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Netflix's Obliterated Rules, Even If It Sometimes Hurts Like a Hangover

The action comedy takes it as a personal challenge to defuse the trend of forgettable TV.
  • Terrence Terrell, C. Thomas Howell, and Nick Zano in Obliterated (Photo: Netflix)
    Terrence Terrell, C. Thomas Howell, and Nick Zano in Obliterated (Photo: Netflix)

    The title for Netflix’s new action comedy series Obliterated is a clever little pun, even as it alludes to mass destruction.

    In the eight-episode series, an elite team of government special forces thwart a Russian supervillain from denoting a nuclear bomb in the heart of Las Vegas, and celebrate their victory by getting absolutely trashed on the taxpayer’s dime. Unfortunately, in the middle of their drug and alcohol-induced bacchanal on the Strip, they learn the real bomb is still active and have only seven hours to thwart a nuclear explosion again, drunk or not.

    One way or another, something is getting obliterated in Vegas tonight — the city or its saviors. It’s all right there in the title, and that’s where it could have all gone disastrously wrong. If the funniest thing about Obliterated is a loaded double entendre, that’s a problem. But would it really be that big of a surprise if it joined the ever-growing cache of middling Netflix series dropped with little promotion and a destiny to languish forever in the algorithm wasteland?

    We can’t speak to whether or not Obliterated will get buried alive on arrival, but it is an intensely watchable, rip-roaring good time for those who find it. In fact, not unlike its elite agents, the series takes it as a personal challenge to defuse the trend of forgettable TV, before promptly getting high on its own successes and then immediately regretting that decision when it has to stick the landing. In other words, this drunken-stupor mission to save the world is hilariously cocky, even when it stumbles.

    Quite obviously, Obliterated aspires to be some cross between Die Hard and The Hangover, even if that feels like an insult, considering the former has a much sturdier legacy than the latter. But there’s a much better comparison to be found in the previous projects of its creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald, who have oscillated between the raucous and raunchy with the Harold and Kumar movies, and the heartfelt right hook of the Cobra Kai series.

    The raucous and raunchy beats are definitely front and center here, as the team goes through the throes of ecstasy (literally) and the depths of withdrawal, all while holding Vegas’ fate in their cocaine-dusted hands. The action-comedy tropes are laced with gross-out scenes (be warned, there is graphic scrotal torture!) and general Vegas debauchery, as one might expect. By design, the series has an entertaining eagerness to sustain itself through sheer quantity of hijinks alone, even through some of the weaker moments in the middle stretch of an overlong story. Running more than six hours across eight episodes, it nearly unfolds –– sometimes exhaustingly so –– in real time as the team races to find the bomb by dawn.

    But with that extra breathing room, Obliterated excels at investing in its fun and varied ensemble, who aren’t just defined by what drugs they are tripping on. Teen Wolf’s Shelley Hennig leads the team as Ava, a by-the-book but incredibly capable boss with something to prove to herself. As the anchor of this wayward ship, Hennig is best when she shows Ava grappling with the surreal reality that after years of her training, the biggest case of her career means wrangling a bunch of drunk, armed, and dangerous children.

    She finds a foil and a refreshingly complicated love interest in Nick Zano’s McKnight, a reckless yet loyal Navy SEAL turned operative who shoots first and could care less about asking questions. For those who watched The WB in the early aughts, the Legends of Tomorrow alum is going on two decades as the consummate team player, first seen playing the love interest of Amanda Bynes in What I Like About You. But finally being given a turn as the male lead of a no-holds-barred action comedy suits him well, and shows why he has quietly persisted in an industry that even McKnight may have trouble wrestling into submission.

    Zano is charismatic and arresting as the natural-born hero, especially when he finds that elusive sweet spot somewhere between grounded and arrogant that makes him a hilariously effective wildcard opposite Ava. Also on the team are McKnight’s commandos in arms, Trunk (Terrence Terrell) and Angela (Paola Lázaro), and the in-house techie, Maya (Kimi Rutledge). But the true standout is none other than C. Thomas Howell in a gonzo turn as Haggerty, an unpredictable Army explosives expert who is the pun-intended lynchpin in the team's whole mission to neutralize the nuke –– if only he wasn’t unconscious from drugs and being dragged around Weekend at Bernie’s-style.

    Along the path to the bomb are also a slew of notable guest stars –– Carl Lumbly, Virginia Madsen, and Lori Petty, among them –– who have no business being roped into these shenanigans. But they clearly had fun on set and on the way to the bank cashing Netflix’s money. They know why they’re here, and that’s true across the board.

    Perhaps Obliterated’s biggest strength is a clear-headed awareness of what it is –– an ironic trait considering its inebriated heroes. Again, the burden of filling an episode order starts to show in the middle of the season as the team heads outside of Vegas. But where too many series think self-seriousness will elevate subpar material beyond its station, the only sincerity in Obliterated is a sincere commitment to the bit. The actual plot of the series could not matter less. There’s a vaguely Russian bad guy who just wants to detonate a nuclear bomb in Vegas, if it wasn’t for the meddling, less-than-sharpshooters on his tail.

    That’s all an audience needs to know to be entertained, and that’s OK. Scanning Netflix can often mean taking a chance on something based on a sentence-long synopsis and a catchy title. Luckily, Obliterated understands the assignment and delivers on both accounts, even if it's nursing a hangover of its own making by the end.

    Obliterated is now streaming on Netflix. Join the conversation about the show in our forums.

    Hunter Ingram is a TV writer living in North Carolina and watching way too much television. His byline has appeared in Variety, Emmy Magazine, USA Today, and across Gannett's USA Today Network newspapers.

    TOPICS: Obliterated