Because let’s face it, you can do better than CinemaSins
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
I’ll admit it—I have a guilty pleasure, and that’s YouTube video essays. I love in-depth, long-form deep-dives into previously unknown topics, or excruciating analyses of obscure media moments. I like having them on in the background as I do mundane tasks such cooking, cleaning, or putting a face on for the day.
With pop culture in mind, here are some of my favourite media critics on YouTube.
In terms of media critics, you can’t get much more iconic than Lindsay Ellis. Balancing humour with a vast wealth of knowledge and hard-hitting insight into modern film trends, Lindsay Ellis has become the gold standard of media analysis on YouTube. She has a few series on her channel worth looking into as well as the long-form video essays she’s become known for. Loose Canon examines common characters, archetypes, and events that show up in film and television from their origins to their modern iterations. The Whole Plate looks at film theory through the lens of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Last year, Ellis filmed a feature-length documentary in three parts on the fraught production of The Hobbit films and their lasting impact on the New Zealand film industry. No matter what you’re into, if you like film, television, and media, you’ll like Lindsay Ellis.
Personal favourite video: “Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera: A Video Essay”
Recommended starting point: “Is Beauty and the Beast About Stockholm Syndrome?”
Harry Brewis (known more commonly by his YouTube handle “H.Bomberguy”) covers a wide variety of topics on his eclectic channel. You can find anything from video game analysis to long, heartfelt essays about the magic of the VHS format, as well as videos about politics, marketing, H.P. Lovecraft, and even a half-hour video on “Loss.jpeg” from Ctrl+Alt+Del—all delivered with intensely screwball humour. Notably, Brewis hosted a 60-hour Donkey Kong 64 charity livestream on Twitch in January to raise money for Mermaids, a UK charity that supports transgender youth. The livestream ended up raising over $347,000 for the charity and attracted the attention and support of not only fellow YouTubers, but some notable public figures as well—including US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who dropped into the livestream to reminisce about her experience with the Nintendo 64 system as a child.
Personal favourite video: “Sherlock is Garbage, and Here’s Why”
Recommended starting point: “Why Braid Is Great”
Unlike the other creators on this list so far, La’Ron Readus focuses less on long-form video essays and instead has a steady output of film reviews, trailer reactions, and media analyses. My favourite series on his channel is “Today’s Lesson,” where Readus will pick a point of discussion to do with a trending topic or a current pop culture controversy and quickly dissect it. Readus is great for people who might want a more thorough and informed examination of their media but are intimidated by feature-length YouTube videos. Readus is also a published author, with a seven-part young adult superhero novel series available for purchase on Amazon titled, appropriately, The Hero Series. Readus is an incredible critic with a hefty backlog of videos covering an impressive range of media topics—and with a weekly upload schedule, you’re not likely to be left wanting for content.
Personal favourite video: “Black Panther: Was Killmonger Right? | Readus 101”
Recommended starting point: “The Lion King (2019): 2D vs 3D | Readus 101”
Folding Ideas/Dan Olson
Dan Olson began his online media review show Folding Ideas—which analyzed trends in games, TV, and films in 10 to 20-minute bites—in 2011. Though all the episodes of Folding Ideas are available on his channel of the same name, his content has certainly expanded since the official show’s end in 2014, evolving into a mix of off-the-cuff film review vlogs and longer video essays. Last year, Olson even filmed a three-part series doing a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the Fifty Shades of Grey films that serves as a fascinating insight into the art of adaptation on the whole. Olson has a dry, self-aware delivery and a personable demeanour that sort of makes every video feel like you’re grabbing a beer with a cool film studies TA who’s as annoyed about the pretentious hipsters in your class as you are.
Personal favourite video: “The Art of Storytelling and The Book of Henry”
Recommended starting point: “Everyone Batman Kills in BvS (and why it matters)”
Jenny Nicholson is an extremely entertaining YouTuber who delivers insightful analysis that’s almost disguised by her deadpan sarcasm and unpolished video production style. Her videos include reviews of recent pop culture “event” films such as the recent Star Wars movies and the ongoing Fantastic Beasts franchise; readings of terrible self-published books and questionable fanfiction; theme park reviews; parody skits; and more. These videos are usually filmed in her own bedroom, with Nicholson sitting on a bed often decorated with stuffed animals or action figures representing the main topic of the episode. Nicholson is upfront and unapologetic in her opinions, as well as deeply funny, and her videos will take you to some pretty strange corners of the internet (such as the subsection of Wattpad where many pre-teens posted crossover fanfiction of One Direction trying to survive the events of The Purge—no, really).
Personal favourite video: “Trapped In A Island With Josh Hutcherson”
Recommended starting point: “The Worst Reality Show of All Time”
Johnathan MacIntosh, host of Pop Culture Detective, doesn’t produce videos very often—about once every few months—but when he does, the videos are thoughtful and contain in-depth analysis of tropes in film, television, and video games. MacIntosh has a personable delivery and covers these topics with care and nuance. It’s not often you get a man dedicating an entire YouTube channel to exploring positive and negative depictions of masculinity in pop culture, but he does it exceptionally well. Given that a lot of the men who need to hear these things tend to only listen to, well, other men, MacIntosh’s work serves as a great introduction to intersectional feminist critical theory with regards to modern media.
Personal favourite video: “The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory”
Recommended starting point: “Born Sexy Yesterday”
Big Joel: Big Joel covers a range of media analysis, from the God’s Not Dead series, to the Twilight Zone, to deep-dive examinations of big-name YouTubers. I highly recommend his half-hour video essay, “The Existential Horror of Shane Dawson.”
Brows Held High: Kyle Kallgren of Brows Held High covers classic film and “highbrow” media, acknowledging with affable self-awareness the pretentious nature of these topics. Comedian and columnist Jourdain Searles has been joining him on some of his more recent videos, and her voice is a welcome addition to the series. My recommendation? Check out his hard-hitting video essay on a classic ’80s documentary, “Sherman’s March in 2017.”
The Princess and the Scrivener: Two best friends, Paige and Sarah, analyze Disney and other media. The hosts are sweet and thoughtful, and they produce content pretty steadily if you’re looking for weekly uploads.
Overly Sarcastic Productions: Less analyzing and far more summary, but way better than anything you’re likely to find on your average summary channel. Host “Blue” covers topics from history, while “Red” summarizes and contextualizes classic literature and myths. If you’re looking for some information to back up an essay on Shakespeare, this channel is the one to check out.
Just Write: Sage Hyden uses his channel to explore the ups and downs of writing for film and television, with a series of videos titled “What Writers Should Learn From” as well as a diverse backlog of video essays. Despite being a fan of all things Tolkien, I really enjoyed his series “Why the Hobbit Sucks,” as it was one of the first deep dives that actually touched on the issues I had with The Hobbit series.