Quibi’s got a lot stacked against it, and much of it is of its own making. The short-form streaming service, founded by former Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, makes its bones on the idea that people want streaming content a.) only on their phones, and b.) in short, six to 10-minute episodes, ridiculously called ‘quibis’ (or “quick bites”). Whether you’re waiting for the train or just pooping (and some of the targeted ads absolutely count on their audience doing just that), Quibi (pronounced ‘kwibby’, natch) hopes its bite-sized, big-budget content will find an audience.
The concept itself is a big ask, from its silly (okay, stupid) name to the infantilizing premise that presumes you can’t pay attention for more than the length of time it takes to take a dump. The age of coronavirus doesn’t help, either. What good is a commute-centric streaming service for a population that’s less on the go than ever? Add to that the fact that you can literally only watch these on your phones, and the inventive-but-cluttered option of watching them in portrait or landscape mode, and the prospects for a committed viewing experience are decidedly slim.
But how are the shows themselves? Well, we went through virtually every Quibi show the network has launched (we skipped some of the lighter ones and the news recap shows) to find out whether there are any diamonds in the rough. Luckily, there are a few quibis we can quibble with, from absolutely out-there reality shows to high-concept comedies that play with their teensier format to solid effect. Quibi works best when it gets weird and runs with its weirdness; seek the strange, and ye shall find.
Editor’s Note: Quibi is offering a free 90-day trial to coincide with its launch.
Narrative/“Movies in Chapters”
In one of the network’s highest-profile shows, Sophie Turner plays a suicidal teenager who ends up boarding a doomed flight just as she’s been dismissed from the mental institution. Think Girl, Interrupted meets Lost, though the three quibis offered at launch only get us to the plane crash.
Dare We Quibble? Not really. This is clearly Quibi’s attempt at serious network drama, but not only is it a creakily handled melodrama with some thinly-drawn characters (especially Turner), the show’s treatment of mental illness is reductive to the point of almost romanticizing suicidal ideation as a kind of Kurt Cobain-esque beautiful pain that reflects how we should truly see the world. That’s not a solid prospect for a series, no matter how many suicide hotline placards you bookend the episodes with.
Line of the Show: Turner refers to a bipolar patient at her mental hospital as “broken” if you need more evidence of the show’s oh-so-nuanced treatment of mental illness.
Most Dangerous Game
The classic short story gets a modern cable network thriller treatment, as Liam Hemsworth plays a track-star-turned-terminally-ill hunk named, I kid you not, Dodge Tynes, who gets talked into making himself human prey for some rich hunters by the slimy Christoph Waltz. Sarah Gadon plays Hemsworth’s put-upon Cool Wife.
Dare We Quibble? This one’s another laughable attempt to approximate real network TV, which just doesn’t seem like Quibi’s forte. Three quibis in, and like Survive, we haven’t even gotten to the hunt itself. It could get neat once that begins, but until then, there’s little to write home about except for Hemsworth’s name, which might be even dumber to hear out of a human mouth than ‘quibi.’
Line of the Show: “I’m angry this tumor’s taking me away from my family!”
When the Street Lights Go On
In the sleepy town of Colfax, Illinois, during the summer of ‘95, a teenage girl (Nicola Peltz) and her English teacher boyfriend (Mark Duplass) are gunned down one fateful night, which rocks the small town to its core. A young, aspiring journalist (Chosen Jacobs) and the girl’s sister (Sophie Thatcher) set out to solve the mystery. Queen Latifah and Tony Hale also star.
Dare We Quibble? The one prestige drama-like Quibi show that works, Street Lights drips with a wonderfully melancholy atmosphere, and actually manages to carve out some interesting nuance from its cast of characters. Plus, its Zodiac meets This Is Us procedural melodrama has the prospect of setting up an intriguing mystery, as long as they cool it with the rad ‘90s pop culture references.
This Funny or Die-produced comedy throws Will Forte and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson together as Jann and Cricket, a self-deluded couple who enter a contest to make a pilot for their own HGTV-like house flipping show, only to come into some dubiously-hidden stacks of cash in their fixer-upper.
Dare We Quibble? There are moments when Flipped shines — when the two finally get the idea to use their misbegotten cash to lend their pilot some much-needed comic energy in quibi three, the show gets some amusing digs in at the Extreme Home Makeovers format. But outside that, their characters are far too grating and one-note for the meta-narrative around it, especially when they run into the people whose money they just stole. Just stick to the mockumentary format, and they’d be gold.
Case in point, mockumentary Nikki Fre$h sees Nicole Richie attempting to pivot her brand into becoming a wellness-themed trap icon (she calls her style of music “parent trap”), complete with songs about saving the bees and merch that includes “straw hats, gardening aprons, [and] a composting clutch.”
