Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald initially set out to write Obliterated as a feature film. But the creators of Netflix‘s latest action comedy changed their minds. They felt their ensemble cast of characters would be best served in a series where they would have time to explore each one in depth, and be able to give each character their own adventure.
The result is the eight-episode series now streaming on Netflix, which follows an elite special forces team — made up of an ensemble cast led by Nick Zano and Shelley Hennig — who wake up with a massive hangover and attempt to break up a deal for a nuclear weapon that could obliterate Las Vegas. Terrence Terrell, Paola Lázaro, Kimi Rutledge, Eugene Kim, C. Thomas Howell, Alyson Gorske and Carl Lumbly round out the cast.
“If you like movies like The Hangover, American Pie, Harold & Kumar, Hot Tub Time Machine, and those types of R-rated comedies, it has a lot of big laughs in it. But at the same time, it has the momentum and cliffhangers that you’d get from all these action thrillers like 24, Die Hard and Mission Impossible,” says Schlossberg of how he’d sum up the ride. Hurwitz adds, “It’s a super-sized, R-rated summer blockbuster action-comedy in streaming series form.”
In the interview with The Hollywood Reporter below, the producing, writing and directing trio of longtime friends elaborate on their choice to bring Obliterated to TV, as they also discuss returning to their R-rated roots following big-budget feature comedies and their other Netflix hit, Cobra Kai — while also teasing that forthcoming sixth and final season.
The trailer for Obliterated asked what it would be like if 24 and The Hangover crossed over. Can you share the origin story of the series: How did you come up with this idea and did any of your personal stories inspire storylines?
JON HURWITZ It started 15 years ago. This was an idea we had for a movie. It was inspired by the wrap parties you have making movies. We remember our first one. You’re thinking, you’re never going to see these people again, which makes for an interesting dynamic wherein inhibitions are unleashed.
People were drinking too much, doing way too many drugs, telling each other off, sleeping with each other. Lots of revelations. All sorts of crazy things happening at that party. We thought, what it would be like for our American heroes, heroes who risks their lives every day and accomplish something huge and significant and that actually matters in a real way… We thought, what do they do when they succeed at their mission? We imagined they’d party in the same way. These American heroes have a similar party after thinking they’ve completed their mission — until they find out it was fake, and the real bomb is going off in Las Vegas. In a movie, time is limited. Turning it into a TV series allowed us to examine all these heroes — the tech girl, the bomb-deactivator, helicopter pilot — in a major way.
Obliterated brings you back to your R-rated roots. How has your experience doing Cobra Kai led you back here?
HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG We always loved R-rated comedies. We love movies and television scenes with outrageous moments, watercooler moments that produce big audience reactions! We come from that era of the franchises we’ve been involved with Harold & Kumar, American Pie, Hot Tub Time Machine. Transitioning to Cobra Kai was a change for us. We knew that Cobra Kai was a totally different project than those others. So, we maintained that tone and wanted it to have that Karate Kid feel. It’s a show with morals that is family friendly and dramatic with comedic elements. So, after four or five seasons of that, we wanted to unleash our inner R-rated urges. That’s the kind of comedy that we love.
The final season of Cobra Kai was delayed amid Hollywood’s dual strikes. What is the status of that season now?
HURWITZ We loved making that show. When the writers strike ended, we reconvened as a room. It’s been amazing to be back with those writers. We started as Karate Kid fans and had this opportunity to play in that universe and take characters on adventures.
Now we get to wrap up the series. We will start shooting right after the New Year. We know it’s going to be an exciting fulfilling experience. We can’t wait to get back on set. The final season is going to be spectacular for Cobra Kai fans across the world.
Why was it the right time to end Cobra Kai?
JOSH HEALD We wanted to go out on our own terms. We grew up with the Karate Kid franchise [of which a new movie is coming in 2024] and we have so much respect for the universe. We wanted to expand the universe in all the ways we have.
