To Boldly Flounder: The Cautionary Tale of Internet Sensation ‘The Nostalgia Critic’

Doug+Walker+reined+supreme+on+the+internet+for+years%2C+but+his+empire+came+crashing+down+after+details+came+to+light+about+his+companys+past+transgressions.

Photo By Oliver Barnfield

Doug Walker reined supreme on the internet for years, but his empire came crashing down after details came to light about his company’s past transgressions.

By Oliver Barnfield and Reagan Babbitt

The late 2000s and early 2010s represented a sort of “golden age” for internet content. Copyright laws were abused, content creators began to earn money from their work, and YouTube became the most popular site on the internet.  During this time, one of the most popular internet creators was Doug Walker. Walker’s rise and eventual downfall in the face of severe allegations and corporate mismanagement would prove to be a cautionary tale for future content creators. Examining these follies provide us with a unique look at a slightly tragic individual and the manipulators who surrounded him. 

Walker began his YouTube career reviewing films from his childhood that he was nostalgic for. These reviews were comedic in nature and involved very little actual analysis, instead opting for a more quip-based style that favored jokes over actual reviewing. Creating the costumed persona of the Nostalgia Critic, a cynical manchild who was not far off from Walker himself, Doug garnered a large and loyal fanbase. Walker as the Nostalgia Critic would often go on angry rants about moments in various films that he saw to be worthy of criticism. These rants would sometimes be screaming conniptions of rage, often over meaningless squabble from the film he was reviewing. This overly aggressive style of reviewing media was a blatant steal from James Rolfe, a YouTuber who had a similarly venomous style of critique towards video games. 

Rolfe, under the name Angry Video Game Nerd, recorded homemade reviews that featured extensive special effects. Walker’s style was much more low budget, as there was an amateurish look to these early episodes. Walker filmed these reviews in a spare room in his parent’s house, and due his lack of budget, he was forced to use his limited writing abilities and inside jokes to carry his reviews.

Walker’s reviews made extensive use of clips from the films he discussed. He would go through the films chronologically without ever really stating how he felt about the film beyond surface level references and inside jokes. His frequent use of unedited clips caused companies to copyright strike his videos, forcing him off of YouTube and causing him to migrate to Blip.tv and his own website, ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com. 

Walker’s empire was growing. Although he was booted off of his YouTube home, Walker remained successful on ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com. However, Walker needed some company, so he sought out to recruit reviewers similar in style to himself.  As his fan base grew, so did his cohorts. The most notable of these were Lewis Lovhaug, or “Linkara,” who would review comics, Lindsay Ellis, the “Nostalgia Chick,” who would review the “girly” media she was nostalgic for, Todd Nathanson, or “Todd in the Shadows,” who analyzed music and Brad Jones, “The Cinema Snob,” who reviewed exploitation films. 

These individuals, who were from different states and had varying review styles, would converge under the company banner of “Channel Awesome.” The original “ThatGuyWithTheGlasses” name was changed due to its Doug-centrism. This directed a lot of attention towards the reviewers, but Doug remained the center of attention. Looking back, this is surprising, given Walker’s incompetencies compared to his colleagues; watch any of Nathanson’s videos back to back with a Walker review and you’ll see a vast difference in humor and production value. This onslaught of new collaborators caused Walker and his colleagues to seriously consider payment. Rumours have swirled regarding the nature of the reviewers’ employment. Many alleged that they were not paid sufficiently, largely due to the sinister overlords at the helm of the company. But that’s a thread we’ll get into later. For now the site existed, to the public at least, as an idyllic place where loud comedy reviewers dwelled and produced constant streams of content.

These “reviewers” would get together and film “movies” for the site’s anniversaries. These films would include the action parody Kickassia, the fantasy parody Suburban Knights, the anthology film The Uncanny Valley, and the infamous sci-fi sendoff to the Nostalgia Critic character, To Boldly Flee. These films were the only time these disparate creators met in person, and it’s where the majority of behind the scenes drama began. These movies were filled with inside jokes relating to the content creator’s web shows, which often featured plots and characters that extended beyond the reviews themselves. One such example was Noah Antwiler, also known as TheSpoonyOne, who created a character called Dr. Insano, who undermined Spoony’s attempts to review the media. 

