Roku streams Quibi shows free now, calling them Roku Originals. Here are 6 we actually like
Quibi was a disaster, but that doesn't mean all its shows were too. Now rebranded Roku Originals, they include these six worth watching.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Quibi was a dumpster fire. But some Quibi shows were (ducks head)... actually good. Now a first batch of erstwhile Quibi shows -- renamed as Roku Originals -- are free to stream on The Roku Channel, a free, ad-supported video service operated by streaming device maker Roku. The channel is available on Roku's own gadgets, but can also be watched on the web and on apps for Apple iPhones and iPads, Android devices, Amazon Fire TV and some Samsung connected TVs.
Quibi flamed out before it even reached its first anniversary, but its failure wasn't necessarily because of its shows. Quibi launched in early April 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns arrived, crushing the mobile-only streaming service's strategy of hooking in viewers on the go.
"It's not often that you have a completely free ... service with talent [like] this," Sweta Patel, vice president of growth marketing for Roku, said in an interview last week. The first shows available on The Roku Channel feature stars like Chrissy Teigen, Kevin Hart, Anna Kendrick, Joe Jonas, Liam Hemsworth, Darren Criss and Chance the Rapper.
The Quibi shows' second lives as Roku Originals have some added benefits. They're free, for one. They're also released in binge-able bunches, rather than having to wait for daily drops of the next episode as Quibi put them out. Many of Quibi's scripted shows weren't helped by being short-form "chapters" of 10 minutes of less, but now that all episodes of each title are available at once, you can treat them almost like watching a short film or (in some cases) a feature-length movie.
Roku also dramatically widens the potential audience for the shows. Roku has nearly 54 million active accounts, and the company estimates that The Roku Channel is watched in households representing more than 70 million people. Quibi never disclosed its peak number of subscribers, but its app had fewer than 6 million downloads during its hottest period when it offered extended free trials after launch.
Documentary Blackballed premiered on Quibi last year right as The Last Dance, the wildly popular docu-series about Michael Jordan, was concluding. And Blackballed, in a way, is its spiritual sequel. But where Jordan was rigorously apolitical and The Last Dance chronicles his career up through the late '90s, Blackballed puts invaluable context around the next generation in the NBA, diving into a racial flashpoint that in many ways spurred players across the league to set aside the Jordan-era norm of leaving activism out of it.
Blackballed's story centers on the Los Angeles Clippers in April 2014. The team, long a laughingstock, was in the midst of breathtaking hot streak in its playoff series against the powerhouse Golden State Warriors. Then a recording surfaced of Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments about Black people. Like the rest of the NBA, the Clippers is composed predominantly of Black players.
Blackballed has notes of classic sports documentary, chronicling the pulse-quickening drama of the Clippers run. But that drama only amplifies the stakes the Clippers' players and coaches faced as they grapple with their response to the owner's comments, especially in context with his racist past.
"People want to know the response to an evil action almost as much as they care about the evil action. The people who are persecuted shouldn't have to answer. But that's not the way it is," Doc Rivers, the Clippers head coach at the time, says in the series' opening lines.
Blackballed does a masterful job showing the reasons the Clippers shouldn't have to answer for Sterling's racism and the risks they faced in responding -- and just how and why they did. Making this program accessible to more people is one of the best things about Roku reviving the Quibi catalog.
--Joan E. Solsman
Dummy is a high-concept comedy, which takes a mind-warping meta framework and decorates it with gross-out humor, foul language, stoner high jinks and feminist subversion. Also, yes, Dummy is also the one about the talking sex doll.
Anna Kendrick -- as in, Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick -- plays Cody Heller, a struggling screenwriter who is girlfriend to television writer/producer Dan Harmon. The show was created by real-life Cody Heller, a screenwriter who is partner to real-life writer/producer Dan Harmon. Dummy is a fictionalization sprung from Heller's brain after she learned about her real boyfriend's actual sex doll.
But as wildly fictionalized as it is, Dummy makes it bizarrely difficult to sort out fact and invention. It explicitly addresses the concept that this animate sex doll is a manifestation of Cody's psyche. The sex doll -- hey, she has a name, OK? It's Barbara -- is the unfiltered, unvarnished inner voice that is your cruelest critic and absolute worst influence. But more than that, the script is brutally honest in mining Heller's own insecurities and intimate quirks. It also creates dialogue between Cody and Barbara that feels unusually authentic between two female friends, all while lampooning the silliest aspects of a particular strain of woke feminism.
With that rare degree of honesty underpinning Dummy's outlandish plot, you oddly question things like "Wait, did the real Cody and her talking sex doll get held up at gunpoint in a liquor store?"
