No one could have envisioned we’d be such a captive audience for the launch of the Quibi streaming content service, which debuts Monday in the United States and Canada.
Self-described as “the first entertainment platform designed specifically for your phone” and featuring dozens of scripted and unscripted shows in daily episodes, all 10 minutes or less, Quibi is offering a 90-day free trial.
I’ve sampled a number of their higher profile offerings — a dizzying array of mostly top-tier content with familiar names such as Liam Hemsworth, Christoph Waltz, Queen Latifah, Sophie Turner and Chance the Rapper.
The sleek and pulse-quickening “Most Dangerous Game” (★★★1⁄2) is a dystopian, Detroit-set “Twilight Zone”-type thriller with an urban twist on “The Hunger Games.” Liam Hemsworth is a destitute real estate entrepreneur with a pregnant wife and very little time — he’s been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The great Christoph Waltz is in his oily comfort zone as a man who describes himself as “a facilitator … I make possible man’s innate desire to be challenged.”
What that means is there are some very wealthy people who will pay big money for the opportunity to hunt, to literally hunt, a designated human being within a 24-hour time period. For every hour the target survives, a tidy sum is deposited into his bank account. If he’s killed — well, at least he’s not leaving his family broke.
In a brilliantly conceived scene, Hemsworth meets up with Waltz in a bustling breakfast diner, formally agrees to the challenge — and is told the clock starts NOW, and all five hunters are in that very diner.
“When the Streetlights Go On” (★★★1⁄2) is set the in town of Colfax, Illinois, in the summer of 1995, when the close-knit community is rocked by the murders of a beloved, hipster high school teacher (Mark Duplass) and the most popular girl in school, Chrissy (Nicola Peltz). Their bodies were discovered in the woods by the show’s narrator, a 15-year-old aspiring journalist (Chosen Jacobs).
Sophie Thatcher is a standout as Chrissy’s younger sister, a social outcast who had nothing in common with Chrissy and was constantly at odds with her, but is still gravely wounded by her death. A scene in which Becky visits her late sister’s room as the Beach Boys’ “The Warmth of the Sun” rises on the soundtrack is memorably haunting.
In the uneven but intermittently startling and compelling “Survive” (★★★), Sophie Turner from “Game of Thrones” turns in passionate, empathetic work as Jane, a troubled young woman with a family history of suicides. Like her grandmother and her father before her, Jane can no longer fend off the crushing waves of depression closing in on her. On a flight home, she goes into the bathroom and pours out a lethal mixture of prescription pills — and that’s when a massive storm strikes the plane and it plummets to the ground in a fiery crash that kills nearly everyone on board.
Among the unscripted Quibi offerings, there’s a potential breakout hit in the bat-bleep crazy, borderline tasteless and I must admit utterly addictive “Murder House Flip” (★★★1⁄2), which is so nutty I had to check, double-check and triple-check to make sure it was a reality show and not a spot-on parody.
You know all those home-renovation shows like “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” and “Flip or Flop” and “Love It or List It”? Well, “Murder House Flip” is done in the same format — but as the title tells us, the homes in question are the onetime sites of, well, MURDER.
In the first few episodes, we meet Barbara and Tom, a senior citizen couple who have lived for the last 30 years in a Victorian house in Sacramento once owned by one Dorothea Puente, a little old lady who boarded residents in the home, poisoned and killed seven of them — and buried their bodies in the yard.
Barbara and Tom lead designers Mike Welch and Joelle Uzyel on a tour of the home, including the master bedroom, where the killings took place. Barbara helpfully notes, “This is the original floor …”
We get the usual home-renovations such as graphics saying “THREE DAYS TO REVEAL,” time-lapse construction sequences and of course the big reveal — and we’re also shown newsreel footage of investigators digging up bodies from the yard back in the 1980s. But hey, the designers are going to put up a swing set for the grandkids on the little patch of yard where the seventh body was buried, so that ought to drive out the evil spirits!
Full disclosure: I was never a fan of MTV’s “Punk’d,” with Ashton Kutcher cackling behind the scenes as various individuals (first randomly selected victims, then celebrities) were subjected to elaborate, sometimes rather mean-spirited pranks. In the “Punk’d” reboot (★★), the ubiquitous and always likable Chance the Rapper takes on the head prankster role. Episode One’s victim is 20-year-old singer/actress/dancer Sabrina Carpenter, who comes home to find a rodent control team swarming over the house. The chief rodent guy tells a crying Sabrina, “You’ve got a really big rat infestation in there,” and informs her the furniture is contaminated by rats and rat droppings.
How is that in the least bit clever or innovative or funny?
But hey. Humor is subjective. The “Punk’d” formula has been a success for years, so no doubt some will find the new version hilarious. For me, it was the rare and inconsequential clunker in a largely shining debut for Quibi.