Rip your TV off the wall and flush it down the toilet, because you won’t be needing it anymore — Quibi is finally here. The much-anticipated (by some) mobile-only short-form streaming app has launched, with 50 shows all under 10 minutes an episode from big names like Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Chrissy Teigen, and Reese Witherspoon.
Much to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s chagrin, you may still be asking, “What’s a Quibi?” Well, the good news is, Quibi’s generous free trial means you have 90 days to find out (or a whole year, if you’re a certain tier of T-Mobile subscriber).
If you choose to sign up, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the choices. That’s where we come in. TV Guide watched all of Quibi’s scripted (called “Movies in Chapters”) and unscripted offerings available at launch to help you determine whether you should Stream It or Skip It. (Quibi also has a slew of daily news-based shows that were not provided to critics in advance).
Here’s the good, the bad, and the Quibi.
But first, some notes
– Quibi released the first three episodes of Movie in Chapters and Unscripted Series and Docs at launch. New episodes will then be released daily on weekdays. With a few exceptions, those first three episodes were made available for review. Quibi has mostly not disclosed how many episodes any of its shows will be, probably because they want you to use the app every day instead of waiting until a show is released in full to watch it all at once.
– The shows are available to watch vertically or horizontally, and what you see will automatically adjust based on how you hold your phone. Horizontally is always better. The vertical orientation crops off too much of the picture. It’s like a pan-and-scan VHS, if you remember that much-maligned format. It is generally only wide enough to show one person in a frame, which is not how movies or TV are supposed to look. It’s hard to imagine anyone who made these shows being happy with the vertical orientation. Some shows that have less visual information don’t look as bad vertically, but none of them look better.
All the Shows Coming to Quibi
– The Movies in Chapters are for the most part exactly that. The chapters don’t feel like TV episodes, they feel like movie scenes chopped up. Unfortunately, Quibi filmmakers have taken the wrong lesson from the short format. For the most part, the Movies in Chapters don’t work, because the chapters lack the beginning, middle, and end you expect from something in an episodic format. Rather than using the short episodic format to make their movies more concise, filmmakers have used it to expand the individual scenes within the movies. The scenes usually feel they’re being dragged out to fill time, and would be half as long if they were in an actual movie.
– The diversity of the range of shows on offer is pretty staggering; Quibi has something for everyone except young children.
OK, with all that out of the way, let’s really get to it.
Movies in Chapters
This comedy stars SNL legend Will Forte and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson as delusional aspiring TV house-flippers who make a fateful decision that leads to them being forced to renovate homes for drug cartel members. The first three episodes aren’t especially funny, but they’re all setup, and Forte and Olson are both so good at melting down that it seems likely that this will get better as their situation gets worse. Stream It.
Most Dangerous Game
In an attempt to earn money he desperately needs, Liam Hemsworth agrees to be hunted by assassins in this sub-direct-to-VOD-quality thriller. It’s shockingly bad. I don’t have time to list every way this show is a failure, so here are the big ones: The performances are inert. The usually riveting two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is boring somehow. The pacing and structure are baffling. Two minutes of one nine-minute episode are devoted to watching Hemsworth go for a run. During the second episode, you will check if you accidentally watched the episodes out of order. You didn’t. The game doesn’t start until the very end of the fourth episode. You almost certainly won’t make it that far. Skip It.
Pacing problems plague this DOA thriller where Sophie Turner and Corey Hawkins try to survive in the wilderness after their plane crashes. The first two episodes are completely extraneous. The five episodes sent for review could have been rewritten into a pretty good first half-hour of a movie, but as they are, they’re bloated with filler. It’s not as bad as Most Dangerous Game, but it’s still pretty bad. Skip It.
When the Streetlights Go On
This dark YA-ish drama is the only Movie in Chapters that fully works, because it’s structured more like a serialized TV show than a movie and doesn’t have the others’ pacing problems. It’s about the bizarre murder of a high school student and teacher and its impact on their suburban community, told through the eyes of the murdered girl’s sister and neighbor, who found the bodies. It’s part murder mystery, part coming-of-age story, and part 1995 period piece, with a great cast featuring Chosen Jacobs, Sophie Thatcher, Mark Duplass, Tony Hale, and Queen Latifah. It moves like a Netflix drama series with the fat trimmed off. Stream It.
Unscripted and Docs
&MUSIC profiles the behind-the-scenes people who help make the world’s biggest music stars who they are, like dubstep artist Martin Garrix’s lighting designer and reggaeton superstar J Balvin’s spiritual advisor. Unless you’re a diehard fan of the artist’s music, you’ll struggle to care. Skip It.
Chrissy Teigen presides over a legally binding small claims court in this hilarious riff on courtroom shows like Judge Judy. It’s exactly the right vibe Quibi should be going for: Playful, low-stakes, personality-driven, and can be watched while you’re brushing your teeth. Stream It.
This deranged cooking competition show is another perfect Quibi vibe. Two blindfolded chefs get cannon-blasted in the face with a mystery food, and then have to cook what they think it is. Whoever gets closest wins. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess hosts, and every episode he screams the title in an increasingly unhinged way. It’s incredibly silly and fun. Stream It.
Reese Witherspoon hosts and narrates this nature series about the animal kingdom’s most powerful females, from ant queens to cheetahs. It’s from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, so if you love nature documentaries, that’s all you need to know to know it’s going to be good. It has the astounding nature footage you’d expect. Stream It.
