Obliterated: Cobra Kai Creators Head to Vegas for Raunchy R-Rated Action Comedy

Matt Fowler
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Netflix

Imagine you and your badass team of special ops soldiers just saved Las Vegas from a devastating nuclear attack. But just because you’re all unsung heroes doesn’t mean you can celebrate. And being that it’s Vegas, the party is going to be next-level. Booze, drugs, sex… basically all the vices.

But then you find out the bomb’s still in play. And you’ve got a ticking clock. AND NOW you’re in no condition whatsoever to be chasing after bad guys. Welcome to Netflix’s Obliterated, from Cobra Kai creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald.

This hilarious blend of over-the-top ‘80s action movie and The Hangover franchise brings the trio back to their R-rated sex comedy roots (the Harold and Kumar films, Hot Tub Time Machine, etc.) while also tracking our heroes through a rough night of sobering up, 24-style, in quasi-real time as they all deal with their various forms of intoxication until the break of dawn.

Obliterated. (L to R) Terrence Terrell as Trunk, Shelley Hennig as Ava Winters, Kimi Rutledge as Maya Lerner, Nick Zano as Chad McKnight, Paola Lázaro as Angela Gomez in episode 107 of Obliterated. Cr. Ursula Coyote/Netflix © 2023

We’ve got a master strategist (Shelley Hennig), a Navy SEAL (Terrence Terrell), a sniper (Paola Lázaro), a pilot (Eugene Kim), a tech-spert (Kimi Rutledge), a bomb deactivator (C. Thomas Howell), and, naturally, a strong-jawed ‘80s action hero throwback (Nick Zano) all having ingested different alcohols and drugs, each incapacitated in their own unique way. With the fate of the free world in their shaky hands.

Fandom spoke with showrunners/writers Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald about their raunchy new Vegas shoot-em-up and how they managed to mix, as with Cobra Kai, fun nostalgia with the modern world. Plus, what action films influenced Obliterated and how does Weekend at Bernie’s fit into all this? Well, we’ve got answers.

What Happens in Vegas…

During the team’s raucous post-world saving bacchanalia, many substances are consumed. From hard liquor to molly to hardcore hallucinogens. But not everyone drank or swallowed the same thing. And not everyone’s fully aware of what they’ve taken. Which leads to eight episodes of different, debilitating things happening to different heroes. Something which needed to be all tracked in the writers’ room.

“We made character choices – like McKnight [Zano] keeps drinking – like, he’s not going to crash is sort of his mentality, whereas Ava [Hennig] tries to sober up,” Hurwitz explained. “Different people are taking different drugs and you wanted them to hit at different times. You know, someone’s eating a bowl of mushrooms that’s dosed with all sorts of hallucinogens so we wanted to have a little taste here and there before it becomes a much bigger thing for them. It was finding the ebbs and flows for our characters, for them to have their inebriation cause obstacles for our team. We wanted to constantly make their own choices be the things that are getting in their way, as well as Vegas itself, as a backdrop, getting in their way.”

Obliterated. (L to R) Eugene Kim as Paul Yung, Terrence Terrell as Trunk, Nick Zano as Chad McKnight, Alyson Gorske as Lana, Paola Lázaro as Angela Gomez in episode 106 of Obliterated. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

The Cobra Kai trio had been approached about doing action films for a long time, having done a lot of feature work prior to that hit series. “They were always sort of this pairing or that pairing,” Hurwitz said. “It was never driven by the situation. And we were always looking for ‘What would be a great action comedy where the situation is what is causing the drama?’ Where you could have characters that feel grounded and feel like they’re real and of the world. We were thinking about way back when, when they were searching for Bin Laden. We were thinking about these people putting their lives at risk for the world. They have these extremely dangerous operations with a lot of different people all working together and then when they succeed these things are classified and you don’t really they don’t get the fanfare. They don’t get the parade.They don’t get the celebration.They do all this and you know the world never really gets to celebrate them.”

“Originally, this was an idea for a movie we were thinking about, like, ‘this elite special forces team saves the day and they and they’re in Vegas. So what do they do? They party like the rock stars that they are,” Hurwitz added. “But they find out at the peak of the craziness that the bomb they deactivated was a fake and a real nuke is going to go off. When we were conceiving it as a movie the problem every time was always leaning into the ensemble. You only have about 100 pages in a screenplay and that would make it really just the McKnight and Ava show when you’re doing that.”

