Short Attention Span Theater: A Quick Look At Quibi's Launch Titles

Apr 6, 2020
Originally published on April 7, 2020 5:00 am

The streaming service Quibi — short for "quick bites" — calls itself "the first entertainment platform designed specifically for your phone."

Translation: They're doling out their shows in 7-to-10-minute chunks — er, episodes — at a rate of one per day. Quick bites, get it? Perfect for the busy, distracted, on-the-go consumer! Too bad none of us are on-the-going anywhere these days.

Quibi divides its shows into three categories: Movies in Chapters (read: serialized narrative), Unscripted and Documentaries (read: episodic nonfiction) and Daily Essentials.

None of the "Daily Essentials" were available to screen before launch, but these will evidently focus on being topical — the latest in news, entertainment, fashion, etc. (Were we betting types, we'd say that Quibi's version of the podcast The Nod would be worth checking out.)

Quibi launches with 50 shows, and there's evidently 125 more on the way. After a free trial period, It'll cost you 4.99 a month with ads, and 7.99 a month without. This opening batch of shows is a decidedly mixed bag, but then, how could it not be?

Here are our picks from the shows that were screened for press.

Glen's Picks

I checked out the four Movies in Chapters that Quibi launched with, and while I can't Quibible (heh) with their production quality, I didn't love the experience of following a story in such a herky-jerky fashion. The issue, for me, was that the episodes didn't feel like satisfying, self-contained chapters — it just felt like I was watching a movie and kept getting interrupted. Also, pacing becomes a looming concern — in the show Survive, for example, the premise doesn't kick in until episode 4.

Of the four Movies in Chapters that Quibi launched with, I was most partial to Flipped, in which Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson play a couple of self-deluded jerks determined to become home-improvement television stars. It won't be to everyone's taste — Forte and Olson's characters are terrible people, and the show relishes demonstrating that — but I liked it well enough. (Arturo Castro shows up at the end of Episode 3, which bodes well.)

But for me, the shows that I most wanted to see more of fell into the Unscripted/Documentary category. Here they are.

Memory Hole

Host Will Arnett makes fun of cheesy '80s pop culture ephemera. That's it, that's the show, and it's great. From the Super Bowl Shuffle and its unholy offspring to the fiasco that was the opening celebration for Toronto's SkyDome, to Gymkata, smart writing and Arnett's gravel-voiced delivery ... deliver.

Gayme Show

Two straight men compete to be crowned "Honorarily Gay as F***" by a panel of queer and queer-adjacent judges. It shouldn't work — so why does it? Casting. Crucially, the contestants, judges and hosts all come from the New York/LA comedy scenes — the chemistry is friendly and funny, and the tone is spot on.

Dishmantled

Two blindfolded chefs don bodysuits and get blasted in the face — seriously, there are cannons involved — with a mystery entree, which they must then taste, guess and re-create in 30 minutes, while Tituss Burgess yells at them. It's just as dumb as it sounds, but it knows that, so it's ... a lot of fun?

The Sauce

Hosts Ayo and Teo travel from city to city pitting two dance crews against each other. Teams are given a song, three dance moves to execute and 30 minutes to choreograph. The dancing is impressive, but the show goes out of the way to unpack the technical skills on display.

NightGowns with Sasha Velour

Profiles one of the thinkiest, artiest queens out there as she puts together a drag revue featuring a diverse roster of divas and ... divos? Drag fans and process nerds, unite!

Linda's Picks

Note: I should say first that Glen's tour of Quibi was more thorough than mine. While he's watched everything they sent to press, I've dipped in and out a little more. But I did find some things I think are worth checking out. And, like Glen, I gravitated toward the documentary/reality stuff more than the narrative stuff.

Chrissy's Court

If you like your stakes low and your production values shaggy — in the fun way — you might get a kick out of Chrissy Teigen hosting her own courtroom show. With her mom as bailiff, she judges disputes that are goofy rather than ugly.

The Shape Of Pasta

The tone has a self-seriousness that makes it seem at first like it might be parody, which is an issue for a couple of Quibi shows. But this is actually a very earnest food show about ... well, lesser-known shapes of pasta, which chef Evan Funke travels to Italy to discover.

&Music

This series looks at fields that exist alongside music performance. The first episode, for instance, deals with how elaborate light shows are designed for live performances. If you're the kind of person who goes for "interesting job" stories, it might be up your alley.

Prodigy

Soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe is the host of Prodigy, which spotlights young athletes who might be the next big thing — like Jalen Green, the No. 1 high school basketball player in the country. It's an effort to do in-depth sports profiles one step before they usually happen, and to identify what it looks like as someone transitions from an ordinary good athlete to potentially A Big Deal.

