haven’t seen Friday The 13th, or any of that stuff. But I know so much about them that it’s like I have.
Totally. And I do love reading about movies, even movies that I haven’t seen. Reading about them and any podcast about the making of. It’s weird that there’s so much I know about the making of movies that I have never seen.
Even if you went back and watched Jurassic Park now you couldn’t get the full experience from whatever it was, 1993 or whatever. They had these massive cardboard cutouts like gates to the park at the theater.
Yeah, I missed it.
Jumping back to the show. The set looks so well done. It looks like a Blockbuster. You worked in a video store. If you’re on set, does your mind ever wander and you fall back into that mode, like, “we need to stock that there. We need to move that?”
(Laughs) No, no. I don’t fall into that mode, but it’s so accurate. The signage is like exactly like the signage of my local Blockbuster here in LA that I used to go to every other week. So it did feel like a time machine every time I stepped onto that set. It felt like I was back in the late nineties just walking up and down my neighborhood blockbuster. And yeah, it was very kind of discombobulating in a lot of ways because it was so detailed. The details on that set were so real and exactly like the old store and kind of aged too. There’s an aging thing that they did that made it feel even more just like the store. So it was a trip. It was very much a trip.
I mean, you can see it on the screen from the signage to everything. They spared no expense, which is a line from Jurassic Park. But you wouldn’t know.
I wouldn’t know. (Laughs)
‘Blockbuster’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.