Between seasons five and six, we approached Netflix and said, “We’re ready to bring this in for a landing.” We told them the story that we wanted to tell, and they supported the decision. It’s always been a good relationship with Sony and Netflix. Everybody understands — you don’t want to overstay your welcome. It’s a franchise we intend to move with. We left the door open to revisit storylines that we are going to resolve in season six, and we just felt like there’s value in not leaving the series bone dry.
Back to Obliterated, I read that the opening scene at Drai’s day club party was everything you dreamed of when creating the show, and one of your favorite scenes to shoot. Why?
HURWITZ What we loved about Drai’s was that it was a real Vegas location. We wanted to capture the authenticity of Vegas. We wanted to showcase Vegas in a major, big and splashy way. The glitz and glamour. There were hundreds of extras. We thought that Drai’s was a great place to take in the spectacle of Las Vegas and show all of what Vegas has to offer right in the beginning.
Josh, I also read that the Las Vegas police had to shut down part of the strip while you directed the party bus chase scene from the passenger seat of a camera car going 85 miles per hour. What was that like?
HEALD Terrifying! You can design a scene all you want with sketches. We used matchbox cars. It never occurred to me that I would be in the chase. I thought I would be giving directions from a director’s monitor somewhere. Once you get out on the road, you must just put yourself in the hands of these precision drivers who are capable of traveling 85-100 miles an hour within mere inches from each other. The car in front of you moves, the camera moves with it. So, you’re giving the perspective of almost a steady cam feel behavior, in terms of the camera movement. Whatever the camera crane is doing on top of the car is not what the car is doing.
It looks like you’re about to crash into the car in front of you. But then you quickly fly over that car because the camera can do all kinds of amazing things. It was trial by fire, but exhilarating. With speed and precision professionals, it became one of the most trusting experiences ever. It was as intense as you see on the screen.
Can you also talk about that Angela Gomez (Paola Lázaro) sniper shot scene?
SCHLOSSBERG We were inspired by big 1980’s action films with Schwarzenegger, Stallone; to the present-day action films of Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible. We wanted to show that this show could go to those big action movies places that we’ve been inspired by.
For the sharpshooter scene, we wanted her to make an amazing shot that spiraled across the city. We had to orchestrate a lot to make that happen. It was a scene that was shot over multiple days using a combination of drones, visual effects and a green screen. Part of it was shot in Albuquerque, part of it shot in Las Vegas and other aspects were created here in California. But it feels like one fluid motion and gives the audience a taste of what’s to come in the series.
How hard was it to stay true to the tension and reality of the situation in scenes while also embracing the Vegas party backdrop?
HURWITZ It kind of worked hand in hand. The most crucial thing we talked about with the crew, actors, the writers room and in editing was: Take this situation seriously. What’s going on is that there’s a nuclear threat in Las Vegas, and we must believe that at all times. At the start of the show, they save the day. And they’re able to party freely and have fun. There’s a period where it looks like they’re in the clear. But once they find out that bomb was a fake, that needed to be taken seriously. From an action standpoint we needed to believe the danger is real!
The characters needed to believe the danger is real. Our bad guys need to be legitimately threatening, instead of goofing off. Having that party Vegas backdrop allowed for a variety of things. Number one, it created additional obstacles. Not only was our team inebriated and messed up from all their interpersonal dynamics and everything that’s going on, the city around them is as well. All the characters are encountering additional challenges. Vegas has such a rich landscape from the fanciest hotels, to casinos, to pool parties, to back alleys to underground clubs and dangerous parts of town.
So, we’re taking advantage of all the elements of Vegas. Depending on which part of the story you’re in, we’ve brought them there. The music played a huge role in setting that tone. Our composers Zach Robinson and Leo Berenberg, who we worked with on Cobra Kai as well, welcomed the challenge of keeping the intensity throughout.
In EDM, the party music at the club has its own tension build that’s very natural and works with this kind of action and suspense that we had. So, the score was influenced by the party feel as well. In terms of the look, we wanted to capture the city, the vibrancy, the lights, and the strip. In camera movement we wanted to keep moment to moment what our characters were going through.
