After months of Quibi building up its roster with countless stars and absurdist premises, the streaming service of “quick bites” has finally arrived. The platform features abbreviated episodes only available on phones in order to cater to people with precious little time in between commitments — and yes, the timing of this launch during a nationwide quarantine is, to say the least, ironic. Nevertheless, Quibi is here and ready to entertain you, 6-10 minutes at a time, with a slate of strange, ambitious, and downright ridiculous shows. (Or, as it’s calling some of its scripted content, “movies in chapters” — which, sure.)
Fifty shows are available to stream on the app right now, featuring game shows, comedies and dramas with talent including everyone from “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner, to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Sasha Velour, to Chrissy Teigen and Queen Latifah. Ahead of the April 6 launch, Variety’s chief TV critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke took a look at some of the offerings to give you an idea of what might be in store should you decide to add another streaming service to your current roster.
She is the show and the show is her; whether one enjoys or merely tolerates “Chrissy’s Court” will depend on one’s feelings about Chrissy Teigen’s sense of humor. Here, she settles small-claims cases based on whimsy and her personal feel for the claimants, but it’s really just a framework for Teigen to do some bits. There’s not enough here outside of Teigen’s sensibility and amply-documented personal life (husband John Legend makes a cameo, of course) to really call it a show. And the cases — decided as they are on the basis of who’s more likable — feel more than anything else like wheel-spinning between Teigen bons mots. If this was what they wanted, why didn’t Quibi just give her a talk show? — Daniel D’Addario
While just about every entry on this list sounds like a “30 Rock” joke come to life, none comes more perilously close than “Dishmantled,” a show in which contestants have to try and recreate a dish after having it blasted at their faces via an explosive food cannon. (Tempting the collapse of the singularity even further, “Dishmantled” is also hosted by former “30 Rock” guest star Tituss Burgess.) It is, as you can probably tell from the description, deeply stupid. But Burgess is charming as ever, and the show’s general vibe of “like Netflix’s ‘Nailed It,’ but even more absurd” works fine in 6 minute spurts — but it probably wouldn’t if it were given a single minute longer. — Caroline Framke
One of the stronger (and funnier) scripted Quibi series of those we got to see in advance, “Flipped” casts Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson as egomaniacal aspiring house flippers who stumble into deep trouble when their new renovation project includes a drywall full of cash. “Jann” and “Cricket” are roles that Forte and Olson, both seasoned pros at playing off-kilter narcissists, could play in their sleep, so it’s no surprise that their joint deranged energy keeps “Flipped” moving at a steady clip. If anything, the show’s good enough that it’s frustrating to have it served up in seven-minute bite form. The first three episodes feel like a traditional comedy pilot chopped up to fit the Quibi brief; it takes until the end of the third for “Flipped” to reveal what it might actually be about going forward. But hey, you could still do worse than spending spurts of time with comedians like Forte and Olson (and none other than Andy Garcia waiting in the wings to join, though who knows how many more Quick Bites it’ll take to get there.) — C.F.
“The Most Dangerous Game”
Choppy in a manner that generates more annoyance than suspense, this show adapts the concept of humans hunting humans for our own dystopian age: Liam Hemsworth is pushed to take part, as prey, because of crushing debt and medical bills he cannot pay. For a show about racing for one’s life, this one takes a perversely long time (yes, even at Quick Bite length) to get where it’s going: We experience, in flashback, Hemsworth’s degradation at the hands of an unfeeling economy — but even this potentially vital story feels sapped of energy, snap, or anything new to say about an oft-told story. Four episodes in, the chase has not yet begun; it’s hard to imagine who will keep watching. Christoph Waltz, as the broker who brings Hemsworth into the game, is really just playing Christoph Waltz, which provides pleasure enough. — D.D.
“Murder House Flipped”
The strangest thing about this truly chaotic and dark idea for a series is just how meek it is in practice. Two designers, Joelle Uzyel and Mikel Welch, work together to rehab a Sacramento house locally known as the site of a serial killer’s crimes; over the show’s first three episodes, they joke lightly as they work to fix up an ill-kept house whose problems only begin with its history. This confusion as to what the show’s really about — it’s just a refurbishment of a home that needs it practically, with murder as an element lurking at the show’s margins — makes for a show that’s, if anything, too bland. HGTV, the master of the form, leans, more and more lately, into the inherent drama of its hosts’ and subjects’ lives; perhaps the title and concept here are so garish that such a thing would have been impossible, but there’s not quite enough for us to chew on as it stands. — D.D.
This series follows Sasha Velour, a past winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” through the process of pulling together a massive performance showcasing a broad swath of drag talent. The stage show is legitimately impressive — we see bits of it in each episode, as well as a spotlight on whichever artist is getting a solo — but the show can’t quite crack its protagonist. Sasha, who won “Drag Race” on her skillset and ideas without making much drama, remains elusive at this running time; we see what she can do but not, really, what motivates her. Maybe mystique is a valuable trait for a performer, but it’s not hard to crave a bit more of an artist this manifestly talented. — D.D.
