Look, we’ve all been there. You activate screen time alerts on your phone to stop yourself from staring at it for over four hours a day, but when the notification pops up you ignore it. Why shouldn’t you spend so much time on your phone? It’s a tiny box filled with games to play with your friends, your workout videos on a personalized app and your dance inspo on TikTok. Now, that tiny box can even hold a mini TV network, called Quibi.
Quibi is a streaming platform designed for your phone. You can watch episodes vertically or in horizontal view, called “turnstyle.” When you put the phone on its side, you can see more of the frame. In fact, it’s best to watch Quibi in “turnstyle” mode because the camera is generally way too close to the actors and little of the background is visible when the phone is vertical.
There are over 175 shows on the app right now ranging from reality TV to comedy to drama. Quibi’s star-studded cast includes Jennifer Lopez in “Thanks a Million,” Kiefer Sutherland in “The Fugitive,” Idris Elba in car-racing show “Elba Vs. Block” and Chance the Rapper in a revival of the old MTV prank show “Punk’d.” The app truly has it all, and with a 90-day free trial you have plenty of time to explore all the shows.
The episodes are all 10 minutes long — designed to capture our increasingly short attention spans — and are updated every day, making them the perfect length to watch on your morning commute or between classes. Unfortunately for Quibi, the app launched at a time when most people are stuck at home. To counteract the unfortunate timing, the company is now fast-tracking a feature that would allow people to watch episodes on their big-screen TVs, an update counterintuitive to their “TV on your phone” idea, but something that might help their bottom line.
Also, unfortunately for Quibi, few of the shows themselves are truly worth watching every day. In “Most Dangerous Game,” one of Quibi’s “movies in chapters” starring Liam Hemsworth, a man desperate for money enters a game set up by a crazy guy in which he will be hunted like an animal for sport. It’s a gripping premise, and I clicked on the second episode because I wanted to see what would happen next. Sadly, the acting, scripting and filming do not coalesce into a good show. Further down the line, the increasingly creative plot is almost enough to carry the program, but it wins zero points for cinematic elements.
It’s not just the dramas on the app that lack allure. “Thanks a Million” is a reality show about the power of kindness. A celebrity (Jennifer Lopez in this case) gives $100,000 to someone who has had a lasting effect on their life, and that person has to give half of the money to someone who has impacted them, and the chain of kindness continues. It should have left me crying — instead, I was left wondering why this 10-minute segment was so oddly formatted. Celebrity prank show “Punk’d” is similarly lacking; the actors are funny and the pranks are amusing, but they belong on a social media app rather than an awkward streaming service.
Some of the shows are fun enough to watch on their own. “Chrissy’s Court” stars Twitter queen Chrissy Teigen as a judge, giving sentences on hilariously trivial cases. Teigen’s winning personality makes the program worth watching, although everyone else in the cast almost unmakes it — except for her celebrity husband, John Legend, of course, who makes appearances to showcase his incredible voice. “Can’t you let me have one thing to myself?” Chrissy complains in the first episode.
The design of the app should make the viewer feel that they are getting Chrissy Teigen and all the other shows to themselves. Watching characters interact on your phone usually feels up close and personal, but the stilted writing and acting combined with the awkward way they are filmed is off-putting. Something about the shows on Quibi feels as if you are not getting them to yourself. Instead, you are peering into a zoomed-in video of a high school play shot on an iPhone 11. The laughs are fake, the serious scenes are laughable and the editing is way overdone.
The triviality of the shows on Quibi is not entirely due to the program lengths, or even the vertical view. If you’re looking for a good short series, check out Omeleto TV. No one minds that TikTok or IGTV are vertical, because the most successful social media stars know how to work the aspect ratio in their favor. Quibi’s downfall is that many of their shows are worse versions of ones you can find on regular TV, with only a few being truly fit for this type of app.
If you’re looking to try Quibi now and don’t want to risk watching bad shows, definitely give “Most Dangerous Game” a pass; even Liam Hemsworth is not worth the cheesy lines. “Dummy” with Anna Kendrick is in fact too dumb to be entertaining. Quibi has been accused of plagiarizing art and graphics from Everything is Terrible! in their show “Memory Hole,” but they would have done better to not make the show in the first place; everything is terrible. The app really succeeds with its reality and game shows, which is where they have hit on premises that fit in the 10-minute slot and that you can’t find on regular TV. “Gayme Night” pits straight men against each other to see who the better queer ally is, and the results are genuinely funny. For fans of Judge Judy, “Chrissy’s Court” is a spin that stays funny right up until the 10-minute mark. “I Promise,” about LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio that caters to at-risk youth, is both moving and gripping.
There is hope for Quibi. In an era in which cable is increasingly unpopular and more people have mobile phones than toilets, redirecting the cable experience to a cell phone might be the next big thing. At $4.99 a month, Quibi might be a better deal than cable for those who still watch it only to see what’s new on TV. But for the app to take off, the shows really need to improve. The real draw of Quibi is the convenience; if we were watching it while commuting or between classes, we might care less about the cinematic qualities. So, who knows; once we start leaving the house again, we might just turn to a quick 10-minute episode on Quibi to pass the time.