With TV production on hold and most film releases pushed back, the well of new content for us to consume while cooped up at home has started to dry up a bit. Some people are using the time to catch up on a long backlist or rewatch old faves (I’m in the middle of a Star Trek binge myself). And then there are those of us who have fallen down a YouTube hole, looking up videos of the things we miss while in quarantine. Or maybe we just let the algorithm point us toward channels we’d normally never seek out on our own. These videos can be weird, quirky and extremely niche — and we’ve asked the Engadget team to tell us all about their faves.
— Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor
The brilliance of Lindsay Ellis
When I say that I don’t care for musicals, JRR Tolkien flicks or Disney movies, I don’t mean in the way that jerks do when they performatively pretend they’ve never heard of Kim Kardashian. I’ve seen musicals, at least two Lord of The Rings films and plenty of Disney movies. They’re just not something that I seek out in my day-to-day life and have no interest or engagement in.
Over the past month, I’ve sat and watched about 10 hours’ worth of material covering, uh, Tolkien, musicals and Disney movies. That includes a 90-minute documentary about the Hobbit trilogy, about five hours on Andrew Lloyd Webber and several more on Disney cartoons. If you’d told me shortly before lockdown that I’d be burning so much time on this stuff, I’d have laughed in your face.
The unifying factor is, of course, Lindsay Ellis, the YouTube filmmaker and critic who makes all these topics engaging for the disinterested. I always feel that the best thing a journalist can do is make you care about things you’d normally never take an interest in. And Ellis is brilliant at taking a topic that I’d consider dull and pulling me in for a ridiculous amount of time. Not to mention that Ellis is the sort of funny and smart that keeps you around for hours on end.
If you’re looking for an easy entry point, her scathing essay on Netflix’s Will Smith vehicle Bright is a good place to start, as is her nine-part examination of Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Her piece on Mel Brooks and the ethics of satire is a phenomenal rebuttal to the edgelords who say Blazing Saddles couldn’t be made today. And unlike a lot of film YouTubers who pad out their running time, there’s little fat on Ellis’ videos, which usually end below the hour mark.
In short, Lindsay Ellis is great, and you could do worse than binging all of her stuff.
— Daniel Cooper, Senior Editor
How to drink, Cowboy Bebop style
I’ve been watching a lot of clips about making cocktails from a channel called How to Drink, thanks to a video about the drinks of Cowboy Bebop. I imagine it landed on my recommended feed thanks to my love of watching clips about Cowboy Bebop creator Shinichiro Watanabe’s work, from videos that analyze his masterpieces to ones featuring the music of some of his frequent collaborators. However, it turns out drinks from Cowboy Bebop are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to How to Drink’s nerd cred. The channel has an entire playlist devoted to pop culture cocktails, including obvious cultural touchpoints like Star Wars and Harry Potter alongside more gaming-focused fare such as Skyrim. If you can get past the cringey intros, the videos can be both entertaining and educational. I haven’t tried making any of the drinks yet, as I’m more of a beer and wine guy, but it’s also because it’s hard to get certain ingredients during quarantine.
— Igor Bonifacic, Contributing Writer
Writing-implement love with JetPens
I’ve always preferred to use a notebook and pen when keeping track of work tasks. It’s less efficient than using an app like Evernote, but there’s something satisfying about physically crossing things off a list. For a long time my go-to combo was a Field Notes notebook and a Sakura Gelly Roll pen, but then JetPens’ YouTube channel showed up in my feed. Two things keep me checking back each week for new stationery demos and lists from the online store. First, it’s an easy way to find out about Japanese writing tools that I’ve never heard of: Pens, highlighters and other supplies are rarely expensive, so stocking up scratches my shopaholic itch without spending much.
Second, the videos are oddly hypnotic. With the immaculate handwriting demos, soothing music and laid-back voice-overs, I can’t stop watching. Some of my favorite purchases so far include the Yamamoto Ro-Biki notebook, Pilot FriXion pens and Kuretake Zig dot markers. JetPens’ videos have also helped me find some art supplies I didn’t know about. The Tombow Mono Zero eraser has a tiny tip that helps me to precisely remove mistakes while the Sun-Star Kadomaro Corner Cutter lets me round off the edges of my finished watercolor paintings.
