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Sunday, 22 January 2023

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2023 Hot List. This week we will have a look at the most exciting new literature and novels you'll be reading in the coming year.

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I'll be honest, compiling this list was more difficult this year than it has been recently. Some years are abundant with exciting new work, new voices, the latest from established legends of literature. 2023, at first blush, looks to be a year slightly bereft of originality. Far too many of the year's biggest releases fall into predictable niches. Most are topical fare or biographies exploring political and social issues, which is fine, but does every single book need to be about that these days? It makes me worried for the past-time of reading that so much of the industry seems to be about catering to outrage and grievance at the moment, at the expense of actual storytelling and creative new voices.

But if you look for it, there is interesting work out there. After a little more digging and some concerted exploration, I found them. So, for all my concerns, what follows is a list of 10 very exciting books that I will be looking out for in the year ahead. 

So here it is: your reading list for 2023, our list of the top 10 upcoming releases from the world of literature to keep an eye on this year, starting, as always, with number 10:

10. "Really Good, Actually" by Monica Heisey

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We start with something on the light and relatable side. Really Good, Actually is the debut novel by Monica Heisey, known for her work as a writer on the hit comedy series Schitt's Creek

Break ups are messy, everyone knows what that feels like and can relate. This is the premise behind Really Good, Actually, a story of break up filled with wit and humorous observations of the absurdities of social norms and our own flawed psyches.

There's nothing here that will break unprecedented ground or expand your greater understanding of the world, but Heisey's comedy bona fides as a writer make this a worthwhile proposition. 

9. "Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World" by Malcolm Harris

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Malcolm Harris is a journalist of some prominence. Editor of The New Inquiry, heavily involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement and considered a leading voice in millennial literature. 

His latest work, Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, is a work of non-fiction that aims to be nothing less than the definitive treatise on the region, its transformation during the digital revolution, and the consequences for the wider world at large.

It's radical, ambitious stuff and a must read for anyone with an interest in the subject matter or the industry as a whole.

8. "The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece" by Tom Hanks

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It turns out that in addition to being a pretty good actor, Tom Hanks is a pretty good writer as well. His recent foray into short story writing was critically and commercially well received. He returns now with his debut novel.

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece sounds like something that should fit perfectly with Hanks' experience. A novel set across three decades about the making of a major superhero film and the comic books that inspired it.

This generational tale runs side by side with a tie-in comic strip, also created by Hanks, woven in with the novel's prose. For a first time author, Hanks is showing some impressive ambition in his use of the form here.

7. "Ascension" by Nicholas Binge

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For this next one we break away from depictions of the real world for something a little bit different. 

Ascension is a speculative thriller, with events set into motion by the sudden appearance of a new mountain in the Pacific Ocean. Framed through the discovery of a series of letters depicting a team of scientists ascending its peak, hoping to uncover its mysteries. 

Binge has a track record when it comes to tales of the fascinating and strange. His latest will challenge the limitations of science and faith, and consider what it means to be human.

6.  "Biography of X" by Catherine Lacey

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Catherine Lacey's new novel Biography of X is a unique blending of fiction and biography depicting the life and times of X, recently deceased artist and iconoclast, one of the great creative forces of her time.

What follows is a tale that covers decades in an alternate America following X and their rise to prominence, from Europe to the ruins of America's divided territories, and through her collaborations and feuds with everyone from Bowie and Waits to Sontag and Acker. Written in the style of a biographical work composed by a grieving widow seeking to understand her deceased spouse, their work and the numerous mysteries and betrayals they carried.

The scope of this work is staggering. An alternative history that explores every part of this new world from the politics and social issues, to the cultural zeitgeists across decades of history. From a conceptual perspective, it's one of the more interesting pieces I've seen in recent years and is being tipped as one of the most hotly anticipated novels of 2023.

5. "Cuddy" by Benjamin Myers

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Benjamin Myers' last novel, Perfect Golden Circle, was one of the better reads of 2022, a true-to-form blend of wit, Britannic folklore and bucolic charm. 

Myers has shown himself to be adept at tracing the arc of history, how point A leads to point B, and weaving that into his immediate narrative. His latest, Cuddy, draws on similar themes and influences, but laid over a far more ambitious framework. A story that unfolds across centuries, consisting of multiple interwoven tales with an array of characters. Incorporating poetry, prose and real historical accounts in an ambitious retelling of the story of St. Cuthbert, unofficial patron saint of Northern England. 

It's a more experimental piece of work than what we have come to expect from his recent writing, typically noted for its simplicity and pared back form. I look forward to seeing how his style works with this more unusual narrative structure.

4. "The Ferryman" by Justin Cronin

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The Ferryman sounds like a classic bit of Nolan or Bradbury-esque science fiction. Set in a seemingly idyllic island utopia where denizens have their health monitored at all time, "retiring" to a location known as the nursery when their vitals fall below a certain threshold, where they are renewed and restored to a fresh body with their memories wiped. 

You can probably see where this is going. All is not as it seems in this island paradise. What ensues is a suspenseful slice of dystopian fiction as our protagonist seeks to uncover the truth behind this mysterious society.

Best known for his acclaimed 2010 novel, The Passage, author Justin Cronin has been compared to the likes of Stephen King and Michael Crichton. It's easy to see their influence in what is sure to be one of the biggest novels of the summer.

3. "The Deep Sky" by Yume Kitasei

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This next pick takes us on a murder mystery adventure in deep space. The Deep Sky is a debut novel from author Yume Kitasei.

With Earth on the verge of environmental collapse, the planet's nations pool their resources to send a ship containing the best and brightest to a distant liveable planet. A last hope for the future of humanity. Part way through their journey, a bomb goes off. There is one prime suspect, and she must race against the clock to uncover the true culprit.

