Here’s a post I had been considering for a few weeks – some of my favorite YouTube content of 2020. This has certainly been the year for it, relatively speaking – with the divide between traditional and new media growing deeper, there are clear advantages to creating YouTube content as opposed to films and television. When film and television production halts, YouTubers find a way to churn out a new video every week.
But after YouTube Rewind 2018 was reviled for being historically bad, and YouTube Rewind 2019 was panned for being completely unremarkable, it was announced that there would not be a 2020 YouTube Rewind. Many people seemed to think that was for the best – it’s been a crummy year all around. But, the videos I’ve watched in the past 11 months have not been what made this year so bad. In fact, the YouTubers I love had made this year bearable. So, as a bit of a retrospective, I wanted to make a list of some of my favorite 2020 YouTube productions.
YIAY 500 – Jacksfilms
JacksFilms’ “Yesterday I Asked You” series might seem lazy at first glance – Jack comes up with the premises (the questions) and his fans come up with the content (the answers). But there’s an impressive level of audience cultivation and answer curation between “What Would You Do if You Won the Superbowl?” on the first episode of Yiay (a brief, under two-minute affair) and Yiay’s 500th episode, an hour-long epic of memes and shitposting, full of collaborators and laughs.
I asked people on Twitch, “What does MAGA actually stand for?” And the top four answers were: “Make All Gamers Apologize,” “Make a good acronym,” “Monday and Garfield, Amiright?”and “Mom Against Gamer-Advocates” Now, which of these four do you think got the most votes?
It’s a huge milestone, five years in the making. Maybe it’s not as big of a deal if you’re not a regular viewer of Jacksfilms, maybe it’s not even funny in that case, since YIAY is something so specific to Jack’s channel, but if you were along for any part of the journey, this video likely really landed for you.
And with Jack’s channel – as with many channels that have a comedic aim – there is a tendency to only focus on goofs, and not to have any earnest, emotional content. And I’m not saying that YIAY 500 had Jack pouring his soul out in an emotional video, but the melodic, piano rendition of the YIAY theme at the beginning is a nod at how big of a moment this is for Jack’s channel. This year is going to have the end of two of his other series, Your Grammar Sucks and JackAsk, so in the same year to have this YIAY milestone feels fitting.
SPIDERQUEST: Quest for the Man-sized Spider
Jenny Nicholson’s content has always been eclectic, and exceptionally specific. Often covering movies, she also dives into theme parks and poorly-written fiction. Another of her favorite topics: spiders. Prior to Spiderquest, she’d already made a video about spiders: “Spider Reviews,” in which she read user reviews of Spider-related products online.
At the beginning of the pandemic, she made a video matter-of-factly titled “I’m on lockdown so I watched all 14 Land Before Times [Movies],” before releasing a 71-minute documentary-style video detailing the rise and fall of America’s foremost Brony convention.
But perhaps the most memorable video Jenny has released this year was “SPIDERQUEST,” a bizarre, hilarious, and entertaining post-COVID road-trip vlog. To celebrate reaching half-a-million subscribers (and surviving a case COVID-19 herself), Jenny decided to follow up on an internet listing of a limited-edition giant plush spider.
“Here’s the next problem: The [plush] spider was in Arizona, and if I wanted it, I had to go get it. And we’re in a global pandemic! And Arizona is one of the least-caution and most effected states in the country. So, y’know, I’m not going to not get the spider, but I do have to be cautious!”
Along her Spiderquest, Jenny makes plenty of stops in bizarre, roadside attractions which haven’t closed despite the pandemic. It adds this funny blend of kitsch and Americana that fits – one has to remember that this video is all about traveling long distances to buy a product that is so oddly niche… To me, there are fewer things more American.
And there is something inherently – well, inherently now – and inherently funny about searching online for the largest possible plush spider you can find, and embarking on a several-day road trip to pick it up, stopping at a slowly-deteriorating Flintstones theme park and a model cowboy-town. This video seems to exist at a fascinating junction of past and present.
In trying to explain the appeal of this video specifically, I found that I needed to explain the appeal to Jenny’s channel as a whole, which is actually rather difficult, but I think it comes down to what motivates it: an unabashed passion, that goes into way further detail than you or I would if we were making our own channels. Like, she watched ALL FOURTEEN Land Before Time movies, did a page-by-page review of a published Reylo fanfiction, and made a one-hour video about the Avatar section of Walt Disney World – which, let’s be honest, is way longer than any sane person should be thinking about Avatar. But the way Jenny eagerly jumps into any topic – and the way she’ll eagerly drive several hours just to buy an oversized plush spider is perplexing and admirable.
