Before creating the hit Karate Kid continuation series Cobra Kai, the creative team of Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald came from a raunchy comedy background, with projects like Harold & Kumar and the 2012 American Pie sequel American Reunion. These comedic chops are evident in the team’s latest Netflix original series, Obliterated, combining high-octane action and adult comedy against the neon backdrop of Sin City. Already a worldwide hit with Netflix subscribers, Obliterated is uneven, with the seams of its production budget showing at times, but when it connects, there are explosively enjoyable moments to be had.
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Right from the series’ opening scene, taking place at a rooftop party thrown by the terrorists in question, it’s pretty evident what kind of show Obliterated is going to be. Yes, there are action beats that quickly take shape, but all the cheesecake shots of this raging pool party and the subsequent victory shenanigans make it clear that Obliterated is going to be more of a raunchy comedy than an action spectacle. Anyone tuning in for something hewing closer to Mr. and Mrs. Smith or the Kingsman movies is likely to be disappointed because Obliterated is more a comedy that happens to have action than the other way around.
The violence isn’t all that graphic, though plenty of blood is spilled on-screen whenever the action does kick in, but the sexual content may catch unsuspecting viewers off-guard, There is plenty of sex and nudity, both male and female, playing for both eroticism and laughs as the creative team returns to their R-rated comedy roots for this series. Even though Obliterated comes from the creators of Cobra Kai, this is a decidedly more adult show that may rile more puritanical viewers, even as it plays for goofball laughs with its buffoonish main characters while they’re under the influence.
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Almost every episode has at least a handful of action scenes, but they always feel more like a means to an end than a highlight of the viewing experience. Anyone who’s seen their fair share of basic cable or network television action has seen choreography on par with Obliterated, if not better, with gunfights and martial arts sequences coming off as relatively routine. The action isn’t really the point of the show, so much as a way to keep the stakes high and underscore the overall premise, but its constant presence throughout the show makes its middling quality all the more evident.
The sense of humor is often scatological by nature, with the main characters seen vomiting, urinating, and/or defecating on a regular basis. In Obliterated‘s defense, the show was never really trying for highbrow humor. It leans into toilet humor in all its merry forms, punctuated by perfunctory action beats and fleeting emotional moments. There is also plenty of overt slapstick, with the most recurring physical comedy coming from C. Thomas Howell strongly evokes Weekend at Bernie’s as a completely incapacitated member of the team.
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One recurring element in Obliterated that actually works pretty effectively is a constant sense of comeuppance to the everyday villains that the characters encounter throughout Nevada. From conniving male strippers and boorish bros looking to score, Obliterated has no problem quickly turning these figures into cannon fodder, often as a punchline. These slapstick gags actually work pretty well in contrast to the more meat-headed elements of the story.
The highlights from the ensemble cast are Shelley Hennig and Nick Zano, who play CIA operative Ava Winters and Navy SEAL veteran officer Chad McKnight, respectively. Zano has been playing handsome, action-capable team players for a while now, most notably in Legends of Tomorrow, and he clearly relishes delving into more adult humor here as McKnight. Hennig plays Winters as the ultimate intelligence girl boss, who is laser-focused on getting the task done as quickly and efficiently as possible but has to endure the team she’s assigned to and her own slips in judgment.
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One of the biggest flaws within Obliterated is the post-production, which comes off as rough and rushed at times. Some of the CG blood and other visual effects added to the action set pieces are visibly slipshod, while the show’s use of ADR, dubbing in actor lines, glaringly don’t fit in with the native audio tracks, both in terms of quality and volume. This gives Obliterated a clumsy feel, with the sense that the entire series would have benefited enormously from a little extra polish and time in post-production to smooth those rough edges.
The show does get something of a second wind when it leaves the Las Vegas Strip, venturing out to the wider Nevada desert as the action goes on the run for the middle portion of the series. The characters get to split up, the second act offers a more serious tone, and fans start to learn more about the ensemble and their respective vulnerabilities. There is some good material here. It’s just covered up by the requisite action sequences and toilet humor.
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Obliterated falls into a peculiarly unique place in that its love story isn’t sexy or charming enough to be romantic, its action isn’t well-executed enough to make for a genuine thrill ride, and its comedy feels about 15 years out of vogue to be funny. It’s hard to say who the series is actually for as it languidly strives for its cross-genre appeal, never quite nailing any of the influences it tries to emulate. Obliterated certainly has its appeal, most of which involves its main cast, but it doesn’t live up to its overconfident swagger.
In the pantheon of the creators’ work, Obliterated is the most overtly action-oriented, but the action falls short compared to their previous work on Cobra Kai, even with a bigger scope and perhaps falling short because of it. There is an emotional story behind most of the main characters, but compared to Harold & Kumar and Cobra Kai, it doesn’t carry quite the same weight that the coming-of-age narratives those preceding stories possess. The most sentimental details revolve around Zano’s McKnight and his relationship with his mother, played by Virginia Madsen, in the rare quiet moments sprinkled throughout the season.
Ultimately, Obliterated feels like a decent enough premise that just couldn’t quite hit the target, either with the apparent limits of its production quality or the uninspired action and humor. The show’s faults don’t really fall on the main cast. They do their best with the material they’re given, and there are a handful of solid character moments throughout the series. However, the series fails to capture the magic of the ’80s action movies it clearly admires, with neither its attempt at high-octane spectacle nor comedy underpinnings connecting as strongly as they should.
Created by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald, Obliterated is available to stream now on Netflix.
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