‘Thanks a Million’ Review: Quibi’s Charitable Chain of Giving Is Both Charming and Canned

     April 6, 2020

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If you were given $100,000 by a celebrity with the only stipulation being that you had to give $50,000 of it away to someone worthy, who would you choose? Your rabbi, your local bartender, a charitable organization that once helped you out when times got tough? That’s the premise of Jennifer Lopez‘s new Quibi series Thanks a Million, a “quick bite” pseudo-documentary that sees A-listers gifting “ordinary” people $50k with another $50k to give away; that charitable chain of giving continues with that secondary recipient then giving away $25k to someone else. It’s a great idea in theory, but how does it work out in reality, or at least Quibi’s version of reality?

Six episodes are currently available to stream at launch, including celebrities like Lopez, Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas, Kristen Bell, Aaron Rodgers, and Yara Shahidi; future episodes include Tracy MorganAnthony DavisKarlie Kloss, and Gabriel Igelsias. Now, it’s easy to be cynical about this whole thing: Presumably, the production team for Thanks a Million are the ones ponying up the dough to dole out, so it’s probably not even the celebrities’ cash to give. I’m presuming again that said celebrities have already taken care of the folks closest to them, so this idea came about to help some of those who may have been in the next circle of friends and influencers outside the closest one. If that’s the case, it makes sense that the celebrities are surprised when some of the gift recipients reveal hardships they hadn’t shared before to explain just how much this money means to them. There’s a bit of a disconnect between the celebrities and their chosen few, just as there’s a disconnect between the money and its source. But that doesn’t mean that Thanks a Million lacks some real life-changing potential.

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Image via Quibi

The first batch of episodes is a mixed bag. Lopez rewards a fan who struggles to raise a daughter with cerebral palsy and Hart rewards the hospital’s medical staff that literally saved his life, while Rodgers gifts his former life coach and Shahidi donates to the charitable foundation established by the parents of her late fellow actor Cameron Boyce. The interactions sometimes feel earnest but are most often a bit canned thanks to necessary setups from the “documentary” filmmakers.

There are some secondary gifts that feel very “LA” or “Hollywood”, which has the ironic feeling of restricting the gift-giving to a much smaller circle rather than using the money to reach more and more people out there. Some recipients feel like they’d be more positively impacted by receiving tens of thousands of dollars than others, so your mileage may vary on how you feel about that. But ultimately it’s up to those who receive the money to do with it what they please, and that makes for a strange combination of feel-good TV and a bit of eye-rolling at some of the decisions that are made. So while Thanks a Million may not reach as many people as it could in a financial way, hopefully the spirit of giving will catch on in a more meaningful one.

Rating: ★★★ Good

Here’s the official synopsis for Thanks a Million:

Big names. Big money. Big Giving. Celebrities kickstart a chain of kindness, each gifting $100,000 to an unsuspecting individual who have had a positive impact on their lives — with a catch. Watch as the “pay it forward” chain unfolds. New episodes every weekday.

Here are some of the episodes available today and what you can expect:

  • Jennifer Lopez starts the chain of kindness by celebrating an inspiring young fan and her mother.
  • Hospital staff helped Kevin Hart recover from a serious car accident. He’s back to return the favor — and to encourage the staff to do the same.
  • Nick Jonas surprises longtime fan and mental health awareness advocate Carla, who in turn repays the kindness with a visit to her old high school drama teacher.

Television