Warning: Some spoilers ahead
Blockbuster, the video rental store that peaked in the ’90s, may be a thing of the past but a new Netflix series has brought new life to the former franchise. Blockbuster, a fictionalized workplace comedy following a group of employees working at the last operating Blockbuster Video store in the world in Grandville, Michigan. The show stars Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat), Melissa Fumero (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, M.O.D.O.K.), Olga Merediz (In the Heights), Tyler Alvarez (American Vandal), and Madeleine Arthur (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). Cuban American actresses Fumero and Merediz shine in their respective main roles as Eliza Walker, a returning employee navigating a messy divorce, and Connie Serrano, who is struggling to keep up with modern times while offering advice and guidance to younger employees. They also happen to both have appeared in the critically-acclaimed comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine alongside Blockbuster creator, showrunner, and writer Vanessa Ramos. Fumero in the main role of Amy and Merediz as the mother of Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz (Encanto). With this reunion on a show built on nostalgia, the stars say it was both the appeal of plot and their characters that drew them to the project.
Fumero tells HipLatina it was an “easy yes” to be on Blockbuster, mostly due to the complexities and interior life of her character Eliza. When we meet her in the first episode, she appears to be much farther along in life than her fellow employees with her daughter, her independent living situation, her habits of being organized, and her charms that have her boss Timmy (Park) infatuated. But very quickly, the walls of illusion come down. The audience finds out that she and her daughter have as much of a strained relationship as she has with her husband, that she’s returned to a job she once had as a teenager despite having a Harvard degree, and that she moved out of her own house to rent an apartment to distance herself from a strained marriage. Throughout the season, she exists in this uncertain, unstable place and Fumero nails her character’s complicated messiness in every scene.
“After so many years of playing a character who seemingly had it all together at all times,” Fumero says, referring to her character on B99, “it was very appealing to me to play someone who doesn’t. I connected to it. I can remember when I was a new mom, feeling like a total loss of identity. What do I do now? What is my life? Those moments, we all have them.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Eliza or any of the characters going through their own issues, at least not on a show as funny as Blockbuster is. Beneath the quips, jokes, and hyper-specific movie references, there moving, heartfelt moments between characters, genuine emotional breakdowns, and scenes that seem to have been inspired by a romance film—only for a comedic jab to break the ice and return to a familiar, safe place.
Another aspect of the show that has been a hot topic of discussion is the amount of Latinx representation both on-screen and behind the camera. In addition to Merediz and Fumero, the show also features Tyler Alvarez, who is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. He plays Carlos Herrera, a wanna-be movie director, and frequently shares scenes with the other two Latinas on the show. To feature three Latinx characters on the same show who are 1) not related and 2) not completely defined by their cultural backgrounds, is a huge step forward for our community in media. Seeing these three actors take up space together felt like a throwback to B99 when both Fumero and Beatriz were cast as unrelated Latina characters, which was a rarity when the show premiered in 2013. Almost ten years later, it’s obvious that change is still possible.
“I never thought I’d be on a show with two other Cubans,” Fumero says. “Like, that doesn’t happen.”
But Fumero is grateful that this time around, it’s “not as big a deal,” which shows a sign of progress for how Latinx representation and audience expectations are evolving and shifting in Hollywood. This is especially true about the varied experiences of our community and what it means to be “Latinx enough” on screen.
For her and Merediz, seeing a new take on Latinidad was refreshing, especially for women who both grew up barely seeing Latinx representation in U.S. media.
“She’s Mexican American but she’s completely American. The fact that she’s Mexican American is just a part of her but it’s not the defining thing about her. She’s there to guide these employees, the people that come into the store. She wants to guide people and make sure they’re doing the right thing and keep them safe,” Merediz says about her character. Rather than being shaped by her cultural identity and potentially being made into a stereotype, it’s her personality and who she is at heart that makes her so endearing, warm, and loveable.
Especially because so many of us in the Latinx community might not be connected to our cultures and heritages for a variety of social, political, and family reasons, “It’s really important for [the Latinx community] to have somebody that they can see on television, in film, that they can relate to and see themselves and picture themselves in that media. So I hope people see how enriching it is to have the diversity that the show has and that people fall in love with these characters,” Merediz adds.
No word from Netflix has been announced yet in terms of a second season for Blockbuster but based on this season’s cliffhanger, there’s already a lot to play with and deeper character storylines to get into in subsequent episodes. From the get-go, the premise of the series is already enough to draw viewers in. After all, who wouldn’t want to see Blockbuster go from corporation to small business and try to navigate a streaming service world (ironically dominated by the show’s distributor Netflix)? But at the heart of this show is not the business but its employees trying to find their way through life, relating to one another beyond the usual divides of generations, experience, and age. It’s their unity and humor as a workplace family that makes this show shine, offering some much-needed and new Latinx representation along with it.
“We should see ourselves reflected in media in positive ways and in all different types of ways. We’re constantly as a community trying to scream about how we’re not a monolith, but people aren’t really going to get that until they see us in varied stories and characters,” Fumero shares. “We can just be there without the character being about our heritage or our culture. We should have stories about our identity and our culture, but we also should just exist in other stories. Both things can be true.”
Blockbuster is now available to stream on Netflix.