“Once we made Cobra Kai,” Hurwitz continued, “and had that experience of having a full ensemble of rich characters that you’re following in a serialized story, it hit us that we could do it that way. It was originally Hangover meets Die Hard and now it’s Hangover meets Die Hard meets 24. Because now you’re able to kind of tell a much longer story and once we had the real estate for seven or eight hours of material. Then you could tell Trunk’s [Terrell] story, you could tell Maya’s [Rutledge] story, you could tell Paul’s [Kim] story, and Hagerty’s [Howell] story and all the different stories on the show. And we’re glad that we never wrote the movie way back when because this is a much better use of the concept.”

Weekend at Hagerty’s

While our heroes all deal with their various levels of incapacitation, one key member is fully down for the count, perhaps not for the entirety of the series, but certainly enough to make things dicey. And enough to give ‘80s star C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders, Red Dawn) time as comedy-fueled dead weight, playing the very passed out Hagerty. Which is especially bad news considering Hagerty is the one they need to diffuse the bomb.

“We just love Weekend at Bernie’s and we’ve tried to come at that movie in different ways over the years,” Healed shared. “So the idea of taking your most important chess piece off the board when you’re dealing with a bomb, that the only person who can deactivate the bomb is suddenly the most useless on the team for a long period of time, was hilarious to us in the writers’ room. And you know you’re going to be casting somebody to have this kind of a big larger-than-life personality and then, essentially, stand them down for four episodes.”

“But not stand down in a way where you’re taking the spotlight off of them,” Heald said. “You’re actually going to be developing a story with them while they’re asleep. No one’s a bigger problem while asleep than Hagerty because his actions while awake are still affecting them. You know, you actually feel for Gomez [Lázaro] when she, at some point, gets so frustrated and kicks him while he’s sleeping. You’re kind of on her side.”

Obliterated. C. Thomas Howell as Haggerty in Obliterated. Cr. Ursula Coyote/Netflix © 2023

We wanted to get somebody from a different generation than these characters,” he added. “Somebody that you feel like the army kept around and who maybe overstayed their welcome in a role that you would normally be able to get promoted out of. But they loved the action so much that they were given the exception to the exception to the exception. And if push comes to show, even though he’s a wild card, there’s the one person you want with those clippers deciding which color wire to cut and it’s Hagerty because he’s fearless and he’s a lunatic. But he’s your lunatic.”

“Then casting Tommy, it was just a revelation the moment we saw him say you know these words that we had constructed out loud. We realized he was just going to have a field day with them. And I don’t think even we realized what he would do physically until he started doing it. I don’t know what they went through with Terry Kiser on Weekend at Bernie’s but Tommy was just a natural in this kind of comatose, ragdoll state. Whether it’s his arms swinging as he’s being carried to just allowing himself to go completely limp and zen as he’s dangling from a helicopter.”

These were moments that Heald expected someone to tense up, but Howell elevated it to another level. “It was a real pleasure, “Heald said, “and then while we’re watching that in sequence we know that you know we have a lot more to come once he finally wakes up. So it was very exciting for us in real time to kind of see this happen.”

Arnold Sly Van McClane

The very ‘80s action hero-named Chad McKnight (Zano) is the team’s quintessential bad boy/loose cannon who not only embodies the ‘80s action hero aesthetic but is a super-fan of those films as well.

“One of our agents back in the day was Gregory McKnight,” Schlossberg said, “and we’ve had this idea [for Obliterated] for almost 15 years and he was somebody who always was telling us to write this script. And we just got sidetracked with other things so when it came time – he’s actually not our agent anymore – but when we were developing this we had that name in there we always loved it. It was just like that perfect action hero name. It just made sense.”

And of course the name Chad speaks volumes. “That gave a little bit of a wink and a nod to the kind of character that he is,” Hurwitz said. “And he’s got his strengths and he’s got his weaknesses. And I think ‘Chad McKnight’ encapsulates all of it.”