What would you say are the show’s underlying themes, beneath all of that?
SCHLOSSBERG For us, it’s a story about heroes and heroism. Part of it is that heroes are like us, and they can screw up. These types of heroes — the ones who risk their life to do crazy missions, we don’t know their names; everything is covert.
They don’t get the celebration, parade, or honor from the American people in a clear way. That’s why we figured they would want to throw a party for themselves, in contrast to the synonymous heroes you see around us in the world. But especially in Las Vegas, everyone from DJ’s, to influencers is getting honored.
The theme of heroes today, we’re celebrating these people, and we don’t know whether they’re helping society or not. Heroes on the front lines go unnoticed. But everyone deserves their party and their celebration. We wanted a show that puts you in a festive mood with comaraderie with people from all different walks of life.
HURWITZ In coming up with the characters on our team, we wanted there to be a wide array of different kinds of heroes who are all working together to save America. Another underlying theme was that people can disagree, or not be the types of people who’d hang out together in their spare time or agree on everything, and are capable of coming together and saving the city of Las Vegas.
As creators, executive producers and directors, how do you split your duties on set?
HEALD It’s interesting because we’ve known each other 25-plus years, since we were teenagers. We all had parallel careers in features for half of our careers before we ever put our heads together and decided to move forward with Cobra Kai. Once we did that, it was very natural.
We have a creative hive mind and always have. I’ve always shared my work with them, and vice versa when were on our own. So, putting our heads together really made everything fire on all cylinders. None of us had anything to prove when we set out to make Cobra Kai and Obliterated, and a litany of other projects we’re developing. It was really, how can we take all our experience and our friendship and use that to our advantage?
It enables us to have disagreements; we don’t always approach every creative decision the same way. But we know that we are all moving in the same direction and wanting to achieve the same goal. Having that friendship to fall back on, you know that you can have a bad day at the office and you’re going to be ok.
I think it also emboldens you to be a little more assertive with your opinion. NInety percent of the time, we’re all of the same opinion. We write together when we’re directing. We give notes to each other. We stand at the monitor together, and discuss the action and the performance. We consult with each other. We’re a work marriage. It really works and it’s helpful to have two other people constantly leap frogging. Television moves concurrently with a writer’s room, production and editing. It’s nice to know that someone is behind you, helping to keep the trains moving and pick it up if you’re more involved in one of those three jobs at a time. Mostly it’s Shangri-La.
So, what’s your pitch on what people should expect from Obliterated?
SCHLOSSBERG This show has a lot for a lot of different audiences. If you’re into action, it really serves as an action spectacle show. But if you’re into comedy, it is very fearless and not afraid to push the envelope, whether it’s politically incorrect humor or just outrageous R-rated situations. If you like movies like The Hangover, American Pie, Harold & Kumar, Hot Tub Time Machine, and those types of R-rated comedies, it has a lot of big laughs in it. But at the same time, it has the momentum and cliffhangers that you’d get from all these action thrillers like 24, Die Hard and Mission Impossible.
HEALD They can expect to be on the edge of their seats. This is a show that is closer to a movie than a TV show. It really has that big action movie momentum and edge-of-your-seat suspense, and twists and turns around every corner that’s less like dropping into your favorite show and more like starting a movie where everybody’s going to get killed, and hopefully the heroes save the day. The added layer is that it’s going to have tremendous laughs on top of that, and doesn’t take away from that tone. I think that’s what we set out to make: Something that delivers on the ultimate action spectacle while still being this gigantic R-rated comedy.
HURWITZ It’s a super-sized, R-rated summer blockbuster action-comedy in streaming series form. If people are looking for something fun. This is the show for them. They’re going to have a blast. While the stakes are intense and real, there are laughs around every corner. There are jumps and surprises. And we expect people to have a smile on their face most of the way through.
Obliterated is now streaming on Netflix.