Insano also appeared several times in Lewis Lovhaug’s Atop The Fourth Wall series, establishing a shared universe that all the reviewers existed in. Walker’s series also featured recurring characters, including several played by his brother Rob Walker, who also co-wrote the videos with Doug. For a while, these creators existed harmoniously, although things weren’t all fun and games behind the scenes.

Doug grew tired of taking on the role of the Nostalgia Critic, and after his infamously embarrassing review of Moulin Rouge, Walker thought that his reviews had peaked. His solution? Kill off the Nostalgia Critic. This would be done in the third anniversary “film,” and conclusion to the trilogy, 2012’s To Boldly Flee. The movie follows the Nostalgia Critic, who has entered a depressive episode after the the death of his friend, Ma-Ti, at the end of the previous film, Suburban Nights. 

The critic is put under house arrest after being framed for, get this, making negative reviews of movies. A big part of Walker’s online presence was the advocacy for fair use, due in part to his removal from YouTube for various copyright-related reasons. Walker returns in this movie with his straw man arguments about criticism being unable to be taken by various “corporate oligarchies.” Nevertheless, Critic enlists the help of his reviewers to stop The Plot Hole, a force of evil that puts the entire universe at risk. All while this is happening, The Cinema Snob, played by Brad Jones, learns to become a critic in a downfall that parodies the story of Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars. Jones’ character was even named “Bradikin,” exemplifying the  kind of cutting satire and hilarious parody found in Walker‘s writing. It is worth noting that Brad Jones hated being referred to as “Bradikin” on set. To Boldly Flee is a mashup of various sci-fi series, but that’s all it is. This film was and still is criticized for its overreliance on reference humor. Critic eventually says goodbye to his cohorts, and enters The Plot Hole. What he finds is brilliant if you’re a sixth-grader. Nostalgia Critic is surprised to find his creator, Doug Walker, and after having a long talk about nothing, the character of the Nostalgia Critic fuses with The Plot Hole and dies, thus ending the run of his character on the site.

The following day, Walker would announce the retirement of the Nostalgia Critic character, due to Walker’s notion that he would never be able to top his review of Moulin Rouge. This decision was a shock to his Channel Awesome cohorts, whose revenue tanked when Walker killed the character off. Walker acted like this meant that the others should retire too, following his example. Walker would move on to make both Demo Reel and Pop Quiz Hotshot. Demo Reel, a horribly unfunny skit show starring Doug and Rob Walker, as well as Malcolm Ray and Rachel Tietz, performed various skits based on pre-existing franchises and films. Walker advertised a kickstarter campaign in which fans could fund Channel Awesome’s next projects. 

Walker was very vague on what the money was going to, referring to everything as “productions.” Pop Quiz Hotshot, a pop culture quiz show hosted primarily by Doug, was the one of the only two shows to come to fruition from this campaign, and was notoriously unprofessional behind the scenes, as well as on set. Original host Brad Jones stepped down after only one episode and various fans were shipped in to compete, making for an overall very awkward experience. Both of these shows failed, leaving Doug with no choice but to return to the Nostalgia Critic, reviving the character in a new format that featured lengthy skits. Perhaps Doug was still bitter after Demo Reel‘s failure and wanted to continue it in spirit, by padding his videos with horrible sketch comedy.

Besides Walker’s reckless decision to kill off his money-making character, the production of To Boldly Flee was marked by fraught tensions and long work days. Lindsay Ellis was told to act in a scene that featured some questionable content that made her uncomfortable, but was forced to against her will. The four-hour movie was filmed in about a week, which is a tall order, especially for an effects-heavy ordeal. Everyone was reportedly miserable except Doug, who was comically oblivious to everyone’s exhaustion. Cast injuries were rampant on set, and it’s not a coincidence that it would prove to be their last crossover film. 

For many, it was the straw that broke the camel‘s back. Soon, many of the site’s most visible content creators would depart without explanation. Slowly but surely, suspicious information would come to light about Walker‘s empire, in the Not So Awesome document, a 73-page chronicle detailing the numerous incidents of mismanagement, misconduct, and unprofessionalism of the biggest contributors to the site such as both Doug and Rob Walker, featuring accounts from Lewis Lovhaug, Lindsay Ellis, and quite a bit more. However, most of it centered around Mike Michaud, Channel Awesome‘s sinister ringleader. 

