September 3, 2018, 5:52 pm.

The offbeat cooking channel "Binging with Babish" recently soared to 3 million subscribers, a feat that's especially astounding because it celebrated its 2 million subscriber mark just 7 months ago. Andrew Rea, the show's host, recreates iconic dishes from film, TV, and even video games, and his videos take a risk I've yet to see another cooking show take: The camera only shows his torso and arms as he prepares a dish, and he dubs over the footage with voiceover later

Why does this risk pay off so well?

After all, conventional wisdom tells us that humans connect more to videos with faces in them. On the other hand (no pun intended), Amanda Hess of the New York Times recently discussed the rise of the hands-only video — a staple of Facebook how-tos, recipe videos, and BuzzFeed clips. As Hess explains, the hands-only video can feel more humble and democratic than the selfie cam: it focuses on what we make, not what we look like.

Facebook videos are played without sound 85% of the time, so the focus of these videos isn't on voiceover. "Binging with Babish" videos add an audio narration to this equation (certainly not hurt by Rea's low, velvety voice, which fans liked so much he made a podcast where he reads bedtime stories).

The sum of all this is that "Binging with Babish" videos are an interesting combination of the face video and the hands-only video, borrowing the best aspects of both.

Humans like faces, yes, but it's also true that humans want to mimic the expressions of humans they see. With this in mind, when you watch a video with a human face in it (connected though you may feel to the person), it can get exhausting because you are, to some small degree, a participant in the video. When watching "Binging with Babish," you have the feeling that you're totally off the hook for having to interact with anyone; there is absolutely nothing asked of you, and I think that makes the videos even more relaxing to watch.

And what "Binging with Babish" inherits from videos that feature faces (and what hands-only videos lack) is personalization. Rea's signature apron, button-down, tattoo-clad arms, and aforementioned buttery-smooth voice become soothing and familiar — much more familiar than two nameless hands emerging from the bottom of the screen to dice onions.

The reason this fascinates me is that when we think about what kind of content will go big next, we often think like Hollywood directors: "Well, this worked and that worked in the past, so this film should work in the future." That's how you get flops like Prince of Persia, by thinking that what people liked about Pirates of the Caribbean was that it was an action movie reviving a historical adventure genre. No, people liked Pirates because its weird, zany, daring elements worked together. People like things that you can't predict, and in combinations that seem unprecedented or even downright bad. Only the special sauce of personality will prove whether you can combine torso-and-arms footage and voiceover, and have millions of viewers coming back for more.