Adam McKay has spent his filmmaking career crafting big-ticket Hollywood productions that bring the fight to capitalism’s doorstep. He went after Wall Street with The Other Guys and The Big Short, pilloried the political system with Dick, and made a satire about climate change with Don’t Look Up. But after two decades attempting to channel his activism through slow-gestating projects, he realized he needed to break through to a younger audience at a much nimbler pace—and on a more mainstream platform.
In effect, he turned to social media. On Tuesday, McKay’s Yellow Dot Studios released Cobell Energy, a weekly short-form series that will live on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. The office comedy, co-written and directed by Ari Cagan, takes a satirical jab at the oil industry and marks one of the first Hollywood-backed, scripted shows to be made directly for the phone. As he leads the charge, McKay hopes the show’s environmental messaging and familiar comedic flourishes will find its targeted Gen-Z audience and cut through the social media clutter.
“It’s hard for people to get their heads around how monstrous the oil companies are,” McKay said in an email to GQ. “I don’t throw around the ‘E’ word lightly but it’s an almost incomprehensible level of evil. They know full well they are actively destroying the whole livable climate and they’re like, ‘Cool, what’s for lunch?’”
Shot and edited entirely vertically, the 15-part first season follows a family-owned company that scrambles to maintain its wealth and influence after one of its offshore rigs explodes and produces one of the worst-recorded oil spills. Leaning on narrative and visual cues from The Office, its bite-sized episodes—mostly ranging from one to four minutes—will aim to compete for attention against dance videos and other bite-sized “For You” content by highlighting the planet’s biggest challenges with a humorous bent.
“This is definitely a problem that Gen-Z is more aware of than any generation before it,” Cagan says of the climate crisis. “Continuing to inform them on what’s happening is really important for the future of the earth.”
The series also marks the next step for Yellow Dot, the non-profit climate media company that McKay founded last May. Since launching, the production wing has mostly posted an ecosystem of memes and one-off online comedy videos, highlighting the causes behind natural disasters and dirty fossil fuel secrets. But with Cobell Energy, it’s hoping to ramp up even more awareness. As teenagers spend 56 percent of their media time watching user-generated content, and TikTokers are posting and consuming full-length movies and television on the platform, Cagan believes building a series specifically for mobile was a no-brainer. “If everyone is watching this, this is the new premium entertainment,” Cagan says. “We may as well make stuff for it.”