Dare We Quibble? Easily the best (intentional) comedy of the Quibi slate, Richie’s in genius bone-dry form as an exaggerated version of her self. The dialogue is whip-smart, Christopher Guest-level wit (“I love trap music, but in order to listen to it, you have to be up at midnight, and those are just not my hours”) and cameos by Bill Nye and her dad Lionel Richie are wonderfully utilized. Oh, and the dorky minute-long music videos at the end are certified bops.
Line of the Show: “This music is for people like us — for teachers, rabbis, and Virgos.”
We’ve all had a bad ride-share experience, but I’m sure it doesn’t compare to the bad night The Guest‘s Maika Monroe is having in Veena Sud‘s (The Killing) thriller The Stranger, in which she plays a young ride-share driver who picks up a mysterious passenger (Dane DeHaan) who turns out to be deadlier and more elusive than he appears at first glance. Though come on, it’s Dane DeHaan, he’s just got that natural ‘eats live rats for breakfast’ look to him. Don’t trust this guy!
Dare We Quibble? Monroe’s always a reliable horror lead, and DeHaan absolutely leans into his natural leeriness as a self-described sociopath with shades of Elliot Rodger incel-itude to him. Sud’s direction is suitably atmospheric, and makes delightful use of the restrictive phone-friendly format of the platform. But the dialogue hardly impresses in the three quibis provided with the premiere.
50 States of Fright
Sufjan Stevens may have abandoned his quest to write an album about all 50 states, but hopefully executive producer Sam Raimi won’t let us down in his own promise – crafting chilling horror tales based on folklore found in every state in the Union.
Dare We Quibble? Based on the first full story we’ve been given, the Michigan-set “The Golden Arm”, we might be in for a campy, bloody treat through the old US of A. Directed by Raimi himself, “The Golden Arm” is a blood-soaked tale of fanatical romance centered around a vain woman (Rachel Brosnahan) who loses her arm, only for her craftsman husband (Travis Fimmel) to build her a gilded prosthetic. The results are very Drag Me to Hell, and mines buckets of blood and a respectable amount of creepy atmosphere from its premise. One piece of advice, though, Sam: lose the obviously staged ‘talking head interview with a local’ that is so very clearly performed by an actor.
Antoine Fuqua executive produces this taut thriller from creator (and Blacklist-worthy screenwriter) Marc Maurino, about a desperate black man (If Beale Street Could Talk‘s Stephan James) in a tense standoff with the police in his apartment building with his girlfriend and son. As the cops (including a sympathetic Laurence Fishburne) try to resolve the situation, Rayshawn starts livestreaming his plight.
Dare We Quibble? Dog Day Afternoon with shades of #BlackLivesMatter, #Freerayshawn is off to a shockingly solid start, kicking off with a thrilling car chase and economically establishing the high-stakes nature of the standoff. In an age of rampant police brutality and social media as the only means of getting the truth about police misconduct to the people, #Freerayshawn‘s cat-and-mouse game of public sympathy is deathly intriguing, and James and Fishburne are especially compelling so far.
Based on the 2018 short film of the same name, this Funny or Die-produced series follows two slacker pool cleaners (MP Cunningham, Baby Darrington) concerned with little else than getting the right tan and dating the perfect girl.
Dare We Quibble? This one commits deep to the Napoleon Dynamite school of deadpan quirk, and your mileage may vary on whether or not this all works. Cunningham and Darrington have a charming, dunderheaded chemistry, but the real gags are few and far between. (And are we really gonna do ‘not-gay’ jokes in 2020, no matter how reflective they are of the stupidity of the people saying them?) Worlds like this need time to draw the viewer in, and 6-10 minute chunks just ain’t gonna do it.
Run This City
This docuseries follows the cloud of corruption allegations surrounding Jasiel Correia, a 23-year-old city councilman who talked himself into a successful run for mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts. Chatting with other former mayors and Fall River’s townspeople, the doc explores just how far youthful charisma and a willingness to play dirty can get you.
Dare We Quibble? Absolutely — the doc hums with a real Netflix true-crime energy, and the story contains a number of colorful characters, from the eclectic townspeople to the spurned former mayors to the fast-talking brashness of Correia himself. One moment, in which Correia’s parents take a long, pregnant pause before answering a question about their boy’s charges, is that rare, beautiful snapshot when a quibi is allowed to breathe. One of those stories about small-town politics that feels perfectly graftable to our broader grift-happy political moment.
Nightgowns with Sasha Velour
Drag Race winner and drag icon Sasha Velour brings her acclaimed avant-garde New York revue to Quibi, a mixture of polished behind-the-scenes documentary and lip-sync performance piece.
