Randall Park may be one of the most prolific actors of his generation. He's done everything from Marvel (WandaVision) to a beloved family sitcom (Fresh Off the Boat), and his roles have also extended to political characters (Veep), dictators (The Interview), and even heightened versions of himself (Young Rock).
The reason Park wanted to get into acting, however, had less to do with meaty dramatic roles or laugh-out-loud comedies, and everything to do with his favorite genre: rom-coms.
One of Park's fondest memories of renting films from Blockbuster involves rom-coms.
"It was a very important part of my life," he tells Metacritic. "I remember being so excited to choose. It was high stakes — whatever you chose you were stuck with for the weekend. I would be very indecisive and usually I would end up renting the same rom-com I had already seen 100 times and knew was going to be a winner."
So, when the opportunity came up to star in Netflix's Blockbuster, a workplace comedy set at the last remaining video rental store of that infamous chain, and he learned there was an unrequited love component between the lead character, Timmy, and his high school friend Eliza (Melissa Fumero), he was all in.
Over 10 episodes of the series, its owner Timmy, pulls out all the stops to keep his staff and store afloat, often with the help of his best friend Percy (JB Smoove). By the finale it seems as though everything is turning around for the workplace, thanks to a solar storm that knocks out the internet, sending frantic customers to Blockbuster in search of something to occupy their time with.
"I do remember spending so much time in the store and being swept away by all the titles and all the boxes," Park says. "It was a simpler time and a time that I look back on with fondness."
But, when it comes to the rom-com side of the story, Timmy and Eliza fail to mention their feelings for each other, despite Eliza turning down her husband's new proposal.
Here, Park talks to Metacritic about the power of nostalgia and positivity on television, and why Blockbuster comes at a good time.
Is it ironic or appropriate that a series about the last Blockbuster is streaming on Netflix?
Definitely ironic and we actually mention it in the show. So, we are self-aware. I don't think Netflix was the sole reason for Blockbuster's demise. Blockbuster was definitely a huge corporation at one point.
Did you visit the last Blockbuster when you were preparing for the role or get a vibe for what is happening over there?
No, I didn't visit it. But I did watch the documentary. I actually saw the documentary, The Last Blockbuster, before I even got involved in this show. Our show is not based on that actual store; it's a more fictitious store in a fictitious town in Michigan. But the themes are definitely similar to the actual last Blockbuster.
It's a great hook when you come into the show, but how would you say it fits into the rest of the episodes?
It is the through line throughout the season — the desire to keep this business running. But that desire comes from this strong sense of community and wanting to keep this kind of family together. It's about wanting to keep human connection alive. That's what is most important. This show becomes about so much more than this extended nostalgia we all feel for Blockbuster; it does become a show about a family.
You and JB Smoove worked together on Fresh Off the Boat. Did you have anything to do with his casting as Timmy's best friend?
No, but when I found out that he was in talks, the first thing I did was text him and told him he had to do it. A lot of it was selfish because I just wanted to hang out with JB because we had so much fun on Fresh Off the Boat. I adore the guy. So when he did officially sign on, I was thrilled. We had so much fun in Vancouver, where we shot the show, and it was just a joy hanging out with him.
Does this show come at the right time given the pandemic, and people perhaps yearning for that workplace they may no longer have?
I think so. And the show is also very much a feel-good show despite the trials and tribulations these characters go through. Just from reading the scripts, I felt like I really needed that; it lifted my spirits. In these times a show like this is needed. We've seen that with shows like Ted Lasso, shows that leave you feeling good about life.
You're also a producer on the series, how active were you behind the scenes?
I'm definitely not as active as [showrunner] Vanessa Ramos and the other creators, but they are extremely collaborative. I give my opinions and thoughts. There is a producorial component to my involvement with the show, but I'm mostly focused on playing Timmy.
Was there anything specifically you wanted to bring to Timmy?
For sure, but it was something that was already in the plan of the show and what made me want to be a part of it: the whole idea of being part of a "will they or won't they" scenario. That's one of my favorite things about TV, when shows have that. When Melissa Fumero came on board I was even more excited because I was already such a big fan of hers.
Given that, the finale is quite cynical. Were you disappointed where the season ends?
I was because I am really rooting for Timmy and Eliza and I am really rooting for this store. I want to see it thrive. We'll have to get a second season to see what happens. My hope is that people really do enjoy the show and spread the word and that it does well enough for us to keep going. Because really, I just want to see what happens. But also I adore this cast and this crew, and we had so much fun making the show that it would just be a delight to be able to do it again.
There's Timmy, you mentioned Ted Lasso, and there is also Schitt's Creek. Are leading characters trending towards eternal optimism nowadays? Is this a symptom of our time?
I hope it does become a trend since we're living in such a cynical time. And understandably so. But for half an hour a day to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone who wears rose-colored glasses, that's a service for people. We want to be optimistic and we want to feel good about where we're at and where we're headed. To be able to see that reflected in our entertainment, maybe not every show, but to have at least that show that feels like a warm hug is important.
Get to know Randall Park:
Prior to Blockbuster, Park starred for six seasons as the patriarch Louis on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat (Metascore: 75). He also plays a heightened version of himself on Dwayne Johnson's autobiographical comedy Young Rock (66) and continues to reprise his Ant-Man and the Wasp (70) role, Jimmy Woo, in various Marvel projects. In 2022, Park also lent his voice to the animated Netflix comedy Human Resources(72) and he appeared as the leading man in 2019's rom-com Always Be My Maybe (64).