"The dozens of star-studded series it debuts with are, in general, solid and professional, and tend toward uplifting but brief documentaries I could totally imagine spacing out to in a waiting room," says Willa Paskin of Quibi's launch on Monday. "(The fact that almost no one on the planet Earth is spacing out in a waiting room right now is another Quibi punchline.) The implicit assumption of Quibi is that no one has any time anymore, even, say, for a 22-minute sitcom. And yet it is arriving at a moment when a majority of Americans have more time than they had weeks ago—if also, perhaps, even more shredded attention spans." The problem, says Paskin, is that many Quibi shows don't really work in the shortform format. Or at least take advantage of the gimmick. Survive and When the Street Lights Go Out, she says, "are both stylized and murder-y, and I hated watching them on my phone. Please keep creepy murder shows out of my literal hands. It’s not simply that Quibi doesn’t lend itself to serialization. The serialized docs—in addition to I Promise, there’s Lena Waithe’s sneakerhead investigation, You Ain’t Got These, and Run This City, a political doc that’s one of Quibi’s best offerings—are more compelling than the anthologized docs, which either feel like they are scratching the surface, or like there’s not much more than surface to scratch. I’m thinking of shows like Prodigy, every episode of which skims the life of a talented young athlete, or Shape of Pasta, in which chef Evan Funke learns to make a different, obscure shape of Italian pasta each episode, which would be a lot better without the cloyingly purple and self-important narration. The problem with the dramas is that they all end on a moment of action. This is the same MO as Netflix, but in Quibi’s case it means an almost-cliffhanger is upon you every seven minutes. The only show that uses these near-constant dramatic climaxes to good effect is a comedy, Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson’s Flipped, which leans into the absurdity."
Quibi's innovation of watching horizontally and vertically doesn't work: "The big technological innovation for Quibi, used for all their shows regardless of genre, is that you can watch with your phone held horizontally or vertically, and the image will still fill your screen," says Alan Sepinwall. "This relieves people of the slightly awkward burden of holding their phone horizontally while riding the bus — or, it would, if riding the bus was still an option for most of us — while presenting a picture that’s theoretically optimized for the long phone screen. No black bars on the top and bottom — mostly, anyway. In practice, though, the vertical videos look exactly how you would expect them to: like someone went into the original horizontal frame that the director had in mind, and cropped out everything but the most important character in the shot. (If you’re old enough to remember the days before widescreen TV sets, it looks like the pan-and-scan images you would get when a movie arrived on home video.) It’s a nightmare for compositions, and at times, the vertical image has to turn into two square images stacked on top of one another to convey all the necessary information. Occasionally, you’ll even get a vertically letterboxed picture, just so there’s room for chyrons explaining the time or place of a scene in a way that fit more seamlessly into the horizontal version. In almost every instance, the horizontal picture is clearly the better way to watch these things, even if the phone won’t fit quite as naturally in your hand that way."
You can tell how good a Quibi show is based on whether the vertical video works: "Quibi shows are designed to play equally well no matter how you hold your phone; almost every one is shot in a way that works in both landscape and vertical orientations. I checked this, incessantly, with every show I watched," says Joshua Rivera. "There’s something mind-boggling about it, the way Quibi tries to have things literally both ways. It works well enough, but there are strange side effects. In scripted shows, the dual-composition means there can only really be one important thing in a shot at a time, and that can make a serious drama feel shallow. In unscripted shows, this adds a layer of uncanniness, as slick network production clashes with a visual composition that’s thoroughly associated with influencers and lo-fi meme makers. You can, ironically, gauge how good a Quibi show is by how well it plays in vertical orientation."
Quibi works with the shows that aren't as celebrity driven: "Time after time, I found myself clicking on things I never would have bothered watching, like a docu-series about concert production staffers or quick-hit dance-offs between street dance crews or mini-sodes about up-and-coming high school athletes, and coming away charmed," says Sam Machkovech. "The 'big' names on Quibi, on the other hand, didn't sway me as much, including MTV's nostalgia one-two punch of Singled Out (a '90s dating series, only now much gayer) and Punk'd (the '00s prank show, only now, much shorter)."
Quibi would be a great service if you didn't have to stream it on your phone: "It’s a fun if not an extraordinarily gimmicky concept," says Catie Keck. "To the extent that the service has promised a quality mobile streaming experience with stellar content and star power, the service has definitely delivered. But Quibi’s stubborn insistence on limiting video to mobile makes it feel like a lot of that production value and storytelling are being wasted on teeny screens. I want to love Quibi, I just wish I had more ways to watch."
Quibi doesn't have any standout material that will hook viewers to the service: "The problem Quibi faces is that, for most of us, those gaps have been erased by the pandemic and instead we desire longer-form content to dominate the many, many hours we’re spending at home," says Benjamin Lee. "It’s a gimmick that, for now at least, doesn’t really work and it’s also a gimmick that, with or without Covid-19, would need to be supported by content that would transcend the novelty of the platform. When Netflix kicked off its original slate, it was with House of Cards, a substantive and slickly entertaining series that would have become an awards magnet wherever it had landed. But with Quibi’s ambitious launch of 50 shows and films, nothing in the 24 titles sent to critics feels robust enough to stand up anywhere else, a big pile of unnecessary stuff that’s digested as quickly as it’s forgotten."
Quibi's scripted shows don't feel "shortform" because they unfold too slowly: "If anything, many of the bites I’ve encountered while making my acquaintance with Quibi unfolded too slowly, as if simply cutting the running time was enough rather than adjusting and giving us more propulsive pacing," says Daniel D'Addario. "This is especially pronounced in the scripted offerings, like Most Dangerous Game, which only launches into said game in episode four after surprisingly many minutes of hand-holding flashbacks. It’s strange to watch a show with such a brief runtime and feel like one is just waiting for it to end."
Why Quibi is limited to mobile phones: "Nobody has made (premium) content that was native to, and only for, the phone," says Katzenberg. "We want to do one thing which no one else is doing and see if we can do it really great." He added that working on an app for smart TVs would be a waste of Quibi's limited resources. "We’re a start-up,” says Katzenberg. “As soon as you go out and try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to anybody.”