Obliterated. (L to R) Nick Zano as Chad McKnight, Shelley Hennig as Ava Winters in episode 108 of Obliterated. Cr. Ursula Coyote/Netflix © 2023

As far as the movies that influenced Obliterated, look no further than McKnight’s own personal DVD collection. “All of the Schwarzenegger and Stallone films – Van Damme and Seagal – they were big for us, of course,” Schlossberg said. “And those kinds of ‘80s movies extending towards True Lies in the mid-’90s and everything in that range. Bruce Willis in Die Hard and that elevator shaft action, that’s what we grew up with. That’s the template and then the way you modernize it is with the characters and the dialogue. We really like the idea of taking the retro action we would have grown up with – that wild card guy who’s got the tank top on that ends up bloody at the end – and pair him with a more modern woman hero, like Ava, who would butt heads with that sort of a guy. And to that end, all the other characters from Trunk to Gomez and more, we wanted to take advantage of the ensemble like John said and give different types of characters their wild Vegas night in the midst of all this action. And so I think it’s the characters and their dynamic that make it a 2023, 2024 story. But it’s definitely an homage to the action movies we grew up with.”

Heald threw in a few more influential films too, like Con Air and The Rock. “Those are two movies that we talked about constantly because they do have these kind of huge larger than life stakes in terms of a plane full of horrible murderers is going to land somewhere and they’re all going to get loose, or you know they’re going to nuke Alcatraz and it’s going to seep into San Francisco and might end up killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. But both of those movies manage comedy and comic relief in such a unique way with characters, popping through the suspense in a way that doesn’t undo the villain plot. We looked for our touchstones that we could look at and say ‘we’re drifting too far into the comedy or are we not comedic enough’ and use that as a judge.”

From Cobra Kai to Sin City

Obliterated is very Rated R, which may be a jolt for Cobra Kai fans, though not if you know Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald’s work from the last two decades. Suffice to say, there was only one way they wanted to tell this story.

“We’re just staying true to the story,” Schlossberg shared. “It’s set in Las Vegas and we feel like the PG-13 version of that would not be true to the kind of wild nights that people have experienced there. It may be that working on Cobra Kai for years where we were pent up going into this. It had been a long time since we had actually worked on an R-rated comedy, which was our bread and butter for years, from Harold and Kumar to Hot Tub Time Machine and American Pie. We love those kinds of wild, raunchy sex comedies. It felt like there hadn’t been one in a while, at least like in a big way, and so we leaned in. And again we felt like it was true to the story that we were writing.”

Obliterated. (L to R) Terrence Terrell as Trunk, Eugene Kim as Paul Yung, Paola Lázaro as Angela Gomez in episode 101 of Obliterated. Cr. Ursula Coyote/Netflix © 2023

Obliterated doesn’t just go all out when it comes to sex and nudity, but also with its blockbuster violence. “Action-wise, we have a lot of experience with hand-to-hand action, especially with Cobra Kai,” Heald noted. “After five seasons plus, we learned from the earliest days that to care about the fight you have to care about why they’re fighting. Otherwise it’s going to get very monotonous very quickly. There’s only so many times you can see somebody kicking or punching somebody.”

Heald added, “[The action in Obliterated] was all about the story and everything we were telling from episode to episode, every bit of action, needed to be motivated by caring about the people in the action and what the outcome of that particular interaction meant. Whether it was a fist versus face or rocket launcher versus bus. You have to care about the people involved in the stakes. What this show allowed us to do is really spread our wings and do some of the types of action we’ve never done before. We’ve done car chases but not to this degree so it was great just to kind of play with these big giant Michael Bay-esque type of action sequences. Where you see big action sequences in Vegas in locations that people are familiar with, or at least are familiar with visually from if they haven’t visited there. And that was the big difference, taking the storytelling and telling it in the biggest, most bombastic way.”

Room for More?

Could we see more McKnight and company one day? People once thought The Hangover dudes couldn’t black out again and again and look at what happened. So is a Season 2 something to consider?

Said Hurwitz, when asked if there could be more for these characters, “No doubt. I will say, the very first movie that Hayden I had made was Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and at the end of the first script, it said ‘to be continued in Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam.’ It was our thing, where we always expand everything we’re doing and we fall in love with the actors and love the idea of them being on adventures, whether it’s The Hangover, which had multiple sequels, or Die Hard, which had multiple sequels. Our view of this is that this is a super-sized feature, basically. It’s a seven hour long big action comedy. And the hope is that we get to do more of these in different locations, with different types of inebriation.”

Matt Fowler