6:00am PT by Daniel Fienberg
Quibi Reviews: The Good, the Bad & the Meh
Quibi is either launching at exactly the wrong time or exactly the right time.
The entire model of the shortform programming streamer founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman was built around providing viewers with "quick bites" — the name, pronounced "Qui-Bee," therefore really ought to be "Qui-Bye" — of drama, comedy, unscripted content and news that could be watched on your phone during pauses in ordinary life: mid-commute, waiting for a meeting to start, etc. With much of the population in quarantine, "ordinary life" is wishful thinking. However, shut-in audiences are hungry for content, and Quibi surely has that in abundance.
“Abundance” is currently the service's primary selling point. If you want a whole show where Will Arnett makes fun of arcane moments in Canadian pop culture, Quibi has you, and perhaps only you, covered for five minutes with Memory Hole.
On the other hand, there's little evidence in the 24 programs debuting Monday (the cost is $4.99 per month with ads, $7.99 per month without ads) — all in episodes running between four and 10 minutes — that artistry or storytelling are baked into the Quibi mantra, which boils down to a variation on the classic Annie Hall punchline: The food is mediocre — and such small portions!
Quibi has sent critics between two and five episodes of the initial launch shows. In the spirit of the streamer itself, here are reactions in quick bites.
This culinary game show, hosted by a hilarious Tituss Burgess, is a pure evocation of the Quibi minimalist brand. The premise — chefs have to reconstruct mystery dishes that have been blasted at them via food cannon — is silly fun, the guests and contestants are in fine form and, at six minutes apiece, episodes have a perfect running time.
Directed by Marc Levin and executive produced by LeBron James, this look at the first academic year of James' experimental I Promise School for underperforming students in Akron, Ohio, sometimes feels like a commercial for King James and his academic altruism. But it's also hugely emotional and inspiring. With the focus on the teachers and students facing long achievement odds, this is one to watch if you aren't worried about a co-worker catching you crying.
Run This City
An unscripted look at the rise and fall of Jasiel Correia II, the youngest mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, Run This City was probably my favorite show in this bunch, examining small-town politics with a cast of colorful figures and a smart, twisty take on how to tell the story in nine-minute chunks.
Keke Palmer (Hustlers) and Joel Kim Booster are fine substitutes for original hosts Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy, and the expanded dating pool, featuring gay, bi and drag contestants in early episodes, makes this the Quibi vintage MTV remake that's worth watching.
Based on the Alex Morel novel, this plane-crash movie-in-chunks hasn't adapted its pace to the Quibi structure, which is a problem. But director Mark Pellington is one of the few artists to make aesthetic distinctions between the service's horizontal/vertical viewing orientations — one compositional, the other uncomfortably intimate — rather than just resorting to pan-and-scan. Plus, star Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is very good.
I happen to find Chrissy Teigen's social media presence reliably charming, but this jokey reality TV exercise in which she presides over flimsy small-claims court cases gets off to a bumpy start. Yes, John Legend and daughter Luna cameo.
Gone Mental With Lior
Celebrities like mentalists, too! OK. Next?
Murder House Flip
I love the premise of home renovation experts turning their attention to houses in which famous murders took place, but stars Mikel Welch and Joelle Uzyel lack the personality to make even short episodes engaging and the mixture of ghoulish and aspirational is never even close to realized.
At least host Chance the Rapper is having a good time. Otherwise, this remake of the seminal MTV series hosted by Ashton Kutcher suffers from limply imagined pranks perpetrated hastily on tepidly invested semi-celebrities. Will YouTube sensation Liza Koshy overcome the mortification of literally crashing a bat mitzvah? I promise you won't care.
Skrrt With Offset
Offset Gets Upstaged by His Friends might be a better title, as rapper and auto aficionado Offset makes for a negligible screen presence. One wishes that Quibi had just given shows to early guests Cardi B and Jay Leno instead.
Thanks a Million
Celebrities give money to people who inspire them; those people give some of that money to people who inspire them; hugs and mawkishness ensue. The opening episode, featuring executive producer Jennifer Lopez, might make you sniffle, but episodes with Kevin Hart and Nick Jonas were patience-testing even in their brevity.
When the Streetlights Go On
The least star-studded of four scripted Quibi launches, this '90s-set murder mystery nevertheless has some big names — Queen Latifah and Mark Duplass and Tony Hale support real leads Chosen Jacobs and Sophie Thatcher — but plays as an ultra-serious take on a campy Riverdale-style murder mystery. It might have worked as a feature, but three episodes lost my interest.
TOSS A COIN
Does a good job of saying "These are jobs in the music business that you might not have known existed" — lighting director, dance team captain, J Balvin's personal therapist. Doesn't do nearly as well telling you what these people do or why their lives are interesting.
Look, if you don't have Reese Witherspoon in a show, are you even competing in Peak TV anymore? Here, Witherspoon plays a version of Sir David Attenborough, lending empowerment subtext to pretty nature photography and at one point memorably gushing about female hyenas and their pseudo-penises. It’s slight, but informative.
Quibi's comedy about house renovators (reportedly inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines) is at least better than Murder House Flip, because stars Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte are likeable and funny. But it isn't really playing to the platform's strengths if, after three episodes, the show hasn't even fully established its premise.
One episode of comics Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni putting Twitter-friendly straight writers and comics through a series of challenges to determine who will be honorarily deemed "gay as fuck" was pretty fun. After three episodes, though, I was ready for Gayme Show! to shake up the formula a little. There's already a lot of sameness to the comic rhythms, as well as the different on-air personalities.
Seeing Will Arnett basically playing Talk Soup host, only with '80s pop culture with a Canadian slant, is a lot of fun. Still, even by "quick bites" standards, these five-minute segments are insubstantial and strangely focused.
Most Dangerous Game
This one seems to have it all. Christophe Waltz! A Hemsworth [Liam]! One of the most resilient, frequently recycled premises in fiction (see title)! It's completely watchable and the structure sometimes feels episodically effective, but it takes way too long for anybody to start actually hunting a Hemsworth.
Drag Race favorite Sasha Velour goes behind-the-scenes of her Brooklyn drag revue, introducing us to her cast and capping each episode with a lip-sync performance. It doesn't dig very deep and it's never revelatory, but the personalities, including Velour's, are easy to invest in.
Nicole Richie returns to her Simple Life semi-scripted roots in this show about her unlikely decision to become a family-friendly trap music artist. Richie is funny and the music videos that end each episode are good, but the "sketches" are oddly tedious.
Megan Rapinoe is a fairly wooden host, but these little snippets looking at budding athletic superstars — in sports as varied as basketball, snowboarding and women's boxing — have the feeling of solid SportsCenter profiles, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Ayo & Teo host this dance competition, which shines an interesting light on different regional dance styles and features obviously talented hoofers. Unfortunately, the dance-offs themselves aren't shot or edited with enough energy to capture all of the joy and technical expertise that clearly are at work here.
Shape of Pasta
Maybe your phone isn't the perfect vehicle for a show blending food porn and travel porn. But host Evan Funke's trip to Italy to learn about a variety of pasta shapes so obscure they're only used by a small circle of mostly female practitioners would be a perfect show to watch while waiting for your lunch to heat up in a workplace kitchen — if we ever have such things again.
You Ain't Got These
Lena Waithe's look at sneaker culture is one of Quibi's better "celebrities talk about things that amuse them" offerings — Skkrt With Offset is probably the worst — but it's actually interesting enough that each quick bite felt insufficient.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.