I was very skeptical of Quibi, the new app launching today promising hours of new programming cut up into bite-sized chunks built for the iGeneration. Do we really need to be leaning into the decreased attention span of the country or the fact that we’re all addicted to our smartphones with a content provider that relies on both of these things? The concept behind Quibi is simple—episodic programming that runs no longer than nine minutes an episode and is meant to be watched on a phone, either portrait or landscape. In fact, the screeners sent to press offered a view in which we could see the horizontal and vertical shot at the same time. The portrait shot is often just a cropped version, but it is sometimes an entirely different composition altogether, not just a different framing. While that’s interesting, I went into the dozens of Quibi screeners wondering if this is what the world needs right now. I’m still not 100% sure, but I have to say that a few of the shows won me over, and I’m eager to see where they go next, even if I only find out in bite-sized chunks. Maybe we should just embrace our attention spans and phone addictions. They're certainly not going away.
The launch approach of Quibi is clearly one of “Shock and Awe.” It’s almost like flipping through a cable service’s entire line-up on a Saturday afternoon. There’s a high-profile thriller, comedy, drama, teen show, and so much reality TV, spanning the entire breadth of what that means from Nicole Richie to serious documentaries. Other companies are offering product to Quibi like MTV re-launching favorites like “Singled Out” (with Keke Palmer) and “Punk’d” (with Chance the Rapper) and Funny or Die. Of course, if you just hit channel up or down on your cable remote right now, you’d find a lot of filler, and there’s a lot of filler on Quibi, but you might also stumble upon something you really like. This seems like the operating model of Quibi—hoping you keep flipping through until you find stuff you like. Here’s what I enjoyed:
“When the Streetlights Go On”
Rebecca Thomas (“Electrick Children”) created the Quibi series that most feels like it could have found a home at Netflix or the other major players in the streaming service. With echoes of Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” it’s the story of a formative summer for a young man (Chosen Jacobs of "It: Chapter One") in 1995 after the murder of the most popular girl in high school. Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age drama, it’s a well-shot and well-cast piece that also includes characters played by Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, and Mark Duplass. But it’s the young cast and Thomas’ visual sense that elevate it. It’s arguably the only Quibi show I watched that felt like it used the space of the delivery system—horizontal and vertical—in visually interesting ways.
Short episodes are perfect for a show like “Memory Hole,” which promises to bring back some of the most horrific things ever produced by pop culture for a brief dissection by Will Arnett and some of his funny friends. For example, they resurrect a lavish variety show that was put on by the SkyDome in Toronto that simply needs to be seen to believed. Hosted by a singing Alan Thicke and featuring sports-themed dance numbers, most of them about the building’s retractable roof, it will make you cringe into yourself, and Arnett offers witty commentary through the entire footage. It’s the kind of thing that could easily have an episode go viral just for the “OMG do you remember this” aspect of it all.
“Run This City”
From what could be called the Crazy True Stories section of Quibi comes this documentary about Jasiel Correia II, one of the youngest mayors in the history of the country and a man who lists both Mayor Quimby and Sim City 2000 as inspirations. The first couple episodes detail how Correia basically used a trash bag scandal to oust his predecessors but then the young man gets indicted by the FBI for corruption related to his other company. Again, I hate to compare too much of the Quibi content to other networks, but “Run This City” could easily have found a home elsewhere as it tells an engaging, crazy story and Correia is the kind of cocky, talkative subject that documentarians love.
The most laughs I got out of my hours with Quibi came courtesy of this comedy starring the great Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, who should still be starring in “Last Man on Earth” and “The Mick” on FOX, but they got canceled too soon and there's no TV justice. Their fearless comedy styles bounce off each other well as a couple named Jann and Cricket, who enter a contest to be TV’s hottest new house-flipping reality couple. When they find a rehab project that’s too good to be true, they cross paths with a Mexican drug cartel. Forte and Olson have underrated talents and the sitcom format fits Quibi well. I’m a little surprised there aren’t more shows like this to start—programs that promise a quick laugh on the bus, on the way to work, or during a coffee break.
“Shape of Pasta”
Maybe it’s just because of the state of the world, but I enjoyed the escape provided by this cooking/travel show starring Chef Evan Funke, who travels to incredibly small villages in Italy seeking out ancient traditions of pasta-making that the rest of the world doesn’t even know about. There are small communities all over Italy making shapes of pasta beyond just your standard spaghetti and ravioli, and Funke’s interest in his subjects and love of food is infectious. Again, maybe I just wish I could be in a Tuscan village tasting homemade pasta right now.
I also have to admit to being moved by parts of “Thanks a Million,” in which celebrities like Kevin Hart surprise people that impacted them with $100k, and also to finding the performance aspect of Sasha Velour’s “NightGowns” captivating. And there’s something about Lena Waithe dissecting shoe culture in “You Ain’t Got These” that’s interesting, even if the approach feels shallow to start.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are "movies in chapters" like “Most Dangerous Game,” which features major talents like Christoph Waltz and Sarah Gadon, but can’t get over its truly horrendous B-movie dialogue, and Mark Pellington’s “Survive,” which is over-done in every way to such a degree that I couldn't get past the first episode. And then there are the true oddities like “Chrissy’s Court,” starring Chrissy Teigen as a judge a la Judge Judy, and “Murder House Flip,” which is about remodeling homes where horrible crimes occurred that blurs the line between parody and reality. Whether or not you take to these will depend highly on your tolerance for self-conscious quirk. They didn’t work for me.
But I think the people behind Quibi know that. When a service like Apple TV+ launches, it wants everyone interested in subscribing and all critics to like or love everything they’re offering. Quibi works more from a quantity perspective, giving people so much to choose from that even they don’t expect you to like it all. And the service promises regular daily content, including news briefs from around the world and celebrity news to go with all of this launch programming. In April 2020, a large quantity of new content to alleviate stress? This may work after all.