Greetings, oh fellow prisoners of COVID. So, we’re stuck indoors. For an indefinite period of time, right up in the faces of those we love. Or, we’re all alone. Not a recipe for good mental health, either way.

This isn’t in our repertoires. The developed world hasn’t seen anything like this since the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, well out of the living memory of virtually everyone in 2020.

But at least this time we have… YouTube!

Some of you, with cable TV, Netflix, and actual lives, may not be aware just how vast an idea-ecosystem YouTube has become.

There are still plenty of “series” about useless trivia shot on phone cameras in dark basements, sure, but now that there is ad revenue to be made and audiences in the millions to be captured, larger media organizations have moved in, and even the smaller players have professionalized. So there is an enormous amount of quality entertainment and information out there, but the issue is finding the good stuff among the dross.

First caveat: With one exception, all of the channels covered here are live-action. Animation has exploded and is experiencing something of a golden age on YouTube, and that deserves an article all its own, and probably the collaboration of Daughter, age 13, who knows it way better than I do. Next time!

Second caveat: For some reason, the hosts and/or creators of YouTube Channels don’t always use their real names, or their full names, or any name at all. So if I refer to someone simply as “Paul”, or “The History Guy”, or “her”, you’ll know why.

And now, in no particular order, here we go!

MARK FELTON PRODUCTIONS

British historian Mark Felton creates truly fascinating, and well-produced, historical clips, primarily military history about WW2, but occasionally about other times and places as well. His speciality is uncovering bits of WW2 history that most of us have never heard of: The Canadian paratroopers who singlehandedly stopped the Soviet invasion of Denmark; The 1939 French invasion of Germany; film clips of Hitler and other top Nazis speaking in their everyday voices, rather than the spittle-soaked rage-screaming we know them for. Fascinating stuff.

THE HISTORY GUY: HISTORY THAT DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED

The History Guy is an affable, cheerful man who never identifies himself by name, and otherwise reminds me a lot of the late great American comedian Steve Allen, creator and first host of The Tonight Show. His channel is exactly as advertised on the label, fascinating moments out of history, most of which aren’t well known. The invention of toilet paper, the time the US Army Air Force accidentally bombed Oklahoma. The American sailors who were torpedoed by the Nazis before America entered the war. The infamous clown/firefighter riots in Toronto. The Straw Hat Riots in Chicago. Want to know why clowns, firefighters and straw hats touched off riots? Check him out!

KURSGEZAGT – IN A NUTSHELL

A surprisingly funny, German-produced animated channel, Kursgezagt is web-animation used for the good of humanity. The creative team makes intensively researched, short cartoons about subjects far-and-wide and usually deep: Homeopathy, the EU, loneliness, wormholes, optimistic nihilism, Is the universe a simulation?, Why don’t we have a moon base yet?, Why would a miniaturized elephant explode? And, most recently, What is COVID-19 and what should we do about it? Spend time on Kursgezagt, it’ll widen your horizons and make you laugh. What else can you ask for?

ORIGIN OF EVERYTHING

Hosted by Danielle Bainbridge, a fun-loving history nerd with a PhD in African-American and American Studies, this channel explores, the origins of the idea of “race”, of “school”, of “grades”, of “vaping”, of the African slave trade, of why women shave their legs…

Every idea or social construct has a beginning, and this series tracks them all down.

EONS

EONS, and its sister-shows from PBS Digital Studios, follow the usual PBS/NOVA formula of science and technology for the masses, and I mean that in the best possible way. As the title suggests, EONS is a show about biology and evolution that follows species through… well… eons of time, and explores the multiple stages of their existence over millions of years. Most recently they covered penguins, giant penguins taller than an NBA player. Did you know that there were giant penguins taller than an NBA player, millions of years ago? I didn’t.

IT’S OKAY TO BE SMART

Hosted by the nerdy and funny Dr. Joe Hanson (who seems way too young to be a PhD, but that’s just because I’m old) It’s Okay to Be Smart covers all of science, from Why are we the only humans left? to How do you drink coffee in space? to Where are all the aliens? and Does my dog know what I’m thinking?

LANGFOCUS

Langfocus asks the language questions we often wonder about, but rarely get an answer to: How intelligible is Italian to a Spanish-speaker? What did Latin sound like? How close are Korean and Japanese? Hosted by Paul, a Canadian English-language teacher living in Japan, Langfocus is a lot of fun if you’re interested in linguistics. Just… when Paul tries to do funny bits with his dog? Fast-forward.

TECHMOAN

Techmoan, hosted by another affable Englishman who doesn’t identify himself, bills itself as “The UK’s most popular tech channel that doesn’t review smartphones.” Well, that’s pretty specific, but it’s true. Instead of iPhones, our host spends most of his time (and presumably, a lot of his money) reviewing technology that doesn’t exist anymore. LP-sized video-disks from the late 1980’s, failed videotape formats that were neither Beta nor VHS, non-magnetic audiotape from the 1950’s that used grooves like LP’s, wind-up, pocket-sized record-players from the turn of the last century… the weirder the better! Not for everyone, but if you love oddball, off-label technology like I do, you’ll love this channel.

SCISHOW

And because I can never get enough science, SciShow! It covers the whole world of science in bite-sized pieces, with multiple hosts. And it has a sister-channel called SciShow Space at https://www.youtube.com/user/scishowspace/featured. What more can I say? I like science, sue me!

PBS SPACE TIME

Hosted by Australian astrophysicist Dr. Matt O’Dowd, Space Time is one of the longest-running PBS Digital Studios channels on YouTube, and is perhaps one notch above the science-for-the-masses level of most of the other offerings I’ve listed here. The very wry O’Dowd expects you to keep up with him as he gets into the real nitty-gritty of dark matter, dark energy, causality and how the speed of light is not about light. But it’s worth the journey, believe me! I learned more about physics watching these 15 minute episodes than I ever did in school!

TRANSLATOR FAILS (By Malinda Kathleen Reese)

I love Malinda Kathleen Reese! She can sing, she’s funny, she turns translator fails into songs. And yes, she invented translator fails for song lyrics, everyone else just copied her!

She has a separate channel, MALINDA, for her original songs and covers. Well worth watching too, at https://www.youtube.com/user/missmalindakathleen