Quibi is a distant, Quibi-sized memory, a mostly bad idea that launched at the worst-possible time and quickly failed. But its shows, some of which were pretty great, live on, because Roku bought Quibi’s library.
That means these reality shows, including the reboot of Singled Out, the gay game show Gayme Show, and the hilariously absurd Dishmantled, plus doc series like the delightful Shape of Pasta, are now watchable for free. They’re streaming on the web and The Roku Channel app (which, confusingly, you don’t need a Roku to watch).
To this collection of Roku Originals, Roku also recently added some shows produced for Quibi that never actually premiered on Quibi, that’s how fast it went away. Squeaky Clean is one of those shows, and I highly recommend it.
Like Dishmantled, Squeaky Clean is a competition that’s comedy-forward, but Dishmantled was an image—food being fired from a cannon onto people—in search of a show, whereas Squeaky Clean is a more fully-formed concept.
That said, Squeaky Clean isn’t breaking new ground in its concept or format: three contestants, two rounds, one winner. There’s deep cleaning of hoards and tidying of useful items; it even calls the Quickfire round the “Quick Scrub.” But it’s doing all of that in seven incredibly efficient minutes.
I cannot over-emphasize how incredibly fast it is. In just over one minute, host Leslie Jordan introduces the first challenge, starts the clock, the contestants work, we get an interview segment with each of them introducing themselves, and then the challenge finishes. In less than 90 seconds! That same content can span several acts on a cable TV competition series, if not a full 30 minutes.
The two contestants who finish the Quick Scrub challenge first go on to the longer challenge, The Big Clean, where they have 45 minutes to clean a dirty space.
Those spaces—two identical sets, created on a soundstage—are creative, if not always realistic: a horrifying post-Thanksgiving Day kitchen with gravy splattered on all the cabinets and walls, a trashed hotel room with lipstick writing on the wall, a trashed backyard and hot tub empty except for pools of fetid water, a messy office, a car full of food garbage.
The degree of messiness and clutter varies, so there are different approaches to cleaning and organizing. Some spaces are easily tidied in 45 minutes; others remain filthy even after a deep clean. The contestants have access to water and an array of products—some of which get referred to by brand names, and others get turned into this show’s version of eye-rolling “rice cereal treat” generic descriptions.
There’s a guest judge each episode—Jamie Chung, Johnny Weir, Loni Love, and Kym Whitley all show up—who joins Leslie Jordan and permanent judge Sabrina Soto. She inspects the spaces with white gloves, and offers some useful cleaning tips: how to fold jeans, using rubbing alcohol to clean mirrors, what product would have worked better for a particular task.
All of that happens while the contestant is explaining how they cleaned and organized the space and answering the judges’ questions. It’s amazing how much happens at once. Squeaky Clean has basically disassembled a reality TV competition, thrown away the filler, and layered the remaining pieces on top of each other.
The judging comes during the clean, and there’s no deliberation, just Leslie Jordan summarizing the judges’ decision, which is based on cleanliness, organization, and creativity. The winner gets $5,000, and everything’s done in less time that it takes for Will Arnett to get through his opening bit on Lego Masters.
And there’s still time for a generous amount of of playfulness! “You ready for some good, clean fun?” Leslie Jordan asks at the beginning, and there is a lot of fun. He could have also added the word “gay,” because there’s some unabashedly queer moments, especially jokes from guest judges like Johnny Weir and Leslie himself. (“I was always kind of attracted to Mr. Clean. I just hoped that he was Mr. Dirty,” he says in one episode. And it’s worth watching the show just for the look on Leslie Jordan’s face when he says, “They call this Quick Scrub ‘Tops ‘n Bottoms’.”)
Squeaky Clean’s 10 episodes absolutely could have been 43 or 44 minutes each, but I suspect I wouldn’t have been as enamored with it as I am now.
How many hour-long shows should have actually been 7-minute shows? I’m not saying Top Chef or The Great British Baking Show would work better that way, but some competitions would have absolutely made more sense. Streaming platforms are thankfully moving us away from artificial time constraints, though quite a few streaming shows, reality TV included, have used that freedom to become overstuffed. I’d love to see more unscripted TV embrace shorter formats.
Some Quibi shows were just TV shows hacked into pieces, like Murder House Flip, which was just a half-hour HGTV divided in three. But Squeaky Clean is the best-possible use of the format: a reality TV competition that’s purged all of the unnecessary, often boring filler, and left a bright, playful, just-serious enough competition behind.
Squeaky Clean is a super-fun and super-efficient reality TV competition. B+
What works for me:
- Leslie Jordan’s banter, and the playfulness he and the other judges bring
- Realistic challenges
- The show’s speed and efficiency
What could be better:
- Perhaps making some of the spaces actually cleanable in 45 minutes, which isn’t always the case, which means some people win despite having still-filthy spaces