Features

An Unexpurgated Guide to What's on Quibi

The new short-form streaming service hopes to change the way we watch TV.
  • Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte star in Flipped, one of 24 original shows and movies in Quibi's launch slate. (Photo:Quibi)
    Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte star in Flipped, one of 24 original shows and movies in Quibi's launch slate. (Photo:Quibi)

    You signed up for Disney+ because you had to see The Mandalorian. You checked out Apple TV+ because... well, anyone who so much as walked past an Apple store in the past year practically had a free subscription thrown at them. You're going to get HBO Max because it's the only place cord-cutters will be able to watch Friends. But while you wait for that, there's a whole new streaming platform hoping to draw your eyes and dollars: Quibi.

    Co-founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg (formerly of DreamWorks) and Meg Whitman (formerly of eBay and Hewlett Packard), Quibi has been shoveling money at stars and producers for months, blasting out so many press releases about their acquisitions and deals that the whole enterprise started to feel like it might be an elaborate prank. As you may or may not have gleaned from its Super Bowl ad, the concept of Quibi is that it delivers pieces of video content, each under 10 minutes long — quick bites, hence the name — only to mobile devices. Episodes can be played offline, and are formatted to be played in either horizontal or vertical orientation... because the idea is that you watch it when you're on the go. On your commute! At the gym! Waiting for a friend in a restaurant! And so on. "It's important to find humor in the darkest of times, and for me right now it's that Quibi, a mega-million dollar app based on making video that's easy to watch when you're on the go, is going to come out during a massive stay-at-home public health crisis," tweeted Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk last month, and it's true; it's grimly funny that a time when people are so desperate for time-consuming entertainment they're seeking out the longest-running series they can find to marathon, here's Quibi, poking through the snow of the current moment like the first crocuses of spring, daring us to hope better days are ahead — or, if not better, at least busier.

    Whenever you do find you have gaps in your day to fill that are longer than the walk from the couch to the fridge and back and decide to take a flyer on Quibi, you'll find that the vertical/horizontal optimization is very thoughtfully done and happens instantaneously — convenient for a viewing experience designed to happen in settings where the viewer is likely to get jostled. The question is, if you already routinely watch a lot of video on your phone, are you going to pony up another $4.99 a month ($7.99 for the ad-free version) or will you just make do with the thousands of titles already on Hulu, Netflix, or whatever other existing platforms you already subscribe to (or, in the case of YouTube, use for free)? And if you don't already watch a lot of video on your phone, will Quibi's exclusive offerings be enticing enough to convince you to adopt a whole new TV consuming process?

    Reader, I can't answer that for you. I can say that, having previewed the service, I didn't see much in this first batch of offerings that I would use to replace the media I currently use to fill the various brief silences of my days (podcasts), but I also pretty much only watch TV on TV, because I'm old. For those who've acclimated to mobile video or are curious enough to give Quibi their email address to sign up for a 90-day free trial, here's my ranking of all the launch titles that were made available to critics.

    24. &Music (Documentary/Culture)

    Viewers who love going to stadium concerts will likely be fascinated by this look at the people who support the artists offstage in other creative capacities, like (in the first episode) a lighting designer, or (in the third) a choreographer. MAYBE save the "spiritual guide" to reggaeton performer J Balvin until later in the run and not, say, Episode 2.

    23. You Ain't Got These (Documentary/Culture)

    Lena Waithe is the executive producer of this unscripted series about sneaker culture. While I am interested in fashion generally, I'm not a sneakerhead, and the screeners provided — while very well made — did not make the topic compelling for me. If you spend more on shoes than rent, this is for you!

    22. Thanks A Million (Reality)

    A celebrity gets to give $100,000 to a person they feel deserves appreciation and recognition. Except it's actually a "chain of gratitude and kindness," as executive producer and Episode 1 star Jennifer Lopez explains it when she gives her wad of cash to the mother of a girl with cerebral palsy, whom Lopez met backstage at one of her shows. What this means is the $100K recipient has to give half their windfall to someone they think is worthy, and then that person has to give half away, too. (The chain is only four links long so the gifts don't get into the messy half-thousands.) Setting aside how uncomfortable it is to watch a glam squad-coiffed celebrity trying to act natural with some poor plebe, then immediately said plebe finds out the literal pile of cash they've just been told they're getting is actually half as big. I'm never going to love a "queen for a day" show, but this one is both gross and poorly constructed.

    21. Murder House Flip (Reality)

    Credit for giving the viewer exactly what's on the tin: renovation experts Mikel Welch and Joelle Uzyel are brought in to help make over homes where murders have taken place. I feel like we're always right on the edge of a national conversation about how to keep true crime media informative as opposed to exploitative, but clearly no one involved in the production of this show had any such questions in mind during the development process. On top of that, the show clearly wasn't conceived with Quibi in mind: instead of compressing a whole makeover into a sub-10-minute runtime, each home makeover plays out over three Quibi-length episodes, just as it might in a standard half-hour makeover show.

