Steven Soderbergh has always been known to break new ground, but few of his projects are as unclassifiable as the elusive Command Z. Consisting of eight episodes but only 90 minutes in total, this new project is a short sci-fi satire that attempts to address the ills of our contemporary society. It comes at the right time – and not just because it involves time travel.
What’s Command Z about?
In a neat conceit, a trio of vaguely willing protagonists (JJ Maley, Roy Wood, Jr., and Chloe Radcliffe) are sent back in time to today, July 17, 2023, hoping to win over the hearts and minds of those in positions of power. Their mission is assigned by an AI version of an Elon Musk-esque billionaire named Fealty (Michael Cera), who blew himself up years earlier on a trip to Mars.
Essentially, Fealty owns the patent for a washing machine-based wormhole, a wormhole that allows these three employees to travel to 2023. He also holds the patent for a nanotechnology that can tap into individuals’ brains, but the plan does not rely on mind control. Rather, his three employees must infiltrate the minds of those closest to the people who have the capacity to kill the world. Whether it’s the daughter of an oil baron or the dog of a Wall Street hack, these three must use their wits and all the free space to convince those in power to make better decisions for the planet and society.
Where can I stream Command Z?
The series is only available for streaming Device 765, the location of Soderbergh’s production company. Despite overalls agreement with Warner Bros. which ensured that the filmmaker was securely attached to the studio (his Max series Full circle premiered on the platform last week), he made Command Z independently and distributes it in the same way. It’s a new release strategy, and one that bypasses many of the systems the WGA and SAG are currently attacking.
How much does Command Z cost?
The series costs $7.99, but according to the show’s website, all costs will be donated to Children’s Aid and Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. This fits into the theme of general beneficence that Command Z hopes to encourage: Below the entry page of the series are links “for local action on climate change”, “to fight disinformation” and “to run for office”. Soderbergh and his show try to encourage action, going so far as to direct all interview requests to Congressman Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z member of Congress.
What makes Command Z so weird?
The performance is an experiment. While streaming has gotten us used to experiencing content in all sorts of ways, short series like this are a rarity (except for the short-lived streamer Quibi). It’s ambitious and blunt, giving viewers small glimpses into this mid-apocalyptic world while confining most of the action to a rusty old bunker; most of the real world is shown through grainy POV shots and newsreels projected onto a wall for our characters to see. The end of each episode even gives audiences homework and recommends movies on topics like time travel, climate change, and dogs.
The show doesn’t always work (for every smart prank against a specific billionaire, there’s a dud like a character saying “Okay, Gen Z-er”), and the pettiness threatens to make the viewing experience monotonous. But in his best moments, Command Z emphasizes the power of individual action and cumulative progress. While the AI system calculates that the three protagonists improve the world by only fractions of a percent, the show insists it’s still an essential improvement. Instead of getting caught up in doom and gloom, Command Z is hopeful.