Comedians Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni host this tongue-in-cheek game show where two straight contestants are paired with a celebrity “life partner” as they compete in queer-themed challenges for the title of “Queen of the Straights.” Another goofy, fun, vibey one. Stream It.
Gone Mental with Lior
Mentalist Lior Suchard can read celebrities’ minds, like some sort of Mindfreak. His psychic tricks are probably pretty impressive in person, but I guess you have to be there. They’re very boring in Quibi form. Skip It.
I Promise is a riveting docuseries featuring an in-depth, warts-and-all look at the first academic year inside the I Promise School, a public school for at-risk elementary school kids founded and funded by LeBron James’ foundation in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. It’s equal parts inspiring and devastating, following the the day-to-day trials and triumphs of the school’s students and staff members. This is the best show on Quibi. (I know I just said Quibi is at its best when it’s silly and light, but a great show is a great show). Stream It.
Will Arnett hosts this I Love the ’80s-esque series that takes a snarkily nostalgic look at Canadian pop cultural artifacts. While it’s kind of fun to learn about all these weird old Canadian videos, there are a lot of YouTube channels that do this kind of thing better. This material would be better served as a video essay with Arnett’s voiceover rather than cutting back to him in the studio for corny jokes every few seconds. Skip It.
Murder House Flip
Murder House Flip combines true crime and home renovation like chocolate and peanut butter. Hosts Mikel Welch and Joelle Uzyel go to houses where horrible murders took place and try to make them nice enough to forget about what happened there. Can a new swing set for the homeowner’s grandchildren cover up the fact that underneath it, police once unearthed a torso? Murder House Flip is a perfect concept expertly executed. Stream It.
If you’re a fan of drag performer Sasha Velour, this hagiographic behind-the-scenes documentary that follows her as she adapts her acclaimed bar-based drag revue into a full-on stage production will blow you away. If you’re not, you probably won’t be persuaded. Skip It.
Nicole Richie plays her hip-hop alter ego “Nikki Fre$h” in this pitch-perfect parody of clueless rich ladies who think they’re cool because they like wellness and hip-hop (cough cough Gwyneth Paltrow cough cough). It’s hard to describe exactly what it is — it’s sort of a sitcom, but it’s also maybe a prank show, because she interacts with real, unsuspecting people in character. It’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm in a T-shirt that says “Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe.” Every episode ends with a music video for one of Nikki Fre$h’s terrible songs. Whatever this show is, it’s really funny. Stream It.
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe hosts this well-made sports docuseries profiling a different young athlete each episode. It’s nothing particularly new or exciting, but it hits its inspiring beats adequately. Stream It.
Chance the Rapper hosts this revival of the celebrity prank show, but Chance doesn’t have Ashton Kutcher’s trickster spirit. Ashton Kutcher could convince you that a mediocre prank was the funniest thing in the world. You’ll be saying “Where’s Ashton?” Skip It.
Run This City
Run This City is a fascinating political docuseries about Jasiel Correia II, the very young (now former) mayor of Fall River, Mass. He’s a larger-than-life character in a small town with an especially erratic political culture, and his rise and fall is dramatic: Elected mayor at age 23, Correia is now out of office after being indicted by the FBI on corruption charges. This is the kind of story that could be adapted into premium cable miniseries someday. Stream It.
This dance competition is hosted by hip-hop dance sensations Ayo & Teo as they travel around the country and get local dance crews to compete in head-to-head face-offs. It’s a lively and colorful competition that makes up in energy what it lacks in polish. (I wish the episodes were longer and showed more of the crews figuring out their choreography for the dance-off). Stream It.
Shape of Pasta
Chef Evan Funke takes pasta very seriously. In this food series, he travels to Italy to learn about rare and forgotten pasta shapes in order to keep them alive, and approaches his task with the intensity of a religious fanatic. It’s a little too much. Skip It.
A chaotic revival of the ’90s MTV dating game show for the social media age. It’s hosted by Keke Palmer and Joel Kim Booster and the twist is that the main dater is linked to the pool of potential partners through social media. It’s pretty funny and over-the-top, with “physical challenges” like cockroach kissing and dildo racing. Stream It.
Skrrt with Offset
Offset — one-third of the rap group Migos and Cardi B’s husband — stars in this ramshackle car show. Each of the first three episodes has a different format, tone, and level of commitment from Offset. In one, Jay Leno shows him around his famous garage. In another, he learns how to be a Hollywood stunt driver with Lil Yachty. In another, he and Cardi host a toy car race for kids with cancer. It’s intermittently charming, but mostly it’s kind of a mess. Skip It.
Thanks A Million
This self-congratulatory series features celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, and Karlie Kloss breaking their hands patting themselves on the back by giving $100,000 to someone special to them, and then that person has to pay it forward, giving $50,000 to someone important to them, and so on. This kind of conspicuous philanthropy is untrustworthy. Skip It.
You Ain’t Got These
Lena Waithe’s docuseries about sneaker culture won’t have any new information for people who are already sneakerheads, but it does a great job of articulating what sneakers — and the obsessive culture around them — mean to people who love them. If you’re not a sneakerhead, it may make you want to buy your first pair of Jordans. Stream It.