These days, I often find myself underwhelmed by the selection of series, movies and shows to watch on Netflix. A while back, I signed up for Amazon Prime and installed it on the Smart TV. I default to Amazon Prime for most of my day-to-day viewing these days because of its great selection of old and new movies and series, and an even wider selection of movies in Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi – to expand on my binge list of good old Bollywood.
1+ year into the pandemic and a lot of us have racked up serious screen time. When I feel Netflixed and Primed out, I like watching YouTube content on the Smart TV just because the watch list and recommendations on my account have really shaped up to cater to my interests over years of building viewing patterns and algorithms. Here are the great stuff that I am watching these days, for your viewing pleasure:
Al Jazeera English full-length documentaries
If you like documentaries, Al Jazeera English’s 101 East is one of the best treasure troves of content out there for some really awesome, well-researched and well-produced content. I love the weekly in-depth investigative documentaries from across the Asia and the Pacific region. The lengths that Al Jazeera goes through for these stories continue to astound me. They’re around half an hour long each, and there are some very thought-provoking issues being tackled here such that I find very interesting, such as:
Singapore’s street food surviving the COVID-19 pandemic
The Philippine (Dengvaxia) Vaccine scandal
Bhutan: The Pursuit of Happiness
Filipino Nurses: New York’s Frontliners
India: The Stuntmen of Bollywood
Who doesn’t love a house tour? I dig AD’s Open Door show and have picked several peg homes that will serve as inspiration for when I build my first home. I love the chic maximalism of Jesse Tyler-Ferguson’s Spanish colonial house and Dakota Johnson’s mid-century modern furnishings. There are plenty of other celeb houses to peep into, and I love that each one of them is a source of a different type of inspiration.
Ever since I bought Claire Saffitz’ cookbook, I’ve only ever made a handful of recipes, but I’m glad she came out with a weekly YouTube series on recipes that are straight from her book. If you are a visual cook like me, and you need visual references and cues apart from the instructions on the recipes, I think this is a great complement to her book, which by the way, has some fairly challenging recipes apart from the stupid simple ones like that blood orange upside down olive oil cake that I have been making a lot these days.
Uhm, yeah I really love documentaries. I got reeled into Real Stories one time because of a random recommendation on the Partition of India, where they had several Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu people from England retrace their family’s Partition story all the way back to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was some pretty gripping stuff, and it was my gateway to a lot of their other wild content such as the one with the severe life-threatening genetic disorder where one’s skin flakes off excessively, causing breathing and eating problems; or the one with the Mormon with 6 wives and 29 children. Of course, there’s gotta be one on Indian arranged marriages and another one on Andrew Cunanan, the Filipino-American who killed Gianni Versace.
I love the unbelievable amount of sheer talent on this channel! I am loving each video for the great covers of pop songs, funkified with the group’s incredible musical execution. I love how they add funk and some attitude to every song their cover, with original arrangements and outstanding instrumentation. I have a few favourites, but they are all quite remarkable that I have them on heavy rotation for when I just need some background music when working, doing chores, etc.
Reactistan: Tribal People Try
I bristle and cringe at the exaggerated reactions from Westerners commenting on other cultures, and a lot of these types of content are pretty much geared towards racking up views for monetization. It is not a surprise that a lot of these clickbaity reaction videos pander to a specific audience, ehem Filipinos, and they have millions and millions of views because this strategy definitely works. While I avoid these brownnosing types, I really love genuine reactions from people who have never even heard of the things that they are reacting to, and I love that Reactistan has gathered the most interesting, insightful and quirky bunch of “tribal people” (their words) from rural areas of Pakistan and they have them eat, taste, and try certain foods from all over the world. I just LOVE the precious reactions especially when they compare the taste to some of the traditional food they would have back at their village. I am self-teaching Hindi at the moment, so this comes as a bonus because much of the dialogue is in Urdu, Hindi’s identical twin sister. (Save for a few unique vocabulary, Hindi and Urdu are virtually mutually intelligible). I think this channel deserves a separate blog post of its own so I hope I’ll get to reviewing some of my favourite episodes from this group.
Never Too Small
To supplement the AD content that I have been devouring in many man-hours of binge video watching, I love watching the sedate and understated calm of this YouTube channel. I am expecting to be living in tight, cramped quarters for the rest of my life, in rented apartments and whatnot, and I love the bright ideas in making the most out of limited space in this channel. It’s like the Tiny House Nation but for apartments and small condominium units. The production is very clean and polished, and usually, the narration behind the thought process is really interesting and very informative. There is a lot of good insight into multi-purpose bespoke furniture and built-ins for small condos, and I think this is a great resource for those who are looking to furnish their own units in the future. A bonus is the background scoring for these videos: the music they choose is very zen and calming. It’s basically what I watch during downtime when I just need a bit of white noise.
Chef John’s YouTube/All Recipes
“Hello, this is Chef John and welcome to Food Wishes.com.” Every video starts with this peppy intro, and I love the singsongy humorous tone in which he explains the dishes (the syncopated sing-song annoys most people in the comments, apparently, but I love it. I come for the food, and stay for the dad jokes). I love this channel for being very visual and process-oriented, and like I mentioned earlier in the Dessert Person bit, I love seeing how a recipe comes together first before I attempt to do it in the kitchen.
I love that Chef John also doesn’t appear in the video, it’s a pots-and-hands type so you can be sure that each video is only about 3-8 minutes in total, showing you each step without any nonsense blabber or chit chat. The YouTube complements the recipes on AllRecipes.com, their sister production, so basically you can read the recipe online and follow along with Chef John’s cooking vides on the channel. I have made countless recipes from this channel over the year-long lock-down and I just love the no-nonsense, straightforward style of presentation. No other cooking video channel comes close to how I love this one. I also love the diversity, and there is already close to 1K videos on just about any cuisine you can imagine.
NPR Tiny Desk Concerts
BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge
No explanation needed for these two.
I have long loved NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts for a closer, more intimate look at the artists: Some favourites: Tom Misch, Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Mac Miller, Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals, and H.E.R.
I love BBC Radio 1 covers because they have the most unlikely artists covering the most unlikely songs. Think Kings of Leon covering Robyn, Paramore covering Drake, or Dua Lipa covering the Arctic Monkeys.
Okay, so maybe this is a straggler because of the hot mess that was the implosion of Bon Appetit ca 2020 because of allegations of racial discrimination in the production and test kitchen (click here for the tea), but for what it was worth, I still guiltily go back to all of the videos and content from that era (which makes me feel terrible knowing that some persons of color featured in the videos weren’t even paid by Conde Nast! Despicable). There is no denying, however, that the episodes had such tremendous production and entertainment value. I particularly love Carla Lalli Music’s Back-t0-back Chef episodes where she guides celebrities through recipes with verbal instructions only, and no other visual references. The Drag Queens series with Shangela, Miz Cracker and Trixie Mattel episodes were just brilliant. And of course, nothing will EVER beat the sheer joy of the Making Perfect series. Despite the flaws and the toxicity of the Test Kitchen, I kinda wish the group was still intact to make more of these. The Making Perfect: Pizza and Making Perfect: Thanksgiving series were hours and hours of prime food geekery and great taste. Claire Saffitz’ Gourmet Makes is also quite interesting, because she hacks and gourmet-fies classic snacks from our childhood. Sigh.
That’s all folks! Oohh I had fun putting this list together because it means I have them all one place for when I want to cleanse my palate from all of the Netflix and Prime that I have been bingeing.
Which one of these are new recommendations for you? What are some of the great YouTube channels to follow? Please sound off in the comments.