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Quibi’s shows are fun, familiar, and a little forgettable

The weirdest new streaming service could actually stand to be a little bit weirder

Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

It’s far too easy to make fun of Quibi. That’s the first problem. You can start with the name: an overly cute mashup of “quick bites.” It’s easy to say but difficult to attach meaning to — hence a bizarre Super Bowl ad campaign dedicated to explaining it. It’s Netflix, but only for your phone and mostly for those idle moments that are long enough to be felt, yet brief enough that you wouldn’t turn to anything but your phone. You know: waiting in lines, pausing to sip a coffee, sitting in a car while someone runs into a store to grab something. That’s Quibi’s second problem: it was created for a world that doesn’t really exist anymore, one put on hold by a pandemic.

This makes Quibi a harder sell. TV to watch while you’re doing something else doesn’t seem very appealing when no one really has anything going on. However, the contrary can also be true: we’re all staring at our phones anyway, so what’s another reason to do it some more? As of today, there are 24 reasons, each Quibi show delivered in installments of 10 minutes or less, each launch show with the first three episodes ready to stream. There are 72 snacks in search of a meal.

The content — normally a crass word for art but an apt one for Quibi — runs the gamut, with no real ethos beyond putting recognizable faces in front of consumers in a way many haven’t really seen before. There’s a Punk’d revival starring Chance the Rapper, a series called Skrrt where Offset is really into cars and car stunts, a remake of The Most Dangerous Game starring Liam Hemsworth, and Memory Hole, a truly bizarre show where Will Arnett stands in a studio and tells you about cringey moments in pop culture in less time than it takes to watch the YouTube clip yourself.

(Disclosure: Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Quibi to produce a Polygon Daily Essential, and there have been early talks about a Verge show.)

Quibi shows are designed to play equally well no matter how you hold your phone; almost every one is shot in a way that works in both landscape and vertical orientations. I checked this, incessantly, with every show I watched. There’s something mind-boggling about it, the way Quibi tries to have things literally both ways. It works well enough, but there are strange side effects. In scripted shows, the dual-composition means there can only really be one important thing in a shot at a time, and that can make a serious drama feel shallow. In unscripted shows, this adds a layer of uncanniness, as slick network production clashes with a visual composition that’s thoroughly associated with influencers and lo-fi meme makers. You can, ironically, gauge how good a Quibi show is by how well it plays in vertical orientation.

The majority of Quibi’s programming is the sort of stuff you can find on regular TV, just broken up into smaller pieces. Murder House Flip is a reality show in the vein of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in seven-minute chunks. The Most Dangerous Game feels like a USA drama, delivered one plot development at a time. Punk’d actually was a TV show long before Quibi, but someone figured it might play better if you didn’t have to spend 30 minutes with it. (They were right.)

Quibi’s best shows are the ones that feel most like they could only happen on Quibi. There’s not a lot of that in the launch lineup, but perhaps the best example is Chrissy’s Court, a Judge Judy-style courtroom show in which Chrissy Teigen is a courtroom judge mediating exclusively petty disputes, like who got someone a better Lizzo-themed sweater. It’s the perfect Quibi show — like a TikTok that got a little out of hand, but it ends just before it stops being funny.

Another, Gayme Show, features comedians Matt Rogers and Dave Mizzoni as hosts in a competition. In every episode, two different straight men will compete to see who is the better queer ally. Again, it’s a bit that’s perfectly pitched for the platform. It’s savvy and effective, with stunts loud enough to hold your attention and talent deft enough to keep it. (It also might be the most genuinely funny show on Quibi so far.)

Documentaries also fare pretty well on Quibi. The standout is I Promise, about LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, which serves at-risk children with an approach that’s equal parts social work and education. Compelling, frank, and moving, each eight-minute installment absolutely flies by.

Still, there’s a frivolousness to Quibi that none of its programming can seem to shake because the platform was built for frivolity. I could put on a Quibi show and keep up with it just fine while writing a grocery list, chopping garlic, or brushing my teeth and only glancing at it. Once, I almost put on a Quibi show while watching something else on my TV.

For this reason, Quibi’s best point of comparison is podcasts, not streaming TV. It’s a medium for filling space that you probably already had filled with something else, but for some reason, you got it in your head that you should be finishing something in that time. It exists in a nebulous space between the steady dopamine rush of TikTok’s constant supply of novelty and the chill, lackadaisical time-sink of Twitch. Boredom is the constant, and it’s most often resolved by habit. This then, is the platform’s biggest ask: can you change your habits to accommodate it?

Because Quibi is designed to be habitual. New episodes are scheduled to drop every day, and new shows will premiere “every single Monday,” per Quibi. It’s a steady stream of quick bites coming from an endless bag of treats. Even in a world shut down by circumstance, Quibi is an interesting idea, one that wants us to use our phones the way we already do, like fidget spinners with Wi-Fi or a smoke break we can take anywhere. But that’s the third problem: no one remembers a snack. They remember a really good dinner.