Nicole Richie, from “The Simple Life” to “Great News” and her everyday persona, has made a career of being self-aware enough to send up her own celebrity and those of the well-meaning (if more than a little clueless) ones surrounding her. She’s well-primed, therefore, to front a show like “Nikki Fre$h,” a semi-scripted series in which she plays a version of herself who’s exactly the oblivious wellness guru diva some may already believe her to be, and also, an aspiring trap artist who raps for “teachers, rabbis, and Virgos.” Richie’s comic timing comes in handy here, especially when interacting with real people who aren’t sure whether or not they’re in on the joke. Even when it feels like a relic from YouTube circa 2016 (we were so young then), a 6-minute shot of “Nikki Fre$h” feels like exactly the kind of silly entertainment that a platform like Quibi needs. — C.F.
In its first iteration, MTV’s “Punk’d” and host Ashton Kutcher locked into a bonkers rhythm that, even when pranking celebrities, managed to maintain some veneer of scrappiness. Quibi’s slick update, starring host Chance the Rapper, doesn’t bother pretending like it has anything other than a stack of cash at its disposal, staging elaborate scenes of chaos whether it’s pulling the wool over the eyes of a clueless civilian or Megan Thee Stallion. But best “Punk’d” episodes only need a single simple premise to work, and it’s bizarre to watch Chance the Rapper — who’s honed a public persona of “Supportive Dad” — cackling in the control room at people’s misery. Even with each episode running no more than 7 minutes long, this “Punk’d” still comes close to overstaying its welcome. — C.F.
MTV’s irreverent dating show comes back to Quibi with a fresh coat of paint, a refreshingly queer-friendly perspective and a simple, but effective twist. Instead of casting a wide net for singles who just want to be on camera, the unwitting contestants have to whittle down a group of people they already have familiarity with through some social media connection, which makes for some genuine moments of surprise when they’re finally revealed. With a charismatic new host in “Hustlers” star Keke Palmer (who always finds a way to make the most of her screen time) and an enthusiastic sidekick in comedian Joel Kim Booster, Quibi’s “Singled Out” is a surprisingly fun take on a tried and true formula that doesn’t need more than the 6 or so minutes each episode gets. — C.F.
Based on Alex Morel’s book of the same name, “Survive” starts out with Jane (Sophie Turner) leaving her long-term care facility resolved to end her life on the plane home. The first couple episodes feel like a sketched version of “Girl Interrupted” as narrated by the “Fight Club” narrator; no part of their wry nihilism feels particularly necessary or new. In the third episode, however, “Survive” takes a sharp turn into disaster as Jane finds herself stranded in the wilderness with nothing but a fellow unlucky traveler (Corey Hawkins) and her weakening resolve to lean on. If “Survive” were a traditional TV show, all this would have happened in the first episode. On Quibi, it’s broken up into digestible pieces that feel wildly different from one chapter to the next. Turner and Hawkins are good with clunky material, and the cinematography impressive (from what you can appreciate of it on a tiny phone screen), but “Survive” nevertheless ends up wandering amidst its own toxic clichés. — C.F.
“Thanks a Million”
This celebrity-centric show ditches its stars after the first few minutes: The episode’s designated famous person kicks off a “chain” by giving $100,000 to a person in their lives, who then must give $50,000 of that money to a person who will give away $25,000, thus ending the journey. The stories are sweetly told and the project is well-meant, but the level of over-production here — beginning with the degree to which civilians, ostensibly surprised, seem coached and casually familiar with the unorthodox format — saps some of the emotion. And even viewers determined not to view this show through a political lens may find the central visual metaphor — a giant pile of money, handed from Jennifer Lopez or Nick Jonas to an un-famous supplicant — pretty gross. — D.D.
“When the Streetlights Go On”
This drama, more than the other scripted entries on this list, feels the most like it’s actually being presented “in chapters” as Quibi promises. Its 1995 era story of a small town reeling from a vicious murder doesn’t bother dodging the usual tropes of its setup, from its pretty victim (Kristine Froseth, really closing in on the market of such a character between this and “Looking for Alaska”), to her “black sheep” sister (Sophie Thatcher), to the boy (Chosen Jacobs) obsessed with them both and solving the case. (He is joined, as is murder mystery tradition, by a skeptical police officer trying to connect the dots, though this time she’s played by none other than Queen Latifah.) But as directed by Rebecca Thomas (“Stranger Things”), “When the Streetlights Go On” evokes a YA mystery vibe that really works in small servings like this, making it feel as if you’re staying up blazing through book chapters to get to the good stuff. — C.F.