As Cody and Barbara navigate their evolving relationship, Dummy mines laugh-out-loud punchlines and real feeling out of the awkward process of figuring out when to ignore the evil voice inside your head and when to make nice with it.
--Joan E. Solsman
If Quibi came into existence only to revive Reno 911!, it was worth it. I watched this hilarious show when it came out in the early 2000s and fell madly in love with its outrageous, experimental, self-deprecating humor. Reno 911! is a parody of cop shows with a Monty Python level of comedy genius. It gave its actors room to roll around in their characters and made sure they never learned their lesson. The Quibi revival fast-forwarded the crew into pre-COVID 2020 with all its quirks and irony.
Some of the best storylines led the deputies into current events they simply couldn't manage. My favorites: Trudy's attempts at TikTok fame, a concealed-carry fashion show that goes awry, the deputies' determination to shoot a white man so they seem less racist, their efforts to protect Bernie Sander's body-double, a presentation to schoolkids about Indigenous People's Day and first responders' reaction to a marijuana shop catching fire.
When I reviewed Quibi back in April, the only show that actually made me want to keep watching was Flipped, a Funny or Die comedy starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson as a terrible couple trying to become hosts of an HGTV-esque home-flipping show, only to end up working with drug cartels instead.
Flipped would have been right at home as a 30-minute show on a network like Comedy Central or Fox, with some smart jokes and excellent performances from Forte and Olson. Their wacky-but-cutting energy makes them the perfect deluded pair aspiring to become the next Chip and Joanna Gaines. But the show's "movie in chapters" format -- 11 episodes that are all 10 minutes or less, basically Quibi's whole deal -- remains more of a hindrance than a help here. Still, Forte and Olson lean into the absurdity so hard that it's still a pretty good time.
--Alison DeNisco Rayome
Not all of Quibi's shows are available on The Roku Channel yet. Roku has started with a batch of 30 titles Thursday, and it plans to release 75 total in the next year. The company hasn't specified the timing or even what else is coming. Here are some we hope are coming soon.
50 States of Fright
50 States of Fright was the only thing on Quibi to bask in the shining light of social virality. These are the Golden Arm episodes of the 50 States anthology horror series, directed by Sam Raimi, who launched his film career with darkly funny cult horror classic The Evil Dead. A viral tweet accurately summed it up as the show in which "actual Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan plays a woman obsessed with her golden arm."
Indeed, Brosnahan plays Heather, a wife whose arm gets amputated in a freak logging accident involving a lot of blood and screaming. The only thing that helps Heather feel whole again is a beautifully ornate pure-gold prosthetic arm forged by her husband. Sadly, Heather's devotion to her golden arm leads her to the grave, killed by pulmonary gold disease -- an illness that is absolutely real in the world of this narrative but totally made up in ours. On her deathbed, she insists that her husband bury her with her beloved golden arm, a vow he fulfills ... until he's desperate for money. That leads to a grave-robbing scene with amazing squishy noises. In the end, the husband faces a paranormal menace, cowering in fear by literally hiding under a blanket.
The show is dead serious during every ludicrous moment. The Golden Arm is campy horror genius, and nobody will ever convince me otherwise.
--Joan E. Solsman
Don't Look Deeper
The theme of Quibi's sci-fi series Don't Look Deeper is a good one: You're in a world with medical, artificial intelligence and other technology advanced enough to raise the question: What does it mean to be human? It's a concept that's been explored in other notable and smart sci-fi stories, including Ex Machina and Blade Runner, and that's what Don't Look Deeper is, too: smart.
Set "15 minutes into the future," it appears at first to be a story about a teen struggling with self-identity while living an ordinary life in the central California town of Modesto. We meet high school student Aisha (played by Helena Howard), a biracial young woman living with her dad (Don Cheadle), in a therapy session with her analyst. But pretty quickly, we -- and Aisha -- learn she's not human but in fact an incredibly advanced artificial human. She tries to explain what she's learned to her analyst (Emily Mortimer), who nods empathetically before wiping Aisha's memory and rebooting her. Except the reboot doesn't take, Aisha remembers she's not like everyone else and knows the people who created her are trying to salvage their experiment.
The pacing, the acting and the underlying questions about where technology can -- and shouldn't -- take us made the first season thought-provoking and easy to watch. And the show benefited from the storytelling guidance of director Catherine Hardwicke, who knows how to tell stories featuring teens. She co-wrote directed the 2003 teen drama Thirteen and in 2008 turned the best-selling, teen vampire love story Twilight into a movie blockbuster.
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