— Marc DeAngelis, Contributing Writer
The history of pro wrestling
I can’t tell if it’s because it’s literally the only “sports entertainment” still running right now or because Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring just came back for a second season, but I have been on a wrestling kick lately. Not necessarily present day wrestling though. I started watching in the late ’80s, and I remember WCW Saturday Night being the very first show I put on when my family got cable in 1993. Since I don’t have a WWE Network subscription, I turned to YouTube to scratch my itch for some wrestling history, not only of the industry but also the wrestlers and the twists and turns their careers took over the years.
Since it was created about a year ago, the Wrestling Bios channel has put out at least two videos per week. Releases vary in length but not in depth, as wrestlers with longer careers like the Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and Bret “the Hitman” Hart have been getting the multiple video treatment, with each focusing on a specific era or year of their wrestling tenure. I knew nothing about Hulk Hogan’s stint in the AWA, but now I know he entered the organization because the first time he was with the WWF, he was fired for his participation in Rocky III. Yeah.
One of the things that makes Wrestling Bios compelling is that it doesn’t just go into the standard Wikipedia description of a subject; instead, we learn the stories behind the gimmicks, dark matches that never made it to television, behind-the-scenes decisions and even some what-if scenarios that almost happened. For instance, did you know that Hunter Hearst Helmsley (HHH to most) was slated to win the King of the Ring ’97 tournament and get a title push, but because of the Kliq Curtain Call (where Scott Hall and Kevin Nash left the WWF for WCW), HHH was instead forced to lose match after match for an entire year? Or that WCW’s dancing machine Disco Inferno was all set to move on to the WWF in 1997 as Honky Tonk Man’s new protégé until WCW last minute signed him to a new deal?
The channel sometimes switches focus to non-wrestlers that heavily influenced the business, like Eric Bischoff, “Mean” Gene Okerlund and longtime in-ring announcer Howard Finkel (who recently passed away). We also started seeing videos on wrestling video games from the past and whether or not they hold up today (the NES ones don’t). In other words, there’s hours of content to get lost in here. I’ve spent at least half a day watching it, with breaks for tea and snacks. Don’t judge me.
— Ian Levenstein, Database Editor
Richard Bertinet’s White Bread Masterclass
Richard Bertinet is a Brittany-born baker who came to the UK several decades ago to teach the gospel of proper ~French~ bread making. He filmed this video in partnership with bougie supermarket Waitrose, showing how to bake a basic tin loaf and a fougasse. The video is not only what sparked my desire to learn how to make bread but also the most relaxing thing ever.
It’s the epitome of competency porn, footage of someone who is so skilled that they can make their job look easy. (Bertinet’s wet technique is not for the fainthearted, and it took me about 10 goes before I’d nailed it, so be warned.) In these turbulent times it’s just nice to watch someone do their job and do it well, confidently and with jokes along the way. If I ever feel overwhelmed, I just put this on to calm down, because Richard Bertinet makes everything feel OK. It’s going to be OK.
Oh, and if you do choose to make a fougasse, don’t add any herbs and other nonsense, and eat it straight out of the oven with lashings of salty butter. It’s the best pick-me-up you could ask for.
— Daniel Cooper, again
Much like curling and hockey, golf is a ubiquitous sport in small Canadian towns, so I’ve always been an addict. I took my passion for it to France, but all courses are shut down right now due to the lockdown, or le confinement, as they appropriately call it here. So what’s a golf nut to do? Watch other people play on YouTube, of course!
Channels dedicated to casual golf play have sprung up on YouTube over the past few years, led by Rick Shiels and Peter Finch in the UK or Golfholics and Erik Anders Lang stateside. My new favorite, however, is the on-course vlog channel from world long-drive champion Kyle Berkshire. It just started a few weeks ago but already has 17,000 subscribers.
On other blogs, I can relax and watch the hosts play on lush courses around the world. But Berkshire’s channel has a different vibe. For one thing, he has a much more rock ‘n’ roll look, plays by himself and actually carries a Trackman: a $19,000 golf launch monitor.
Long drivers are known to be wild, so Berkshire vlogs with a regular-sized driver (rather than his much longer competition driver) to stay in control. Still, he hits the ball anywhere between 320 and 417 yards, with club head speeds of 140MPH and ball speeds of 200MPH and over (hence the Trackman). By comparison, the best PGA tour players “only” swing at around 120MPH. He hits the rest of his clubs equally far, occasionally smashing his 9 iron 200 yards, for instance.
