Quibi‘s choice to take large stories and cut them into smaller digestible bites offers a bright future for its documentary programming. The short subject approach makes for interesting twists and turns for narrative stories. Meanwhile, episodic stories cut the fat that holds back like-minded series. The genres within the documentary wing of Quibi are diverse in their approaches. “Fierce Queens” shines as a nature documentary narrated by Reese Witherspoon. “Prodigy” will satisfy sports fans but promises a future outside of anyone arena. “Run This City” provides political intrigue and mystery. Finally, “The Shape of Pasta” travels across Italy in search of unique and underseen varieties of our favorite foods.
While some television can transport audiences to another world, the best nature documentaries make our tangible world feel alien. “Fierce Queens,” narrated by Reese Witherspoon, looks at the animal kingdom through the ideas of females in each species. This makes “Fierce Queens” a specific and unique turn on one of television’s most reliable genres.
“Fierce Queens” covers three animals of note in its early episodes. Perhaps the most jarring episode comes in a colony of ants. Following a colony’s Queen brings us into an intense and unexpectedly savage world of conquest. The cinematography shines in this segment, using micro cameras to capture the extraordinary world.
Witherspoon’s narration adds an extra level of intrigue to the proceedings. Her tone and inflections are calming, yet never undersell the footage. Her script complements the visuals nicely. While “Fierce Queens” does not quite reach the highs of “Our Planet” or “Planet Earth,” it deserves attention as an exciting educational program.
Megan Rapinoe hosts the new series, “Prodigy,” focused on the next big stars in sports across the world. Utilizing human interest stories helps shine a light on athletes across the United States. While it’s relatively basic in its storytelling, the athletes profiled make for excellent subjects.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the series comes from its editing team. Each episode provides plenty of footage of their athletic prowess and their life away from sports. At the same time, the pacing builds to an emotional climax. The first two episodes focus on current and future superstars Jalen Green and Chantel Navarro. Green projects as the best prospect in the 2021 NBA draft, Navarro has already won 5 National Championships and seems destined for Olympic glory. Both have fascinating families backing up their quest for greatness. “Prodigy” thrives because of these small touches and will serve as a public introduction for future household names.
“Run This City”
Political documentaries continue to rise in popularity as the 2020 election nears. “Run This City” follows the rise of young politician Jasiel Correi. Correi rose to power quickly, joining City Council in Fall River, Massachusetts, at the age of 23. By 25, Correi became mayor. Young and exciting, Correi could have been pegged as the next bright star of politics in the Northeast. However, before long, rumors of corruption show cracks in the facade.
Directed by Brent Hodge, “Run This City” succeeds because of its incredible access. Not only does Hodge assemble experts on Fall River politics, but it gets interviews with many of its most prominent politicians. Hodge features Correi extensively in the series, often using one-on-one interviews to bring his opinions on town policy into the light. However, rather than let Correi receive the last word, other politicians appear to raise their concerns. The best interviews come in those who have known Correi the longest, suggesting he has secrets to hide.
“Run This City” earns relevancy in its approach to the political machine. Local politics can be the most impactful in our day-to-day life, yet they rarely receive the spotlight. While the local problems within Fall River might feel unique, they can happen anywhere. The political intricacies are surprising, and the story makes for a fun and important ride.
“Shape of Pasta”
Food journalism brings together the world in strange ways. It can highlight the incredible differences between cultures, while simultaneously bringing us together. In America, pasta has taken on a unique level of significance as a worldly food. Chef Evan Funke devoted his life to bringing unique styles and shapes of pasta to California’s Venice Beach. In “The Shape of Pasta,” he invites us to discover secret and underseen varieties in Italy as we tour the countryside.
“The Shape of Pasta” features fun narration from Funke. His unintentional ethnographic study looks to save unique pasta shapes from disappearing, and Funke takes this job seriously. His exceedingly serious take on the grain-based food can lead to some unexpected comedy. Still, his passion comes through in every episode. Given food’s ability to unite and bring people together, this specific approach to the food industry helps “The Shape of Pasta” stand out.
Sadly, there is little about “The Shape of Pasta” that makes the series stand out from other food travel shows. While Funke can be enjoyable, he does not bring the same energy or excitement as David Chang or Anthony Bourdain. Funke represents an encyclopedic knowledge but does not quite have the screen presence of his peers. While “Shape of Pasta” makes for a relaxing and comforting series, it will mainly appeal to those who already love food programs.