When Vanessa Ramos was first approached to develop a show loosely based on the last existing Blockbuster storeit reminded her of doing improv when she started in comedy.
“It was a bit of an improv style, like, ‘Here’s your location.'”
As she explained in an interview, one of the show’s producers, John Fox, had the trademark and image rights to the classic video library. “He was like, ‘I’ve got uniforms and the signs and everything, and all you have to do is build a world,’ which – that’s no small thing – but I was like, ‘OK, I’ll figure it out,'” Ramos said. “My goal at the time was: if I can get them to build a Blockbuster, that’s game over.”
But who would fill this store with bricks and mortar, keeping both the movies in stock and the nostalgic memories alive? Ramos thought about building the show around a fictional store manager: Timmy Yoon (Randall Park), who, as we learn in the first episode, has been working in his hometown Blockbuster since he was in seventh grade. …and never left.
“I was like, ‘OK, who would be working at a Blockbuster in 2022?’ They should not only love the movies, but have an emotional connection to the store,” Ramos said. It was fall 2020 and Ramos was living alone with her dog at the height of the pandemic. Developing Timmy’s staff Blockbuster, she thought about the family and friends she missed, for example, one of Timmy’s longtime employees, Connie (Olga Merediz), is based on Ramos’ mother.
Premiering Thursday on Netflix, “Blockbuster” packs in plenty of classic tropes from great workplace sitcoms, like a sense of camaraderie between characters, as well as topical in-jokes and memorable comedic pairings. Park shares several extremely funny scenes with JB Smoove as Percy, who is both Timmy’s best friend in high school, as well as his landlord, owner of the surrounding Blockbuster mall. This naturally leads to awkward comic situations. And like many workplace comedies, there’s an arc of will between Timmy and his childhood friend Eliza (Melissa Fumero), a new recruit trying to restart her life as she struggles to find herself. separate from her husband.
The 10-episode series is Ramos’ first time serving as creator and showrunner. But that comes from years of writing acclaimed workplace comedies like “Superstore” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (also starring Fumero), and perfecting the art of writing a killer joke.
“I was a very quiet kid and not the best at making friends growing up in Texas. So I was home a lot and watched a lot of comedy, mostly stand-up comedy, and that’s that’s how I learned to write jokes,” she said. “After a while, the beat clicked. But I would only understand later that it was something I had inside of me.
After college, she moved to Los Angeles to intern at iO West, a theater and improv school. The job came with class credit, so she took an improv class, then decided to try a stand-up class. “I went into the black box theater out back and did my first stand-up set that night. I did five minutes and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It was like, ‘OK, the scariest moment is getting up for the first time and getting the words out,'” Ramos recalled.
She continued to do stand-up for about four and a half years, but found that she might be a better writer than a performer. “I didn’t understand my anxiety. So I was getting a lot of comics, like, “Hey, you’re a really good writer,” which is like, “OK, you gotta get the scene thing.”
This put her on the map as a skilled joke writer. She started writing for other comedians when they appeared on late-night roundtables at the time, such as “Chelsea Lately”. This led to a meeting with comedian Jeff Ross, who was developing a show on Comedy Central: “The Burn with Jeff Ross”.
“I had burned my hand on a turkey pot pie from Swanson the night before. And when Jeff Ross reached out to shake my hand, it was bandaged up, and I had to explain that I burned my hand on a pie, because when it turns over, the innards stick to the knuckles. It was a whole thing,” she said. “So, of course, he didn’t hire me — like I wouldn’t — with my pot pie burn.”
Despite the pot pie fiasco, Ross happily recommended her for other Comedy Central projects, leading to her first TV writing job on Roseanne Barr’s Comedy Central Roast in 2012. She wrote for d other Comedy Central roasts, as well as award shows like the Oscars. and the MTV Movie Awards, and the late-night Comedy Central show “@midnight.” From there, she began getting staff writing jobs on scripted comedies. After making joke writing her daily bread, it was on shows like NBC’s “Superstore” that she began to hone her skills in writing a great story.
