Command Z is a must-watch for Soderbergh completionists, but everyone else might find it a creeky, yet slightly funny, climate change call to action.
Steven Soderbergh has always found innovative and influential ways to make films, inspiring both those who already have their foot in the industry and those who are just beginning their cinematic journeys, hence being one of the most respected American filmmakers working today. He has crafted box-office hits, arthouse darlings, as well as ambitious flops that, even if they don’t work entirely, make us see his visionary mind. The latter category can be attributed to his latest work, a ninety-six-minute eight-episode series only available on his Extension 765 website, Command Z.
The first episode, which is only eight minutes long, solely focuses on presenting the key premise to us. Kerning (Michael Cera), the CEO of one of the biggest companies in that world who has now formed into an A.I.-type figure, has selected three of his employees – Emma (Chloe Radcliffe), Jamie (JJ Maley), and Samuel (Roy Wood Jr.) – for a very important task. Kerning describes it as “the most significant thing any of us, certainly, you, will do in this lifetime.” The three employees will lead an operation named Command Z. They must travel back to the past to make some critical fixes that will make the future – the time they live in now – more livable, fair, and decent for everyone.
We don’t know the exact date this “future” is set in; the only thing we see so far from this setting is a confined attic and people wearing hazmat suits to go outside, hinting that the world at that point in time is severely damaged because of the climate crisis. But the Command Z team is returning to America’s last inflection point, July 17th, 2023. How are they supposed to travel back in time? Through a wormhole in a washing machine. Because of some nanobots that Kerning managed to sneak into people’s bodies via free hand sanitizer when they travel through the wormhole, the Command Z team becomes puppeteers and infiltrates the hosts’ minds.
It doesn’t make any sense. And Soderbergh doesn’t want to explain it either, as he pulls a hilarious joke in the end credits, citing, “For more information on time travel, watch The Terminator, Brother Future, and Run Lola Run.” This is actually a running gag that Soderbergh throws in at the end of every episode, a brash list of recommendations that “provide” further information on the topic being tackled – climate change (Soylent Green), social media (The Social Network), God (The Ten Commandments), nuclear energy (Atomic Hope). Like the aforementioned recommendations, each episode centers around a different host that the team tries to succumb to their more significant cause, tackling a range of topics with one similar crux: humanity’s ignorance toward change.
The series doesn’t want to use realistic scientific methods to the probabilities of time travel and the space-time continuum, like Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. Instead, it relies on becoming a satire about how screwed up things are today, as well as being a call to action for climate change. Steven Soderbergh offers a slight and occasionally funny discussion about today’s society through an array of both experimental, as he always tends to do, and satirical means. He isn’t preaching or overly communicating his messages about the world and the slowly devouring climate. Soderbergh tries to present to us, via different perspectives, how powerful people can help change the world for it to become a better place in the future, even though they might lose some capital in the process.
They enter the minds of various important people at that point in time (politicians, CEOs, entrepreneurs, influencers), much like Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, yet without its sharp wittiness and tremendous ingenuity. The most important and effective thing Soderbergh wants to say is that not all changes (or fixes) have to be on a grand scale. They can be one or several minor ones that we can do in our daily living that can help. Those changes won’t be to the highest degree. But there is a difference. This is seen in Command Z in more ridiculous ways, such as a man thinking his dog is talking to him about using his money for good or making a politician sing in on a nuclear plant, yet it manages to get its point across firmly.
The message itself is essential and crucial as things worsen by the hour. But it is the way it is transmitted to us watching that falters. The quick and easy eight to seventeen-minute episodes can only pack so much that they are due to leave plenty behind. Each one is fast-paced and goes straight to the point; such hurried fashion makes the series lose momentum after presenting a very intriguing premise. Soderbergh’s ingenuity and fixation with meddling with the medium he loves is always appreciated. It has caused him to deliver some exciting movies these past couple of years alone, like the pandemic-thriller Kimi and the shot on iPhone Unsane. Yet, in his latest, it feels like it lacks that sense of exploration intertwined with proper and compelling storytelling that we are used to seeing in his projects.
When you compare it to his other ambitious works, knowing his talent behind the camera, Command Z feels lackluster. Many Soderbergh completionists would love and appreciate the series for its wit and “do it yourself” craft. It might appeal more to them than his non-regulars. At least everyone can enjoy the performances of the central quartet of Michael Cera, Chloe Radcliffe, JJ Maley, and Roy Brown Jr., as well as the one-scene cameos from recognizable characters, particularly Zoe Winters, who’s known for her role as Kerry Casteballate in Succession. They try to bring out the best in the shoddy and occasionally funny screenplay.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much to get out of Command Z other than some points about how now is the perfect time to start making changes to help the climate change crisis before it is too late. And while I do appreciate what the American cinematic innovator is trying to do with this series, it feels too haphazardly managed for me to be on board with it.
Command Z is now available to watch on demand on Steven Soderbergh’s Command Z website.