While the production quality is still a bit rustic, Berkshire’s commentary is honest and entertaining. He cranks the volume on good shots off the tee (“Sound up!”), which ricochet around the course like rifle shots. As much as he plays up his power game, he’s equally frank about his weaknesses -- often bemoaning poor putting and wedge shots.
So why do I like the channel? For one thing, it’s entertaining to watch someone transform a long golf course into a “pitch and putt.” Most of all, it’s a way for me to vicariously play during the lockdown — but as some kind of superhero rather than my puny self. Sound up!
— Steve Dent, Associate Editor
The wild world of MREs
I couldn’t tell you how I happened upon this. It’s definitely not related to anything I’d normally search. Perhaps YouTube’s recommendation algorithm knows me better than I know myself. But I’ve gotten completely sucked into the Steve1989MREInfo YouTube channel during quarantine.
The premise of this channel is pretty simple: Steve acquires military rations, or meals ready to eat (MREs), unboxes them and gives a thorough review of the packaging, food items and utility of the contents. Seems simple enough and boring, right? Sure. But there are a couple of fascinating details that pulled me in.
It’s interesting to see how different militaries around the world solve the problem of keeping soldiers fed and supplied out in the field. What kind of food and survival items Lithuania finds essential might be vastly different from China, for example. And a lot of the modern food contents are far more decadent than you (or at least I) would have expected. But the thing that really drew me in is that some of the rations he acquires are decades old. And he still tries them! Like the time he tasted beef from the turn of the 20th century. Or the other one where he chowed down on a chocolate chip cookie from 1951.
So if that sounds interesting to you, join me and the 1.61 million other subscribers in going down the Steve1989MREInfo rabbit hole. Pro tip: Don’t miss the comments section.
— Jordan Brown, Product Manager
James Hoffmann reviews a bad espresso machine
James Hoffmann is a coffee snob. An award-winning, book-writing, successful, professional coffee snob at that. I’m currently working my way through his channel, in which he reviews both coffee and coffee-adjacent technology. I don’t know why I’m enjoying the reviews as much as I am, since I’m not a coffee drinker at all. But especially in his gadget reviews, you learn so much about why and how these things work the way they should.
In this clip, the very upper middle-class Hoffmann can barely conceal his disdain for the discount supermarket coffeemaker he’s testing. Thankfully, he offers up a clear and thorough examination of the machine’s faults, explaining why it’s such a piece of trash. As with all of these things, it’s pleasing to be led down into a rabbit hole by an expert who knows what they’re talking about and can show you their passion in their own beautiful way.
— Daniel Cooper, once more into the breach
Hate watching YouTube video game channels
Right now, my wife and I are quarantined with an insane two-year-old. (No, seriously, this child is certifiable.) When he finally goes to bed, we don't have the energy or attention span for any "serious" entertainment. I am not reading War and Peace or getting around to watching The Sopranos. We're sticking mostly to YouTube. Once we're finished catching up on Bon Appétit together and my wife goes off to bed, I end up doing something that may seem very strange to those who know me: I watch hours of video game history and trivia clips, like Did You Know Gaming?, Angry Video Game Nerd, Gaming Historian and Game Theory.
Here's the thing though: I don't subscribe to any of these channels. I don't play a lot of video games. (I've turned on my PS4 exactly twice in the past four months, and one of those times was to make sure a power surge didn't kill it.) Honestly, there are some channels where I actively hate the host(s), and I still end up watching them. Why do I queue up 14 videos about SNK fighting games from Top Hat Gaming Man before I doze off to sleep? Can't tell you. Why do I feel so compelled to watch 15 minutes of useless trivia about the Dreamcast, which I've never even played nonetheless owned? No clue.
All I know is that this is the new normal for me, apparently. I sit and keep tapping on whatever nonsense gaming video is recommended to me by YouTube's algorithm. Then I watch until my brain decides I've poisoned it enough, shuts down and I drift off to sleep.
— Terrence O’Brien, Managing Editor
Baba yetu, yetu uliye
No, you spent two hours comparing various live versions of the Civilization IV theme “Baba Yetu,” even though you’ve never played a Civ game in your life. It was totally not me. Nope. (But if I did spend two hours doing such a thing, I would have decided that the 2016 performance by Angel City Chorale at Cadogan Hall was the best.)
— Kris Naudus