In the opening scene of Wrecked—a sequence, perhaps pointedly, not too unlike the beginning moments of the 2004 pilot for Lost—a plane crashes on a deserted island in the tropics.
Passengers are on fire. One man’s legs are crushed. Blood, bodies, and debris are everywhere. Survivors are wheezing, dazed, and crying in pain.
Three men stumble from the crash to the beach and take in the wreckage when they notice a dashing hero running towards them, knocking people out of harm’s way, ripping off his shirt to use as a tourniquet (revealing his washboard abs, to boot), and saving about a dozen lives in a matter of seconds.
The men stare blankly until one finally breaks the silence: “Holy shit that guy is handsome.”
“I don’t know why, but I was like, ‘Yep, that’s awesome,’” says Zach Cregger, who plays flight attendant Owen, the only surviving member of the plane’s crew, in the new TBS series, which premieres Tuesday night. “I just love the idea that among all the carnage and mayhem three straight guys are fixated on how hot this guy is.”
It’s the morbid-meets-absurd sense of humor that permeates the ghoulish dark comedy—grotesque bloated carcasses of crash victims and passengers on fire fuel other big comedy bits—and also sets into motion the series’ sly take on its initial branding as a straight-on Lost spoof.
Without a doubt, that distractingly handsome guy represents the plane’s Matthew Fox “Jack” character, the fearless leader with all the answers and, most importantly, the survival instinct. But two-thirds of the way through Wrecked’s pilot—and this is a light SPOILER—a piece of the plane’s cockpit falls on distractingly handsome guy’s head, crushing him. Matthew Fox is dead.
“To me that ends the Lost comparisons,” producer Jesse Hara says, sitting across from series creators and writers Jordan and Justin Shipley. “They always talk in a funny way about how they are huge Lost fans,” he continues, looking at the Shipley brothers. “They were like, ‘All those people in the background who are just waiting for things to happen? Who are they?’”
Jordan laughs. “Like those people in the back of every scene who are like, ‘Jack, what are we doing today? That’s us.” Justin chimes in: “The most capable man had to go immediately. The rest of these people have no skills.”
Justin and Jordan Shipley, it must be said, are 27 and 25 years old, respectively. “Baby geniuses,” Jessica Lowe, who plays walking millennial contradiction Florence, calls them. And they were two years younger when they sold Wrecked, their first script ever, to TBS. “I thought that we should end their bio with a joke: ‘We assume it only gets easier from here,’” Hara laughs.
Youth, it turns out, is a creative asset. “They’re bright and fluffy and haven’t been beaten into being formulaic by years of hearing ‘no’ in the industry,” Lowe says. Some healthy blind optimism and maybe even some ignorance of the industry also, it turns out, doesn’t hurt either.
The pilot for Lost that Wrecked draws from—don’t worry, the rest of the series evolves quickly and far from Lost comparisons—cost a reported $10-14 million to make, as a reference point.
Because of the budget it takes to create a plane crash on a deserted island, “We always assumed we’d have to change things,” Justin says. “But they let us do it with so much money.” Then, laughing: “Some might say too much money.”
TBS didn’t reveal the show’s budget. But it’s not hard to see signs of the atypically large amount of resources the network funneled into it. For one, in addition to the massive marketing campaign, the show’s press junket is being held in Cancun, Mexico. An exact replica of a crashed plane is on the beach just feet away. A DJ is spinning tracks from the fake cockpit. (Full disclosure: We were part of this junket. We danced to said DJ.)
“TBS has a lot to prove,” Cregger says. “There’s the old TBS, the ‘Very Funny’ TBS that never made a show that I cared about. Then there’s the new TBS, the one like, ‘We know people have associations with that network. That network is gone.’”
There’s also the fact that Wrecked’s 10 episodes were shot on-location on the beaches and jungles of Puerto Rico—not a cheap or easy shoot.
“We were really getting bitten by bugs,” says Brooke Dillman, who plays Bing executive turned ruthless game hunter Karen. “My first day shooting I came down to the set and they’re like, ‘Well, the wave came in and took the camera…’ That’s not normal.”
In fact, the money and attention spent on some of the comedy’s bigger set pieces became a bit of a running joke for the cast, several of whom chuckle remembering reading the pilot script and its stage directions. The scene takes place on “a nice beach” it read, and then in brackets, “or whatever the budget will pay for.”
“There was a scene in a script where an adorable baby boar comes up and ‘makes the cutest, most adorable face a boar has ever made,’” Cregger remembers. “I’m like, guys, you’re in your twenties and I’ve been doing this a long time. You’re never going to get a baby boar to behave.” Cut to the shoot wrapping: “They fucking get a baby boar and it’s apparently magical.”
In getting the cast to describe the tone of the show, you’re met with equal wonderment—again, the good kind. It’s an action-comedy, at a time when action-comedy is something that really doesn’t exist among the, and this is a real number, 400-plus series airing on TV.
In addition to, well, surviving a plane crash, characters get into shoot-outs, weather ocean waves in rafts while wielding torches, and, in the case of co-star Brian Sacca, even have flames shoot out of their leg.
Sacca plays Danny, a slightly neurotic, slightly overweight survivor who decides to reinvent himself as a police officer when introducing himself to group of strangers who survived the crash.
There was one day where he had to film a scene shooting a gun in the ocean, so he followed the stunt master and climbed over coral to get the perfect shot. Suddenly, the stunt master looked over and just said, “Shit.” The tide had come in and massive, impenetrable waves were crashing on the coral.
“We were getting pummeled, screaming, and laughing,” Sacca laughs. “I was this fat, bearded action star.”
Shooting in the elements lent one shade of realism to what would otherwise be a bit of a surrealist series. But more surprising was the horrifyingly realistic way the show confronts the gruesome reality of a plane crash—the blood, the gore, the death—and then manages to temper that with comedy.
Pressed for their favorite example of the way the show balances that, the cast uniformly brings up the funeral pyre.
When the survivors start getting creeped out by the dozens of rotting, dead bodies that are washing up on shore, Karen insists that they burn them in order to prevent disease. It’s a dark, gory, and surprisingly emotional storyline, culminating in the group gathering to pay tribute to the victims as their bodies burn in a fire.
Slowly, the group starts recoiling and covering their noses. Burning flesh, it turns out, smells disgusting, “like 100 assholes on fire!” moans one survivor before vomiting in repulsion, kicking off a “puke chain” that has the entire cast doubled over.
“That just crystallizes the humor of the show,” Sacca says. Balancing the reality of the crash with absurdist humor? “They’re two stilts on the same house,” Cregger agrees. “The more horrific, the funnier. If the stakes were lower and a car broke down on a tropical island, it wouldn’t be funny.”
Suffice it to say, you’ll see no such scene if you go back and revisit the Lost pilot. And that’s why the comparisons, though perhaps initially apt, annoy some of the cast. There are parallels, sure, Sacca says. But there are also parallels to Gilligan’s Island, Castaway, and the whole genre of “stranded” entertainment.
“I prefer to say it’s like Lord of the Flies, but instead of children it’s morons,” Cregger laughs. “Put that on the poster.”