Read: Why the people behind Quibi are so confident
To call Quibi a brewing revolution isn’t right; it’s more like an attempted restoration. The bland hegemony of Viacoms and NBCs are exactly what social media and streaming video allowed consumers to escape in the 21st century. Network TV has long settled into structurally declining viewership as Netflix has pushed forward Hollywood’s most cynical ratings formats. Quibi represents an attempt to really commit to the theoretical next great leap for TV, one that streaming services have only nipped at: the meeting of quality and quickness. The one-hour drama and the half-hour sitcom are artifacts of fading formal constraints. If the masses could consume great TV episodes while standing in the Starbucks line—or now, in the time of social distancing, while waiting for the nightly pasta water to boil—why wouldn’t they?
That question shall remain unanswered, for there is no great TV on Quibi. After having spent a day and a half gorging on “quick bites,” I have zero shows to enthusiastically recommend. What I instead have is the sort of soul-deep burnout I haven’t felt since middle-school sick days spent on the couch with Regis Philbin. Take the all-quadrant pandering and formulas of old-school network TV, add in the messianism of a telethon, swirl in some Reddit-friendly raunch and crassness, and set it all to hyperspeed. Thus far, Quibi offers a vast wasteland perhaps even more waste-strewn than the one millions of viewers have fled in the past two decades.
Scrolling produces a simultaneous feeling of familiarity and extremity—a combo that feels like parody but isn’t. You have rebooted trash like Punk’d, in which Chance the Rapper maintains his tranquilized air even as he pulls off nightmarishly cruel pranks. You have new-school dares like Murder House Flip, in which a peppy duo of home designers spruce up the real-life sites of grisly crimes. In the thriller The Most Dangerous Game, Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz grimace through scenes that feel like they were created to illustrate the concept of “expository dialogue.” In Shape of Pasta, an American chef investigates obscure alternatives to fusilli with the sort of pious awe that makes one wonder if there’s MDMA in the marinara.
Celebrity mediocrity—a cultural constant even less cute than usual lately—is a huge problem for the platform. Big names might drive some sign-ups, but gawkers are unlikely to stick around when all their overexposed idols do is tweely narrate wildlife footage (Witherspoon’s Fierce Queens), shoot guns at bulletproof SUV windows (Skrrt With Offset), or do one-joke meta-commentary on their own careers (Nicole Richie’s mockumentary Nikki Fre$h). The drag queen Sasha Velour shows off her avant-garde cabaret in Nightgowns, but gauzy editing gives it—like so many Quibis—a distinct air of advertorial. At some point Jacobin will need to spend an entire issue unpacking the late-capitalist propaganda of Thanks a Million, in which celebrities give cash to their less-fortunate acquaintances. Each episode is essentially a supercut of Publishers Clearing House ambushes, with the emphasis on the giver’s goodness rather than the receiver’s need.