The creator of the Cosmonaut Variety Hour YouTube channel, Marcus Turner, loves Spider-Man. So, he re-watched the Sam Raimi trilogy to see how it compares to the latest web-slinger movies, starring Tom Holland.
“These do not hold up,” Turner says in an episode of his video series. “It annoys me that people look at the first two as some sort of superhero Holy Grail when they’re not like really that good anymore.”
That video has 4.8 million views and counting.
The 25-year-old has spent six years building an audience for his channel, where he points out the flaws or overlooked qualities in fictional worlds from popular culture. His two-part series on Spider-Man, for example, has a combined 9 million views. By taking a dive into what viewers love, Turner can provide the type of granular analysis that traditional critics shy away from. In the review of the Raimi trilogy, he pokes fun at everything from the facial expressions of extras in the background to overarching plot themes, all with a deep knowledge of Spider-Man lore.
The name of the channel, Cosmonaut Variety Hour, draws from Mystery Science Theater 3000 — a comedy TV series that jokingly reviews old science fiction films. Turner wanted the channel’s name to help grab attention. “Variety hour” acts as a catchall for any concepts the team finds compelling or unique.
“I want people to look at the things they think are flawless and be able to laugh at them,” Turner said. Unlike a more traditional review, Turner assumes the people watching are fellow fans. He’s able to discuss spoilers, nitpick on tiny details and engage with his audience on a more informal level. The second part to Turner’s review exploring the Andrew Garfield-era web-slinger has nearly 19,000 comments earnestly discussing the movies.
“Dang, I liked these movies when I was younger ... now (I’m) sad that they kinda sucked,” one commenter said.
Turner is still in school while running the channel. After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Central Florida, he’ll focus full-time making videos for Cosmonaut. The channel doubled its number of subscribers in 2018, according to data from Tubular Labs, with well over half a million subscribers to date.
“I did not mean for my channel to blow up as fast as it did while I’m still in school, so I have to kind of juggle that,” Turner said.
Turner published those two Spider-Man videos last spring right as fans were preparing for a golden year in the franchise with a triple-A video game release and two blockbuster movies featuring the hero. He knew people would be hungry for more on Spider-Man, and those videos are now the most popular on the channel. Turner said the channel already had a sizable audience, but he thinks the videos are the biggest reasons the channel grew so much last year.
Turner works with his two friends, Dan Goldberg, 24, and Meghan Sweeney, 24, to operate the channel, talk with fans and brainstorm ideas for videos. Goldberg started working with Turner on the channel in 2015 when they became roommates. Early videos often featured Goldberg and Turner playing video games together as they narrated what was happening, similar to channels such as Lets Play and Videogamedunkey.
Goldberg said he remembers watching a video they did together rack up views while he was on a trip to Europe. In that moment, he said he realized the channel could be a success.
“I was just having a good time playing games with Marcus,” he said. “And, it never really stopped being that.”
Cosmonaut’s most popular uploads now are video essays, a common format where a creator delivers an argument, splicing in video to support their case. Turner pointed to Sequelitis, a 30-minute video essay that critiques the Legend of Zelda series, as an inspiration for his work.
Turner takes Netflix’s “Bird Box,” which became so wildly popular that people were literally walking around with a blindfold on as a “challenge,” and explains why it’s an incredibly average movie littered with plot holes. He punctuates his argument by splicing his rapid fire commentary with memes and clips from the movie.
“To me, it honestly felt like an above-average episode of a sci-fi show,” Turner said toward the beginning of his video. “I’m going to talk about what works in this movie and what doesn’t work. And the list of things that don’t work is a little long.”
From the titles of the videos, you can see Turner takes some hard stances: He has a series labeled “Why it Sucks.” Tasch Ritter, 24, is a fan of the channel who said she helps the team as a freelance illustrator and moderator. Ritter explained that she believes watching Cosmonaut videos over the years has helped her think more critically about whatever she’s watching.
Turner “oftentimes puts into words things that irk me about these movies,” Ritter said. “He’s able to put it into words better than I could.”
Turner doesn’t want to invest in just one fandom or cinematic universe. In fact, he will stop making videos on a topic to avoid being labeled by fans.
When Turner sees fans label his channel to a particular fandom or franchise, “it turns me off immediately,” he said. By doing this, the channel’s underlying structure is its format rather than a specific movie or show. For context, they recently filmed a drunken explanation of the popular Kingdom Hearts franchise, which has one of the most convoluted story lines for a video game.
“The beauty of our channel is that we’ve never been nailed down to one specific fan base,” Sweeney said.
Turner intentionally created a format where the team is free to make videos about any subject they want to comment on. And if he doesn’t have anything to say about a film or game, he won’t film. He hasn’t made a video about “Aquaman,” to the chagrin of his fans.
“I just want to make a YouTube channel that I would like to watch,” Turner said. “I’m interested in too many different things. I don’t want to be like a gaming YouTuber. I don’t want to be just like a film reviewer.”