Sometimes less is more. But not for Quibi.
The new venture is yet another streaming service entering an increasingly crowded field of competitors desperately trying to turn your eyeballs to their content when you light up a screen. Quibi boasts big stars (Chrissy Teigen! Sophie Turner! Chance the Rapper!), a mobile-only experience and short-form (less than 10 minutes) storytelling as its big hook to try to reel in viewers. It's a perfect experience for quick hits of comedy or drama on the go, its promotional materials assure us.
Quibi banks on viewers' capacity to get just one more streaming service into their monthly budget, hoping that its bite-sized nuggets of content might squeeze in next to Netflix and Disney Plus. However, all the A-list celebrities and vertical viewing in the world can't change the fundamental problem with Quibi: The content is just not that good.
In addition to some truly terrible timing problems (few people are looking for videos to watch on a commute or in line at Starbucks amid the coronavirus pandemic), Quibi simply doesn't create entertainment better than any other service does. Its short-form storytelling is not nearly as entertaining as free, user-generated content on TikTok. Its "movies in chapters" aren't better than Netflix movies that you pause when you need a break. Its mobile-optimized videos aren't better than what has been on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook for months.
In essence, there is no real reason for Quibi to exist, yet exist it does, all for the price of $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 without. Disney Plus is only $6.99 a month.
What you get for that price is a few dozen titles, be they "movies in chapters" (a single narrative story divided into 10-minute chunks) or short-form series, scripted and unscripted. For fans of Chrissy Teigen and "Judge Judy," you can watch "Chrissy's Court," where the approachable celeb arbitrates minor disputes, such as which Lizzo sweatshirt would have been a better birthday present. "Game of Thrones" devotees get Sophie Turner as a suicidal young woman who has to stay alive in the wilderness after a plane crash in "Survive." Food show lovers get chef Evan Funke talking about the shape of pasta in, well, "The Shape of Pasta."
There are nuggets of good stories in Quibi's offerings, but one can't help but wonder if nearly every series would have been improved by debuting in a traditional format. "Most Dangerous Game" is a modern take on a classic human hunting story, this time starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz. It's a fun B action movie, but the momentum grinds to a screeching halt every time each "chapter" of the movie ends. Three episodes in, all that was provided to critics ahead of time, no human hunting has happened at all. It knocks the wind right out of what was a fun little story.
On the comedy side of things, things aren't much better, even though it feels like comedy should thrive here. Humor has long been at its best in short segments, whether "Saturday Night Live" sketches or YouTube videos. Yet there are only a few predictable and muted laughs to be had in "Flipped," starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, about two dumb dreamers who want a home renovation show and get mixed up with a drug cartel. If you like inanity and Teigen's schtick, there's something to her "Judy" knockoff, with her mom as her bailiff, although her "cases" are so low-takes they verge on dullness.
Quibi's episodes are available to watch on your phone both in horizontal and vertical aspect ratios, ready for an on-the-go viewer to watch however they like to hold their fun. However, when most of the population is going nowhere, this innovation falls distinctly flat. Though the content was filmed with a vertical aspect ratio in mind, the horizontal view is still better across the board. For really innovative vertical storytelling, try Snapchat's shows.
In the middle of a crisis, when many Americans are shrinking their lives down to what really matters, Quibi is so very extraneous. Americans have content and information coming at them from all angles, be it news about the coronavirus pandemic, movies and series from other streaming services, memes, Zoom calls or even, dare I say it, a book or two. It's good to know that in a world of too much TV, there is an addition to the pile that is completely skippable.
Quibi is so quick, you'll never even know it was here.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Quibi streaming service review: Don't bother with these shorts