“My first script, you couldn’t pay me to go back and read it. I think, story-wise, it’s a mess,” Ramos said. But looking at the writers of ” Superstore” Jackie Clarke (now one of her collaborators on “Blockbuster”) and Sierra Teller Ornelas (who later created Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls”) she took note of how to craft a story. “It was a bit like a child watching a stand-up. It just clicked one day,” she said. “I just credit this show for teaching me how to really write a story.”
While working on different shows, she also saw the importance of valuing writers’ time, which she brought to the “Blockbuster” writers room. A common practice in television comedies is for writers to create a list of alternate lines or jokes called “alts”, which may or may not end up in the final script or scene being filmed. Sometimes actors try alts on different takes to see what works best.
But on the Netflix animated show “Big Mouth,” where Ramos served as a consulting producer for a few seasons, she noticed showrunners Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg were doing something different. “It was the first time I saw someone who didn’t just throw a bunch of alts just to get. Whatever joke gets the most laughs, they’d be like, ‘Great, let’s put it in “, because you trust your staff that they’re funny and they know what’s funny. And so, it saves you a lot of time,” she said.
“In my writers’ room, we work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an hour and a half lunch break. So if you have a race, you know exactly what time you stop and can plan. You can have a work-life balance. It was very important to me based on some of the experiences I’ve had.
Ramos, who has a development contract at Universal, first pitched “Blockbuster” to NBC, which passed it on, before Netflix greenlighted the series. When Netflix broke the news, it was hard to ignore the irony of a show about Blockbuster at Netflix, which began as a service to send DVDs through the mail, helping to precipitate the decline of the era of video libraries. . Thankfully, Netflix executives never had a problem with the show poking fun at the streaming service, Ramos said.
“I think we were all on the same page. It would have been much stranger not to answer it,” she said. “I think I would have felt more sinister about it if we hadn’t been like, ‘OK, guys, we know what we’re doing here.'”
One of the show’s hallmarks is its wide variety of movie-related jokes suitable for store staff, who of course would have an encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s catalog. For example, in one scene, a customer needs a recommendation: “I’m looking for a pig movie, but not Babe. It’s too big a city! Another client, a substitute teacher, needs a movie to show his class instead of teaching. When he asks for “The Blind Side” or “Freedom Writers”, Connie directs him to the “White Savior” section of the store.
“When you’re sitting down and trying to find movies to reference, you’d be surprised to see the ones floating to the surface, because they’re not those Turner Classics you think they’re going to be,” Ramos said of screenwriters making jokes about movies. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I once watched ‘Rush Hour 4′ on a plane.’ It’s not even the first one you think of. We had a lot of fun in the room thinking, ‘OK, what’s the last movie you saw?’ They were extremely different.
For Ramos, it’s always about finding the perfect joke. One of his favorite shows is “Detroiters”, co-created by and starring Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson. “They think of things my brain wouldn’t have thought of to put jokes into. The biggest example I think of at the gate is in the pilot, where they’re like, ‘Two beers.’ [The bartender is] like, ‘Hot or cold?’ …and they turn to the man who is blowing on his hot beer to cool it down. If I had seen this script, I wouldn’t have thought, “Oh, that’s where the joke goes!” I’m continually fascinated by the choices they make there and the fun stuff they find.
Throughout “Blockbuster” there is a similar density of jokes using sight gags for the viewer to spot. For example, there’s a running track involving the television in the employee break room, which broadcasts local news. In different episodes, a different newscaster reports that he replaces a newscaster featured in a previous episode, who is on vacation.
“The jokes are where I’m really excited. I think the story is good and important, and I’m happy to have these characters come to life. But I feel like the jokes are where I can really play” , she said, “With jokes, it’s the times when you cook dinner later, and then you remember something, and it really cracks you up.”
Or there are lines that live rent-free in your brain, ones you might quote to your friends out of context.
“It’s my dream,” Ramos said. “If I can get even one person to do that with the show, that will make me so happy, because I totally grew up as a kid.”
“Blockbuster” premieres Thursday on Netflix.
The Huffington Gt