By ALICIA RANCILIO
Actors are accustomed to change, always beginning and ending new projects in various locations with new people. But for Melissa Fumero, who starred in "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" for eight seasons, taking on a new role in the Netflix series "Blockbuster" was anxiety-inducing.
"I told myself 'Look, that kind of magic doesn't happen again. You had your one unicorn in your career. It's probably never going to be that good again," Fumero said in a recent interview. Those jitters went away when co-star Randall Park and the rest of the cast assembled to film the 10-episode show about the employees of the sole surviving Blockbuster video store.
"I met this cast and met Randall, and we started all working together, and it was literally the same magic unicorn again. I can't believe it."
Park — best known for the ABC comedy "Fresh off The Boat" which aired for six seasons — plays Timmy, the proud manager of a Blockbuster store in a small town in Michigan. Quickly into the first episode he gets word that all remaining Blockbusters will be shut down effective immediately, corporate's office is being turned into a WeWork, but Timmy's Blockbuster can remain open because it still generates a small amount of business. He becomes the de facto owner of the last Blockbuster in the world. (The actual last remaining Blockbuster is in Bend, Ore.)
Timmy loves his job, his coworkers, and connecting with the people who come to his store. In the pilot episode, as Timmy chats with a customer who hasn't rented a movie in a while, he says, "What's it been? Three years this March?" The customer breaks it to him that he's been using Netflix, but ends up renting "Under the Tuscan Sun" on Timmy's recommendation to help get through a breakup.
Timmy's genuine belief is that the in-person exchange of renting a movie, or just leaving the house to visit any brick-and-mortar store, is valuable because human beings need socialization. His employees (played by actors including Madeleine Arthur, Olga Merediz and Tyler Alvarez) don't exactly match his conviction, but they'll go along with his lofty ideas to bring attention to the store — and to keep working.
"Timmy is the same kind of boss I would be, I think. Which is not necessarily a good thing," said Park. "The problem with Timmy and the problem with me, is this deep desire to be liked. ... He puts out a lot of positivity and a lot of love. That's what really speaks to me about the character. But his need to be liked gets him in trouble often."
Vanessa Ramos, "Blockbuster" creator and showrunner, says when she was coming up with its characters Park is who she had in mind all along for Timmy.
"In my original pitch, Timmy was described as 'a Randall Park-type,' and that was because they're like, 'there's no way we can get Randall Park.'" Enter Netflix, which suggested sending it to Park and seeing what happened.
"He read it and was in. In my brain I was like, 'OK, this is as good as it going to get. Like, I've really lucked out here,'" said Ramos.
That good fortune continued when her pal and former colleague Fumero, whom she wrote for on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," became available. Fumero plays Eliza, a down on her luck Blockbuster employee who previously worked with Timmy at the store when they were in high school and he's had a secret crush on her ever since. Eliza went to Harvard — for a semester — but dropped out because she got pregnant. She married, had a baby and is now separated from her husband whom she caught on a date with another woman in the Costco cafe.
"The thing about Eliza that I was really drawn to was this woman who things didn't go exactly the way she thought they would," said Fumero. "We're catching her at this moment in her life where she's figuring out what's next and who she is after she's already raised a kid."
Timmy and Eliza have a classic will they/won't they running storyline which the actors say they enjoy.
"Everyone loves a romance," said Park. "The fact that these two characters also had a history before, makes it so special and different and complicated and all those things. I'm very invested."
Fumero says "Blockbuster," like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," is a workplace comedy where employees become family and in some ways know each other better than family.
"No matter what industry you work in are these little dysfunctional families that exist everywhere and these people that you spend all these hours with every day and it's a part of everyone's life."