Cobell Energy, A New Short-Form Series, Tell Us It's Time To Freak The Frack Out
Corruption. Blackmail. Bribery. Big Oil. Welcome to the real-world house of comedic horrors that is Cobell Energy.
By Ali Royals
The world is ending, and Ari Cagan and I are drifting between dinosaur bones at the American Museum of Natural History. “Most of these are actually made from plaster,” says a suit-clad Jack Reichert (niche TikTok micro-celebrity and apparent bone forgery expert.) John Connor Hammond (CEO, former protogé of Chet Hanks) is peering up into the ribcage of a Diplodocus—the kind of fossil that fuels the industry criticized in Ari’s new satirical comedy series, Cobell Energy.
The trio has been collaborating for months, but their rapport is that of age-old friends in the ways they understand each other creatively. This closeness is largely due to the close-quarters collaboration that came with the creation of Cobell Energy. The show's making was an elusive cocktail of production rarities: good, fast, and cheap. The team shot vertically on FX3 cameras over six days, in Plainview, Long Island. They lived together at John’s childhood home until they wrapped.
“Ari has the gift of foresight,” Jack says. “Not in the magical sense of predicting the future, but his vision cuts through what won’t work and immediately lands on what will.” “I think Ari has a vision for the future of media and looks at it in a way that most people don't,” John explains. “He always says, ‘We don't want to treat the person who's watching it as a viewer or a consumer or a fan—we want to treat them as a guest.’”
Ari Cagan is a proud GED-wielding eighth-grade dropout. You can feel his dry sense of humor buzzing beneath his deadpan seriousness. “I think if you go beyond to do what interests you, you'll end up in places you didn't expect. I think that that's kind of how you have to live life.” And that, in a sense, is how he ended up creating Cobell Energy with Jack, John, and executive producer Adam McKay (The Big Short, Don’t Look Up).
Before Ari met John, he never felt he’d found the right person to make things with. Over lunch, the two agreed there could be no more ‘I’m just a dude and I’m going to learn things’ type of content that once plagued the internet. “I’d been doing it for years,” says Ari, rolling his eyes. So Ari and John decided to make a movie. That weekend. Then they made another one, only a week later, with Jack.
Adam McKay’s climate-doomsday-senses must have sensed that they had just wrapped in Montauk, End of the World: on their drive home, Ari got an email from Mckay’s production company, Yellow Dot—a media studio that exclusively produces original content about the climate-change-induced end of the world. So Ari pitched them everything he had.
Much like McKay, Ari, Jack, and John are freaked out about climate change: floods, fires, hurricanes, mass droughts. Jack fears heat waves. John doesn’t want dogs to go extinct. So they decided to go after Big Oil: the industry largely responsible for turning those fears into a rapidly approaching reality.
Cobell Energy paints a true portrait of the kind of corporate buffoonery behind the world’s largest oil companies. The ridiculous robber baron-esque Chris Cobell Jr. (Will Higgins), President and CEO of Cobell Energy, wears his faux-Texan identity like a mascot costume. His sister, Ava Cobell (Emily Wilson), is the private jet-owning occasional voice of reason. And then there’s Bryce Dennis (John Connor Hammond), Chris Jr.’s college drinking buddy with an executive title slapped on for fun. “These family oil businesses are easily able to look past the fact their main business is making money off a planet they’re destroying,” says Ari. But while they’ll have generational wealth, their future heirs won’t have a habitable planet to spend their fortunes on. For Jack, it’s a little like watching a kid from your high school become a teacher. “You think to yourself, you’re not fit to govern the future,” he says.
Each two-to-four-minute episode is as rife with metaphor as it is with pure comedy—from vapes causing in-office air pollution to the booger stalactites under conference room tables as a stand-in for unspoken negligence all oil execs are partaking in. “If you watch one episode of the show, you see an average office dynamic, a dysfunctional family dynamic. But if you watch the show through the lens of what it truly is, you pick up on all the climate metaphors,” Ari explains.
The show came together by the sheer grace of the universe (which is likely, considering the outcome of the satire may have planet-saving implications.) They cast Will Higgins in line at a buffet. They brought in Jared Sterling, a comedian, actor, and writer who, months before, had just been fired from a sales job at an oil and gas company. They even cast me for a single-episode cameo right off the streets of the Lower East Side.
Not unlike a black hole, if Ari Cagan has ever publicly freaked out, no one in this overstable universe has ever witnessed it with their bare eyes. Pre-shoot, Ari and his cast and crew persisted through cast-wide sickness and city-wide flooding. Then, of course, there was the legal issue that launched a name change. “We solved the issue in 12 hours,” Ari says. “From the very second that I thought of this show, I thought we're going to sell it, and we're going to make it. And nothing is going to stop us.”
Ari and his team fully built out the world of the show. I have a Cobell Energy business card with my name on it and a real LinkedIn connection with Chris Cobell Jr. to prove it. On their company website, you can find the Cobell family history dating back to the 1800s, the company’s latest quarterly earnings call, and a real hotline that plays “We Didn’t Start the Fire” while you wait to connect with an operator about selling your land and mineral rights. (Dial (347) 566-0160 if you’re interested.) Their Instagram regularly posts pro-oil propaganda, greenwashed infographics, and employee of the month shoutouts. The comment section is often just as funny as the jokes in the episodes.
@cobellenergy Market Testing | Episode 1 The executives debate a delicious new ad. COBELL ENERGY is a short-form satirical office comedy about a family owned oil company, Cobell Energy, that is battling against innovation, activists, and each other as they destroy the planet to protect their own interests. @Yellow Dot Studios #webseries #comedy #sitcom #cobellenergy ♬ original sound - Cobell Energy
Every episode has an element grounded in the ridiculous reality of the oil industry. “There’s nothing funnier than real life,” says Ari. “We wrote about Chris Jr. having an affair with someone from the Department of Interior. That was a real thing that actually happened,” he explains. Oil execs pay people off with $2,000 Chanel bags, quote political scientists as if they’re climate scientists, and yes—even drink oil to try to prove that it’s clean. Jack explains that the most corrupt men in the oil industry love Panera Bread. I imagine them picking apart bread bowls while the world burns.
Reality may be our richest, most hilarious medium—but real life is endangered. “I’m most concerned about human extinction,” Ari says. It’s not just that we’re killing the planet for good. It’s that we’re killing the planet for us, while oil execs daydream about golfing on manicured greens that one day—once we’re all long gone—will eventually grow back into the forests we’ve destroyed.