The Most Dangerous Game

I don't think it would be fair to share impressions of this, my one narrative mention, without disclosing that the screener had, over a show intended to be watched on a phone/tablet, three different watermarks (stuff they splatter over the screen so you can't upload it to piracy sites), plus a running clock up in the corner. It's almost impossible to judge how immersive this Liam Hemsworth/Christoph Waltz series might be if not for that fact, but I will give a shot to just about anything Waltz is in, including this story in which he plays an rich weirdo who pays Hemsworth to go forth and be hunted for sport.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

A new streaming service is launching today. It's called Quibi, and it's designed specifically for you to watch on your phone. It's going to release shows once a day in seven-to-10-minute chunks. Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour checked it out.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: The shows that Quibi made available to the press before its launch fall into two categories - fiction, which Quibi calls Movies in Chapters, and nonfiction, which is basically game shows and documentaries. First up - Movies in Chapters. Liam Hemsworth plays a dying man who volunteers to be hunted for sport so he can leave his family millions of dollars in "Most Dangerous Game."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOST DANGEROUS GAME")

LIAM HEMSWORTH: (As Dodge) You'd want them to hunt me, like paintball?

WELDON: No, not like paintball. "When The Streetlights Go On" is an atmospheric thriller about a small town's seamy underbelly - you know, adultery, corruption, murder, overwritten voiceover.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHEN THE STREETLIGHTS GO ON")

CHOSEN JACOBS: (As Charlie Chambers) But the spark of youth and vitality that Chrissy exhibited so loudly and proudly in life was gone.

WELDON: In "Survive," "Game Of Thrones" Sophie Turner plays a suicidal woman forced to fight for her life when - well, don't watch that one on a plane, put it that way. And if you do watch it on your phone, just know that a lot of early scenes are so darkly lit, you won't see much but your own reflection on the screen. The standout here, though, is "Flipped," a biting comedy in which Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson play a couple of self-important jerks determined to become home improvement television stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FLIPPED")

WILL FORTE: (As Jann Melfi) Do you have your color palette yet?

KAITLIN OLSON: (As Cricket Melfi) Tiffany Connelly (ph) would say burnt sienna and custard.

FORTE: (As Jann Melfi) Hack.

OLSON: (As Cricket Melfi) But it's clearly sage - sage and tawny umber (ph).

WELDON: Quibi calls these Movies in Chapters, but these episodes don't play like satisfying self-contained chapters. They don't end. They just stop. Even if you wait a few days so you can binge a bunch at a time, they still feel disjointed, like you're watching a movie and keep getting interrupted, which is why Quibi's selection of unscripted and documentary shows is more successful. Here, for the most part, each episode stands alone and delivers, even if what it's delivering is pretty stupid.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISHMANTLED")

TITUSS BURGESS: Whoever makes a dish closest to what exploded on them wins $5,000.

WELDON: Yeah. You heard that right. On "Dishmantled," two blindfolded chefs stand in front of cannons that fire a mystery entree in their faces, which they must then taste, guess and recreate. It's just as dumb as it sounds - dumber even. But it knows that, and as a result, it's pretty fun. I mean, the food explodes in slow motion.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISHMANTLED")

BURGESS: Let's get dishmantled.

WELDON: That kind of silly self-awareness is the secret ingredient in a lot of Quibi's unscripted fare, like "Gayme Show." That's G-A-Y-M-E because it features two straight men in a competition to be crowned the most gay by a panel of queer and queer-adjacent judges.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAYME SHOW")

DAVE MIZZONI: Demi Lovato, everyone.

MATT ROGERS: Yes, Demi Lovato. Of course, Demi Lovato is the gay aloha.

MIZZONI: It means both hello and goodbye.

WELDON: It's light, frothy, clever and because its contestants, judges and hosts all come from the New York and LA comedy scenes, it's friendly and funny. There's more serious fare here, too, in the gorgeously shot travel and cooking series the "Shape Of Pasta." A chef visits tiny towns in Italy to learn about, well, it's right there in the title.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHAPE OF PASTA")

EVAN FUNKE: It's been said that there are hundreds of documented pasta shapes known to the world. But there are hundreds more that the world doesn't know.

WELDON: Reese Witherspoon narrates "Fierce Queens," a nature documentary series that focuses on the female half of the animal kingdom. The footage is spectacular. The script could use another pass.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FIERCE QUEENS")

REESE WITHERSPOON: Finally, all their hard graft and persistence has come good.

WELDON: Quibi launches today with 50 shows with 125 more on the way. The selections are a mixed bag. How could they not be? After the free trial period, it'll cost you $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 a month without - really? - ads on an eight-minute show. Of course, Quibi's business model was built for a world full of busy, distracted, on-the-go consumers. But these days, none of us are on the going anywhere. Glen Weldon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.