“Uncle Roger Meet Egg Fried Rice Lady” by Nigel Ng and Herscha Patel
Hersha: “I use one part rice, wang it in the pan.”
Uncle Roger: “She loves the word wang. Don’t wang anything in the kitchen, that’s how I got fired from Chinese restaurant.”
A few months ago, I went on a YouTube rabbit-hole of Fried Rice videos and did a post about it, starting with Uncle Roger’s first video, critiquing a fried rice video by “Auntie Hersha,” who joins Uncle Roger in this video. This is a nice reconciliation to the previous video -one wonders if Herscha would worry about Uncle Roger reviewing her fried rice so harshly, but she’s a good sport, and this video makes for a fun little crossover.
House Party with the Game Grumps
Dan: “Welcome to House Party! You’ve caught us on a wild day, because Arin – it’s day, whatever, maybe 40 of the [Backstreet Boys Reunion Tour] – “
Arin: “Could be 20, could be 80!”
Dan: “Arin’s going insane!”
Arin: “I’ve been waking up, every day, more and more eager to jump into traffic, but there’s no one driving around anymore!”
In March of 2018, Game Grumps started playing the Steam game House Party – an outrageous, uncomfortable, raunchy, and slightly problematic dating simulator in which your character tries to hook up with any number of characters at a… well, at a house party. (Is it wrong to call it a dating sim? In writing this post, I’d found other websites call it a “Comedy Porn” game, which actually seems more correct. In their Let’s Play, they spent a majority of time laughing at and critiquing the absurdity – and inappropriate nature – of the scenes they found themselves in, mixing long-play video series and active review. The following year, the developer EEEK Games created an online contest in which fans could vote to put a new character in the game, and surprise-surprise, Game Grumps won.
Their revisiting House Party, only two years later, but what feels like lifetimes, and now as actual characters in the game, which the players can interact with, has been one of my favorite video series from 2020.
(Also, another of my favorite things to come from Game Grumps this year: after realizing that videos with the word “Coronavirus” wer being suppressed by YouTube, they had to come up with some other way to refer to the global pandemic, before deciding on a nonsense phrase, “The Backstreet Boys Reunion Tour.” Backstreet’s back, all right?!)
The Burger Scholar Sessions, with George Motz
“My name is George Motz, I’ve made it my life’s mission to protect what I believe is the one of the greatest expressions of American gastronomy: the lowly, the beautiful, the glorious cheeseburger.”
Appearing as a recurring guest on First We Feast’s Burger Show, George Motz immediately jumped into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Part Guy Fieri, part Anthony Bordain, and 100% Burger shaman, George Motz uses his encyclopedic knowledge of hamburger history to give a tour of America’s most iconic dish.
I recognize that most of the episodes of Burger Scholar Sessions were probably filmed before the Coronavirus, but all of the episodes being filmed in George Motz’s home provides a fitting Post-COVID spinoff to the original Burger Show. First We Feast has a lot of great content, and everything that isn’t Hot Ones can get left by the wayside, but the Burger Show and the Burger Scholar Sessions are both absolutely delightful.
Honorable mention: Unus Annus
I actually hadn’t heard about Unus Annus until it was done – I saw #UnusAnnusIsOverParty trending on Twitter and scrolled through trying to figure out what the hell this was and why people were so invested in it. A lot of were messages of congratulations directed at “Ethan and Mark.” After some digging, I found that Mark was Markipiler – who everyone knows – and Ethan was from Crank Gameplays – who I’d recently seen in Among Us Let’s Plays. They had made a collaborative channel, whose name was derived from the Latin of “One Year.” Many of the tweets also had the Hashtag “#MementoMori,” meaning “Remember You Will Die.”
The main pitch of Unus Annus was that the channel and all its content would be deleted after one year, lost forever to the sands of time – reminding us of the finite nature of life, and the inevitability of death. I’ve had a hard time writing this section because I’m not sure exactly what kind of content this channel had, but the one thing that’s clear is the effect that it had on people – they were clearly upset that it was gone.
If the channel is a metaphor for life, or someone gone from us too soon – then it’s someone who I had never met, but wished to.
And that’s the thing, I could go on. I could talk about Philip DeFranco’s excellent election coverage, or Swell Entertainment’s great breakdowns of the failures of Quibi, or Geography Now’s educational videos, or Binging with Babish’s mouth-watering Skyrim sweet rolls – I could go on, and on, and on.
But what’s been your favorite video of 2020?