Especially in its early installments, 24 used to build in a midseason pause. Jack Bauer would achieve what he thought was his goal — securing the bomb, identifying the conspiratorial kingpin, etc. — and then, after enough time to take a breath but not enough time to use the bathroom, he would discover a BIGGER bomb or realize that behind the apparently Big Bad was a BIGGER bad. Gasp!
But what if, instead of merely taking that breath, Jack Bauer had celebrated securing yet another victory for America by doing the keg stand to end all keg stands or dropping a tab of acid — and only then figured out that he still had half a day’s worth of torture, cliffhangers and mountain lions in store.
The Bottom Line
Only sometimes ignites, but the premise is a blast.
Airdate: Thursday, November 30 (Netflix)
Cast: Nick Zano, Shelley Hennig, Terrence Terrell,, Alyson Gorske, C. Thomas Howell, Eugene Kim, Paola Lázaro, Kimi Rutledge
Creators: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald
That — or perhaps just “It’s The Hangover as a ’90s action movie!” — is the hook for Netflix‘s new series Obliterated, from the Cobra Kai trio of Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald. As Netflix ’90s action-comedy pastiches go, Obliterated is far more consistently amusing than FUBAR. That Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle relied on A-list star power and general narrative momentum to cover for its lack of humor and charm, while Obliterated relies on its humor and charm to cover for its limited A-list star power and general lack of narrative momentum.
We’re quickly introduced to an elite multi-agency strike force attempting to break up a deal for a nuclear weapon that could, well, obliterate Las Vegas. The team is led by Ava (Shelley Hennig), a CIA agent nursing a recent personal trauma. She’s the tightly wound brains, while Navy SEAL Chad McKnight (Nick Zeno) is the brawn. Naturally, they butt heads and threaten to bump uglies.
The team includes super-sniper Angela (Paola Lázaro), super-soldier Trunk (Terrence Terrell), super-hacker Maya (Kimi Rutledge), Air Force pilot Paul (Eugene Kim) and slightly deranged bomb guy Hagerty (C. Thomas Howell). They’ve all got various secrets and psychological stumbling blocks, but within the first 22 minutes of the Obliterated pilot, they’ve busted Russian arms dealer Ivan Koslov (Costa Ronin) and secured a suitcase nuke. After a six-month operation, they decide they’re entitled to a wild and crazy celebratory party on Uncle Sam’s dime. Booze is imbibed, mushrooms are ingested, molly is popped and questionable sexual choices are made.
Only one problem: The bomb they retrieved and disarmed was a decoy. A real bomb is still out there in Las Vegas and is set to go off at 9 a.m. with enough power to, well, obliterate Sin City.
Make that two problems, because the only team on the ground in Vegas, the only team with the knowledge and capabilities to stop this second bomb, is Ava’s team. And they’re smashed. Or, well, obliterated.
The fate of Las Vegas, therefore, depends on a crew of action heroes who are drunk, high and generally and collectively tripping balls. In some cases, in fact, the effects from the stuff they’ve consumed haven’t even begun to hit, so things are going to get worse before they get better.
It’s a great premise, one perfectly tailored to Hurwitz, Schlossberg and Heald’s status as the Duffer Brothers of ’80s and ’90s low-brow blockbusters. Drinking every time the series or one of its characters references a genre favorite — some as direct and extended as Rambo and various James Bond films, others more fleeting — would be a recipe for viewers to get, well, obliterated, but it’s also a recipe for amusement if you’re in the cultural wheelhouse shared by the show, its characters and its creators.
The truth, though, is that as great as the premise is, it’s a premise for a 95-minute movie and not an eight-episode television show. At a certain point, the references become load-bearing rather than complementary. It’s easy to excuse how rambling and digressive the show is because it matches how loose and sloppy the characters are, but I was constantly aware of the different forms the filler was taking here.
There are running jokes that run and run and run and could have paid off as well at half the set-up. There are lengthy fights that don’t escalate so much as they elongate. One of the trademarks of Cobra Kai has been its climactic brawls, and Obliterated has four or five sequences that rise to the level of, say, the high-school melee that wrapped the second Cobra Kai season. And there’s ample proudly and self-consciously gratuitous violence and nudity — somewhat extra-gratuitously combined in one over-the-top instance — of the sort that young viewers staying up late watching HBO in the 1980s would have cherished.
The actual story? It’s thin and lacks in traditional escalation. Despite a ticking time bomb at the series’ heart, there’s never the sort of burgeoning momentum you might crave from a show in which, theoretically, millions of people might be vaporized if our heroes fail. Obliterated never feels big and it never feels expensive, despite Las Vegas locations that couldn’t have been easy to wrangle. It’s an extended shaggy dog story, in which the dog has been doing whippets. That’s dog-and-drug-based wordplay, kids!
The ensemble is a generally fun, if aggressively bro-y (even the women), crew to spend that time with. Zano and Hennig banter and bicker attractively, and they’re both game for the coarseness and raunch that’s central to their characters’ dynamics. There are hints at depth for both characters, but the depth feels like filler as well. Among the supporting players, Rutledge and Kim make the most of some quippy dialogue, while Howell is having a blast both steering into Haggerty’s broadly uncouth personality and, for the middle of the season, getting to do some ridiculous Weekend at Bernies-style physicality.
Carl Lumbly, David Costabile and Costa Ronin, all veterans of iconic shows getting direct or indirect nods, add credibility.
Perhaps Netflix got lucky that it landed the perfect demographically expansive ’80s pastiche so swiftly with Stranger Things and it’s easy to see why the streamer would be looking for something comparable for the ’90s. FUBAR wasn’t all that close, but it had the shape of an action show and the right star to anchor the vehicle. Obliterated is closer in tone and its ensemble is comfortably settled after one season. Perhaps the second seasons of both shows could join forces? Get the FUBAR team to provide a plot outline and Schwarzenegger, and let the Obliterated team do the rest?