Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans 11, Magic Mike), one of the most prolific American directors of the past 40 years, has been making some of the most creative endeavors of his career in recent years, making several films for streamers, and has now released two very different, very interesting TV series.
Soderbergh is no stranger to the small screen, creating and directing one of the best (and underrated) shows of the 2010s, The Knick, a period drama about a genius and troubled surgeon in New York in the year 1900 that explored race and class in America. Now he is back in the realm of TV, with two interesting projects that carry over some of his recent works' interests.
Full Circle is a dense and gripping crime drama with a very intricate setup, a lot of star power, and subtle social commentary streaming on Max. Command Z is available on his website Extension765 and is a Sci-fi comedy with a very playful approach to addressing issues like climate change in short, digestible episodes that are small in scale and creatively made. Both series are interesting concepts using the techniques that have imbued Soderbergh's recent works with a unique style in this era of his career and reflect what seems like their creator's process boils down to if he has a cool idea, he makes something, and its usually good.
Full Circle follows the investigation of a kidnapping of a teenager from a wealthy family by a Guyanese crime syndicate gone wrong. The title of the show and the theme of the first two episodes is everything coming full circle, and finding out how and why these events have taken place and how the crime families and the wealthy victims are connected is the carrot on the stick for the audience.
The show has an incredible cast, with both new and established actors, including Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Joker), who is the investigator who is uncovering the conspiracy. The series also stars Claire Danes (Homeland) and Timothy Olyphant (Justified) as Sam and Derek, the parents of the target of the kidnapping, Jared (Ethan Stoddard). Dennis Quaid (Any Given Sunday) plays the grandfather, Chef Jeff, who has some secrets.
The family is the center of the show, but the focus is on the Guyanese crime family led by CCH Pounder’s (Avatar: Way of the Water) Savitri Mahibir, who, in the grief of her husband's death, orchestrates the
kidnapping as a sort of ritual. Her nephew Aked, played by Jharrel Jerome (I’m a Virgo, Moonlight), is the classic too-eager lackey who wants a bigger role in the family and is in charge of keeping the Guyanese immigrants they bring over to work for them in line. Louis (Gerald Jones) and Xavier (Sheyi Cole) get brought to NYC from Ghana and get caught up in the grizzly business of insurance scams that the Mahibir family lives on.
It can be brutal in showing the realities of the inner workings of the crime family we follow, and that creates a sense of urgency and dread while we are trying to parse out the full picture. The show presents ideas about race and wealth but doesn't sit in them, letting the narrative slowly get its points across while it builds out its world and the players in it. Soderbergh’s style elevates everything. In some scenes, it feels like it's just him with an iPhone peering into a family's life.
Everything is on location and on the street in New York, and it makes all the difference adding to the dichotomy of the different sides of the conflict we are bearing witness to. The excitement of the show will be finding out the puzzle and how these rich white people are so interconnected with these various crime families. Everyone has secrets, and the show plays with this with very subtle hints that may add up to something but may just be red herrings. The show might not end up tying everything up neatly, and it might not want to, but having such a dense and interesting show with the amount of talent involved is a rarity.
Full Circle is streaming on Max. Command Z
Command Z is an experimental sci-fi show about three individuals in the near future who are tasked with going back in time to fix their present. Jamie (JJ Maley), Sam (Roy Wood Jr.), and Emma (Chloe Radcliffe) work for the AI version of a dead billionaire named Kearing Fealty (Michael Cera), who died many years ago on his expedition to Mars (He almost made it).
The floating AI head of Fealty assures them their mission will make the world a better place as they must confront issues plaguing the real world that we, the audience, can relate to, like climate change and social media. They must find individuals in 2023 who would contribute heavily to the decline of the planet and society in the future and change their minds (hopefully) to save their present.
The three have to time travel by sending their consciousness back in time through a time machine in a stuffy basement that looks like a laundry machine after drinking a disgusting brown concoction and putting on a helmet. It’s a really cool idea for a small sci-fi show.
Command Z’s execution is very creative. Its inexpensive aesthetics and small scale enhance the overall experience and boost its comedic elements and social commentary. It does what it sets out to do: being silly and getting its audience to think about important issues.
The series purposefully lacks subtlety. It uses events (like tech billionaires trying to go to Mars) to make a joke but also connect it to our reality. The trailer describes the series as “from the ass of Steven Soderbergh,” so its aim is to be as silly as possible while also getting its audience to think about the issues that it explores seriously.
The 12 episodes range anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, with a total runtime of about 90 minutes. It's very digestible and is the length of a pretty lean feature film, making watching in one sitting easy. The series also a pretty clever way to raise money for various good causes like Children’s Aid and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research (The series is available for $7.99 on Soderbergh’s Extension765 website).
Every episode ends with suggestions of films to watch to learn more about whichever issue the episode was exploring. For example, at the end of Episode 3, which deals with a Wall Street shark, it suggests you watch Wall Street, American Psycho and Hustlers for more information. It's a creative, cheap project that employs some very funny actors and a plot device that engages its audience with real-world issues, hopefully influencing some action before everything ends up in the future of the show.
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