    20. The Shape Of Pasta (Documentary)

    We're all familiar with fettuccine and penne. (Maybe a little too familiar, of late.) But Chef Evan Funke is interested in learning about niche-ier pastas — like rasccatieddi and strangulet — so he's traveling around Italy to meet pasta masters and learn at their feet. It's not that I don't respect the scam of getting Quibi to finance this "research trip"; it's just not that interesting to watch if you can't actually eat the dish at the end of the episode.

    19. Survive (Drama)

    Jane (ex-Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner) has been living in an assisted-living residence for young people with mental health issues since attempting suicide. Then she is one of only two survivors of a plane crash, which might actually spark her will to live. The first of five "movies in chapters" to appear in this list, Survive is feature-length movie chopped up into in segments, each under ten minutes. Maybe there are people who will enjoy watching films like this, but I don't.

    18. When The Streetlights Go On (Drama)

    Another movie julienned into bits, this one's about the effect a beautiful white girl's murder has on her sleepy suburb, because we've never seen that before. It's also set in the not-so-distant past — an early scene finds a girl searching her sister's room for a purloined bottle of CK One — which will inevitably draw unfavorable comparisons to Little Fires Everywhere.

    17. Prodigy (Documentary/Sports)

    Soccer star Megan Rapinoe of the USWNT hosts this series about young and extraordinarily talented athletes, including basketball phenomenon Jalen Green, 5-time National Champion junior boxer Chantel Navarro, and Regan Smith, the fastest woman in swimming history. The show has the high production value of an HBO sports doc, but while the athletes' gifts are impressive, it does feel a bit like their stories are on Quibi because we're still only in Act I.

    16. Skrrt With Offset (Reality/Sports)

    Rapper Offset is really, really, really into cars, and this is basically his own personal Top Gear. Wisely, the first episode features Offset with his partner, Cardi B, and their incredibly adorable daughter Kulture as they bring a group of sick kids to ride mini sports cars on an indoor track, providing play-by-play commentary all the while. I probably would have tried to talk Offset into having Cardi B co-host every episode, but I am admittedly more interested in her than I am in cars. And I know she's busy.

    15. Run This City (Documentary)

    Jasiel Correia II was, at 23, the youngest person ever elected mayor of Falls River, Massachusetts. He then proceeded to spend the next several years defending himself against a variety of corruption charges that also implicated members of his staff. The documentary promises to follow him "as he navigates his role" as mayor while fighting charges brought against his former company by the FBI, but since the twists and turns of his mayoralty are a matter of public record, the inherent suspense of the show may not be what its producers had hoped it would be when they started.

    14. Fierce Queens (Documentary/Nature)

    Reese Witherspoon takes a break from starring in Prestige TV literary adaptations to narrate this documentary about notable females of the animal kingdom. Adding to the sense that she's just doing this as a favor to her husband Jim Toth, Quibi's Head of Content Acquisition & Talent, is the fact that Witherspoon apparently recorded all the show's episode bumpers on the same day without changing her outfit.

    13. Memory Hole (Documentary/Comedy)

    Everyone who misses VH1's I Love The [X]es programming but also felt they dragged on a bit is the target audience for Memory Hole, in which Will Arnett narrates a comedic look back at a narrow slice of pop culture history — like, in the first episode, the brief vogue for pro sports teams recording novelty singles. It's fine, and it's not like we don't know Arnett is a divorced dad with kids to support, but the end of BoJack Horseman coinciding with his stints hosting both this and Fox's Lego Masters has me worried that he needs to take a hard look at his management team and the projects they're putting him in.

    12. Punk'd (Comedy)

    The once-sensational MTV prank show returns with Chance the Rapper in the Ashton Kutcher role, directing unknown actors to mess with celebrities while hidden cameras film the whole thing. As ever, this is an enterprise that viewers will either really vibe with or really not, and while I didn't think I had any particularly tender feelings toward Girl Meets World second lead Sabrina Carpenter before I watched her find out that her house was infested with hundreds of rats (it wasn't really), watching her burst into tears while her mother — who was an accomplice to the whole scheme — stood nearby was not actually much fun for me! Probably not much fun for her either.

    11. The Sauce (Documentary/Culture)

    Speaking as someone who took a trip to Las Vegas not to gamble but to watch JabbaWockeeZ — winners of Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew — perform at The Mirage, I am the person this dance battle show was made for. Which is why it's a bummer that the editing is so choppy, and hardly any of the runtime — short even by Quibi standards — is taken up by showing us an actual finished routine. Drawing over it with animated neon squiggles doesn't help. ...Still pretty cool to see a guy dislocate his shoulder, though.

    10. Gone Mental With Lior (Reality/Comedy)

    "Gone Mental with Lior"

    The titular Lior, Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard, astounds guests like Ben Stiller and Rob Gronkowski with his illusions. The show is fine (and casually wrapping up his time with Gronk by mentioning that he dosn't understand the rules of football is a cute touch), but it's also a bit of a knockoff of Netflix's Magic For Humans, and Suchard is a lot less charming than that show's star, Justin Willman.