Dare We Quibble? Like Gayme Show, Nightgowns is a piece of queer performance picked up by a streaming service for mass consumption, but there’s at least some artistry to this one. Velour’s drag has always been experimental and deeply personal, and the show gives us a window into her fabulous process and the ensemble she’s picked to perform alongside her. The first quibi ends with a showstopper of a lip sync to Stevie Nicks’ “The Edge of Seventeen” that’s just about worth the price of admission.
Chance the Rapper resurrects the Ashton Kutcher-led MTV prank show with big-budget goof-em-ups at fellow celebs like Meg Thee Stallion and Adam Devine. There’s dudes in gorilla suits and stolen dogs and hidden cameras; it’s pretty much what you’d expect.
Dare We Quibble? This might be well-suited to Quibi, even though shows like this have gone the way of the dodo amid the realm of Youtube pranks. I’ll admit Punk’d wasn’t my thing even in its original form — rich people pranking rich people is some Jimmy Kimmel shit — but if it’s your speed, Chance seems to be having fun at least.
Line of the Show: “You can’t call the police on no gorilla!”
Tituss Burgess hosts a cooking competition show where two cooks are blindfolded and blasted with food shot out of a cannon, and they have to recreate the dish in 30 minutes based on what they ate off their bodies. Somehow, this is not a discarded 30 Rock joke.
Dare We Quibble? Now we come to the category of the Quibi catalog where high-concept reality/game shows run amok, where sitcom writers’ unused ideas for parodies are created and played straight for laughs. Strangely, it kinda works in this format, especially given the vague air of disbelief on everyone’s faces (including guest judges Antoni Porowski and Dan Levy, in one episode) that they’re even doing this in the first place.
Line of the Show: Levy, upon being asked if he’d do the show: “I’m wearing a light beige knit, so no.”
Imagine The People’s Court if you put Chrissy Teigen on the bench, gave her cases so frivolous even the plaintiffs can’t even take them seriously, and (it seems) introduce a carbon monoxide leak. Yeah.
Dare We Quibble? I don’t know if it’s the giddy, slap-happy energy of the whole thing, or the slow fugue state watching five hours of Quibi shows has left me in, but Chrissy’s Court was a delight. There’s a wholesome Tim-and-Eric energy to the whole thing, especially in the first episode, when John Legend comes out to act as musical expert witness for a case involving an old, crabby crooner suing a young customer for making him break his own speaker (which doesn’t seem all that broken in the first place).
Line of the Show: Teigen’s daughter Luna yelling “Good job, Mommy!” at the end of episode one.
Murder House Flip
Sporting the strangest concept of the bunch, Murder House Flip sees a couple of fashionable interior design experts (including the bow-tie-clad Mikel Welch) renovating houses where gruesome crimes took place in the past. It’s exactly as batshit insane as you’d expect.
Dare We Quibble? Murder House Flip immediately makes Flipped irrelevant by being both funnier and a better send-up of the home-improvement show format, chiefly by sticking to its premise and taking it to its furthest conclusion. The key is Welch and co-host Joelle Uzyel’s constant air of disbelief at where their lives have taken them, treating the murder house in question (and its kooky owners) with infectious bemusement. The chuckle they give when they find a box of “Bone White” tiles in the house’s art shed is the droll show in a nutshell.
Line of the Show: “I don’t think we need to bring more body parts into the design.”
Less a legit game show than a cheeky love-in with gay comedians and their allies, hosts Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni bring on two straight comedians every week to run through a gauntlet of queer-themed games for the title of “Queen of the Straights.”
Dare We Quibble? A long-running live show brought to Quibi in TV form, Gayme Show is … fine. On the one hand, it feels celebratory of gay culture and history, and its desire to show straight guys gleefully flaunting masculine norms is all in good fun. On the other, the joke runs its course fairly quickly, and often just feels like watching people act out the oh-so-extra rhythms of Gay Twitter with the budget of a Buzzfeed show. Queer people love Laura Dern, we get it! We gotta find a new joke!
Elba vs. Block
Fresh off his stint as a bad guy in a Fast and Furious movie, and setting UK’s land speed record, Idris Elba teams up with professional stunt driver Ken Block for a competition to see who can beat the other in various car-based challenges — from monster trucks to big jumps to weaving around a flaming obstacle course.
Dare We Quibble? As these kinds of short-form competition shows go, this is perfectly watchable, no small credit going to Elba’s devil-may-care charisma. Block’s understated American energy bounces off Elba’s bravado quite nicely, and if car porn’s your thing, you could do way worse. Don’t be fooled by obviously-scripted stunts like Elba changing his ride last minute to a big truck so he can bash through the obstacle course and beat Block’s time, though. Even so, it’s harmless, nitro-fueled fun.