Michaud has been blamed for many of the company’s poor business decisions, and many of the site’s former creators would cite him as their main reason for leaving. Michaud was and still is Channel Awesome’s CEO, and during his tenure, created a culture of harassment and toxicity. Even current Channel Awesome fans resent Michaud for his mishandling of the site and its contributors. Michaud’s reputation as an unprofessional CEO starts to make sense when you realize that he was brought in for the position of CEO because no one else wanted it. Although this was his job title, no one knew what he actually did. A man named Mike Ellis (no relation to Lindsay) handled day-to-day site operations but Michaud seemed to do little more than sit around and criticize people. When Ellis sexually harassed a site producer, Michaud did nothing to stop it despite knowing full well that it was going on. His ignorance about basic human decency became a liability and yet, he still stands as the CEO of Channel Awesome and the owner of the Nostalgia Critic character.

While Michaud was a big focus of Not So Awesome, there are plenty of other upsetting stories from many higher-ups, the most infamous of these being the account of the site’s HR, Holly Brown, who was forced to be taken to a safe house after being stalked in real life by Mike Ellis, the site’s webmaster. Ellis was married but still wanted a relationship with Brown, who denied his advances. This led to many worrying for her safety, necessitating the need for a safe house. 

Brown remarked how “nothing was more strange than being escorted to my house by a group of guys with baseball bats and a sword so I could pack.” Brown even mentioned how it was either Doug or Rob who wielded the sword, and how “it didn’t go well” when Doug tested their pepper spray in the sink. When Ellis was finally fired, it was for legal reasons and not for his many instances of harassment. A popular content creator for the site, Allison Pregler, (Obscurus Lupa) detailed how she was fired by Michaud for being late to a Skype call, in spite of the fact that Michaud was notorious for being bad at communication with his colleagues on the site, being given the label of the “silent CEO.” While Doug’s issues mostly came from his naivety and incompetence, Michaud was outright malicious. Naturally, this caused a mass exodus of creators, leaving behind only Doug and his direct collaborators as well as a few stragglers. 

But while this rampant corporate mismanagement was raging, what was the content like? Well, for the most part, it stayed exactly the same and is largely still the same now. The skits increased and Doug started reviewing movies that were still in theatres.  This process involved recreating the movie scenes with his crew, but his shouty style of reviewing has largely stayed the same. The budgets have increased since his spare-room days, but in a way that’s just made the videos worse. 

The endless skits are even more unfunny than Walker’s commentary, and the horrible special effects aren’t even enjoyable in an ironic way. Walker now films at a large studio with a small cast of actors, but he can’t seem to mic himself properly, as any scene in the warehouse is incredibly echoey. He still records with an on- camera microphone and despite the large space, all the skits take place in front of green screens. 

It’s worth noting that we used to be big fans of Doug. But we started to fall off as the reviews got less and less entertaining, and the controversies came out. Despite this, the Nostalgia Critic still has a place in our hearts. Now, we make ironic jokes about him, mostly at his expense, and it’s likely that without these japes we wouldn’t be friends, or at least the process would be delayed. One of the first conversations the two of us ever had was about the absurdity of Doug’s channel and the sorry state of it. From there, we became close friends, and we still keep that bond to this day. Although his reviews are regrettable, we don’t regret watching them. They made us who we are today, and sparked a friendship. 

Currently, the site’s creator list is slim. Doug is the breadwinner and he produces other shows besides The Nostalgia Critic at his Chicago studio. None of them are as successful as his flagship character. The only other content producers besides Walker and his direct collaborators are long-time contributor Brad Jones and video game list-maker Larry Bundy. The rest of the former creators have moved on to bigger and better things. Lindsay Ellis produces popular videos and is now a best-selling novelist. 

Pregler and his husband Phelan, (also a former Channel Awesome creator), still make videos together, free from Channel Awesome’s not-so-watchful eye. So do Linkara and Todd Nathanson, with Todd in particular releasing extremely high quality and entertaining videos as of late. Noah Antwiler (Spoony) has retreated into inactivity after suffering from severe mental health problems that may have caused him to be let go from the site. 

And then there’s Doug. Still seemingly oblivious to the chaos he’s created, happily churning out the same unfunny videos he’s always made. Perhaps somewhere deep inside he knows how much pain he directly and indirectly caused, or perhaps he doesn’t. Maybe he’ll be the Nostalgia Critic forever, remembering it so you don’t have to until the end of time.