    9. Chrissy's Court (Reality/Comedy)

    Courtroom shows are a staple of daytime TV for a reason: we like seeing real people squabble over insignificant matters that they've blownout of proportion. What Chrissy's Court has wisely done is scaled down the crimes even more: the first episode finds boyfriends fighting over one buying the other's relative the wrong "That Bitch" sweatshirt as a gift from both of them. "Judge" Chrissy Teigen has been given this opportunity in part because she's attractive (she's a former swimsuit model); in part due to nepotism (she's married to EGOT John Legend); and in part because she's funny on Twitter. The last of these doesn't quite translate in the first few episodes, but she will probably relax into the role. Unfortunately, having her mother, Pepper Thai, on set as her bailiff may only remind her Twitter followers of the whole AirPods flap last fall.

    8. Most Dangerous Game (Drama)

    Another long-form drama in segments, this one features Christoph Waltz as a rich weirdo exploiting desperate dad-to-be Liam Hemsworth in a human-hunting scheme, with stylish '70s-reminiscent opening credits and I have to admit that's enough to get my attention.

    7. NightGowns (Documentary/Culture)

    RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 winner Sasha Velour is the subject of this documentary series revolving around her transforming her titular cabaret revue into an ambitious, full-fledged stage production. It was clear during her season of Drag Race that Sasha was a true artist and a unique talent; she has wisely avoided overexposing herself with Drag Race tie-in appearances since, which makes this viewer even hungrier to see what she can do without that show's restrictions.

    6. Singled Out (Game Show/Comedy)

    Yep, it's another MTV revival. This time, Keke Palmer and Joel Kim Booster preside over a parade of zoomers looking for love (or whatever). But the gag is that the dater at the center of the action is already connected to all the hopeful matches through social media. The potential for messiness is off the charts, but you only spend a few minutes with any given goofball and it's all in good fun.

    5. Dishmantled (Game Show/Comedy)

    In what's arguably the most Black Mirror-ish premise, two contestants are covered in protective gear, placed in a closed room, and have a particular food dish shot at them from a cannon. After tasting the goop on themselves, they have to figure out what it was and reconstruct it for a panel of judges (including Tituss Burgess); whichever one of them gets the most ingredients right wins a cash prize. It's exactly as dumb as it sounds, and yet it works. (It also gives me hope that maybe Quibi will abide by the rule of threes and also revive another MTV property: Jackass.)

    4. Nikki Fre$h (Reality/Comedy)

    Now that Nicole Richie is pushing 40 and a mother of two, she can't rage like she used to. She still loves trap music, but she wants to reimagine it as "parent trap": the soundtrack for people who are trying to live well and be up at 9 AM. Nikki Fre$h (Richie's hip hop alter ego) and her assistant Jared go out into L.A. to meet with various experts in better living; then Nikki closes the episode with an original track about what she's learned. It may sound terrible on paper, but anyone (of the few) who watched NBC's short-lived comedy Great News knows how funny Nicole Richie can be, and she doesn't doesn't disappoint here.

    3. Flipped (Comedy)

    On the same unfortunate day, high school drama teacher Jan (Will Forte) and home improvement store staffer Cricket (Kaitlin Olson) are both fired from their jobs. They're watching an HGTV knockoff when inspiration strikes: they'll enter a contest to be the network's next home renovation stars! Forte and Olson's entire careers to this point are proof that they were made to play these kinds of obliviously confident dolts, and since the show comes from Funny Or Die — innovators in the realm of short-form online content — each episode feels appropriately self-contained for the platform.

    2. Gayme Show! (Game Show/Comedy)

    Comedians Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni co-host this show celebrating both gay culture and straight allies. In each episode, two straight contestants are each paired with an expert "life partner" to help them through a series of games that will test their knowledge of LGBTQ+ life and herstory; by the end, Dave and Matt crown the "Queen of the Straights." All I can say about Episode 1 contestant Josh Gondelman is that watching him give pep talks on Twitter cannot prepare you for what he does when challenged to "make an entrance!"

    1. I Promise (Documentary)

    In 2018, the Lebron James Family Foundation opened the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, with a specific focus on enrolling at-risk children at the elementary-school level. Having observed controversies over the past decade or so surrounding the rise of the charter school movement, I was cheered to learn that I Promise is a public school within the Akron system. But I was not prepared for what the documentary shows about how thoughtful everyone behind its founding is about taking a holistic approach to education, addressing students' needs both inside the classroom and out. I was expecting that Quibi would launch with silly shows I might forget the second they blinked off my screen; I was not expecting any that would actually make me cry. Though I may not be convinced about Quibi as an idea, there will be 15 episodes of I Promise and I am going to need to watch them all.

    Quibi launches today. For information on how you can download the app for your mobile device, visit their website.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Quibi, Chrissy's Court, Dishmantled, Flipped, Gayme Show, Gone Mental With Lior, Memory Hole, Most Dangerous Game, Murder House Flip, Nightgowns, Nikki Fre$h, Prodigy, Punk'd, The Sauce, Shape of Pasta, Singled Out, Skrrt With Offset, Survive, Thanks a Million, When the Street Lights Go On