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Recommended viewing, from subway ballet to comedic criticism

Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations

Screenshot: “The Times Are Racing”
Screenshot: “The Times Are Racing”

Ballet from the cool kid of choreography Justin Peck

Lately, I’ve been finding about three minutes of joy in this short film from the New York City Ballet, which premiered on The New York Times. The video is a preview for and adapted from the new piece “The Times Are Racing,” which is choreographed by Justin Peck, who also directs and stars here. Peck—who hasn’t yet hit 30—is sort of the cool kid of choreography these days, working with music from the likes of Sufjan Stevens and, in this case, Dan Deacon. (The score for this is taken from Deacon’s America.) His costumes come from the brand Opening Ceremony. But it’s not just the indie cred that makes him remarkable; it’s also his remarkable talent and ingenuity. Here Peck and Robbie Fairchild dance in a mostly empty subway station with flare that evokes Jerome Robbins, Gene Kelly, and Martha Graham. It makes me want to see what Peck could do with a movie musical. Perhaps a team-up with Damien Chazelle is in order. [Esther Zuckerman]

Video game video series Monster Factory

As a longtime fan of the world’s best podcast, My Brother, My Brother And Me, I’m down for pretty much anything good-natured goofers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy do. But I still found myself shocked by how much I love Monster Factory, Justin and Griffin’s video series for their day jobs over at Polygon. The premise is simple: Go into a video game—something like Dark Souls or Skyrim or Second Life—make the most hideous character possible, and sic them on the world. The character creation is fun (and only occasionally violates all manner of copyrighted characters), but the real joy comes when Griffin and Justin start taking their beautiful abominations out into the world, using console codes and game hacks to bend these virtual universes to their whims. If video games exist to give people a sandbox to play around in, then Monster Factory might be the purest expression of that idea, as the brothers joyfully fill these normally constrained worlds with giant horses, asterisk-shaped space commandos, and as many beautiful metal husbands as Griffin’s computer can hold. [William Hughes]

Nerdy YouTube personality Jenny Nicholson

YouTube personalities are still one of those things that feels like a novelty act not long for this Earth, like pet rocks or liking the music of The Lumineers. But much like podcasts, as the years go by, it seems YouTube channels—and the stars that arise from their massive network—are here to stay. And like any other form of pop culture, as the numbers swell, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the entertaining wheat from the endless streams of mind-numbing chaff. Which is why it was so delightful to uncover one that consistently entertains me simply by dint of a strong and funny voice relying on little more than good writing for its appeal. Jenny Nicholson has had a YouTube channel since 2009, but has really come into her own as a smart and comedic voice in the past couple of years. We featured a video of hers last year, when she attempted to break down the confusing concept of a “suicide squad.” Since then, I’ve subscribed to her channel and dug into her archive, and been rewarded with a steady stream of funny videos deeply immersed in geek culture—specifically Star Wars nerdery, but encompassing everything from superheroes to My Little Pony to Harry Potter. Nicholson is an astute critic even as she revels in her fandom, which is something we respect here at The A.V. Club. My favorite recent piece of hers is a criticism of the film Tomorrowland—a movie I can barely bring myself to care about. The fact that she manages to make me enjoy a 20-minute-plus discussion of the film’s flaws is testament to her strengths as both a humorist and onscreen personality. Not all the videos land, but her hit-to-miss ratio is better than most. Plus, Nicholson’s low-key manner and dry comic tone are a refreshing tonic to the usual hypercaffeinated PewDiePie wannabes you see racking up the views on YouTube. I look forward to (hopefully) many more smart and nerdy posts to come. [Alex McCown-Levy]