Whether you enjoy detective novels, space exploration, or the obvious parallels to videogame Among Us, this novel has a lot to be excited about and is being tipped as one of the most promising debuts of 2023.

2. "In Ascension" by Martin MacInnes

best literature 2023 novel book in ascension martin macinnesIt is unfortunate that we have two such similarly named books on this list, but the inclusion of In Ascension is more than justified. In his third novel, Martin MacInnes has crafted an irresistible mystery that has been likened to the movies Arrival and The Abyss, as well as the writings of Emily St. John Mandel.

In Ascension starts with a young researcher in the Netherlands with a fascination for the sea and the organisms that live there. What follows is a global adventure investigating a series of unexplained phenomena across the natural world that will confront the greatest questions of our existence.

It's a big step up in scope for MacInnes, whose previous work has clocked in around the 250 page mark, roughly half of In Ascension. It's certainly his most ambitious work to date, and if it works then it could be one of the most exciting reads of the year.

1. "Victory City" by Salman Rushdie

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A new epic from Salman Rushdie is always going to be a major event in literature, more so this year given that this is the first work published since Rushdie suffered life changing injuries in last year's attack, which took place after this work was completed.

Victory City is an epic tale of a young girl in 14th Century India who, grief stricken by the death of her mother, is given the power to breathe an entire empire into existence, only to be consumed by it over the centuries. 

As with Rushdie's other novels, Victory City is an ambitious tale of magical realism, with allegories on religion and history woven throughout his work.

So there you have it folks: 2023 in literature. Tune in soon for our next instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new theatre coming up in 2023!

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to the videogame industry, previewing for you loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2023.

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It's a strange time in the gaming industry. Whether it's as a result of the inherently long project gestation periods, or the sheer number of multidisciplinary moving pieces that require coordination, it's clear that this form of media has felt the effects of the pandemic longer and harder than others. While other forms of entertainment production have largely returned to normal levels of productivity, gaming remains beset by delays and setbacks. 

In many ways, 2022 feels like a year of gaming that never happened, with most of the major releases being pushed back into 2023. From last year's Hot List, a whopping 12 out of 15 expected 2022 releases ended up being delayed. The result of this is that 2023 is, on paper, one of the most fully stocked years of videogame releases in recent memory, with all the expected 2023 releases plus the many various delayed 2022 releases. 

It's a daunting task to whittle this down to just the usual 15. As a result, I briefly considered expanding the list to 20 for this year but, frankly, even I would struggle with that many games. So instead, I've decided to just be ruthless. Any game with a vague, uncertain, or otherwise tenuous release date is off the list. Got a game coming out "winter"? I'm going to assume that's early 2024 and it's off the list. What we are left with is a bullet proof list of the heights of 2023 gaming, a strong mix between smaller independent projects and the big, blockbuster releases.

So here it is, the 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (PC, Mac, Xbox, Playstation, Switch)

oxenfree 2 II lost signals netflix 2023 best gameThe first game was an acclaimed indie darling, a surprise hit that delighted with its smart design and accomplished writing. The sequel, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals comes with rather more auspicious trappings; the weight of expectation from its forebear and the status of being the first major acquisition in Netflix's new push into interactive media.

But that new expectation is also driving greater ambition. Oxenfree II is bigger than its predecessor, more open ended, more personalised. The aesthetic and tone may be familiar for fans of the developer, but it is clear that with this next release they are trying to mix things up a bit in surprising ways.

While an official release date has not yet been provided, it has been confirmed to be out in 2023, and leaked data suggests sometime in spring.

Release Date: TBD 2023

14. Octopath Traveler II (PC, Playstation, Switch)

octopath traveler 2 ii switch playstation square final fantasy best games 2023 pcThe first entry in the series is remembered as the Nintendo Switch's first great JRPG. A promising, if flawed reimagining of the classic Final Fantasy formula that innovated through its impressively flexible combat system and a stunning 2.5D graphical style. 

In 2023 a sequel will be released, Octopath Traveler II. The signs so far are promising, with early release materials quick to emphasise the ways in which Square Enix have listened to fan feedback. This sequel will feature a new setting and characters, but with greater emphasis on the story and party interactions that make JRPGs such an enduring and compelling form in gaming. 

Octopath Traveler II will release for Switch, Playstation and Windows at the end of February.

Release Date: February 2023

13. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Playstation)

marvel spider man spiderman 2 ii playstation ps5 best games 2023 pcWhile the superhero genre thrives in cinema (too much so), gaming is another story. The very nature of these stories and their superpowered characters poses an extreme challenge in terms of balancing, while the high cost of production and licensing leaves less budget to actually make a good game. The history of videogames is full of expensive superhero flops.

One of the rare exceptions to this trend is Sony's recent adaptation of the Spider-Man series for Playstation and its more recent Miles Morales spin-off. These were excellent games, giving players the freedom to feel like they had the powers of Spider-Man, without breaking the game or making it too easy. The fully explorable New York is a joy to explore, the interpretation of characters and lore stands out among the best of the franchise, and the game as a whole is just full of references, bonuses and unlockables that make it a treat for fans.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 comes out this year, a full sequel that will bring together Peter and Miles, along with a fan favourite character I won't spoil here (but is pretty obvious if you watch the trailer). It is expected to come out sometime in the latter half of the year.

Release Date: Autumn 2023

12. Final Fantasy XVI (Playstation)

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In what promises to be a big year for Sony releases, few franchises command the kind of status that Final Fantasy enjoys. A new entry in the series is always a big deal and Final Fantasy XVI feels particularly significant.

It's an odd time for the franchise, with every recent release plagued by crisis and drawn out development periods. Square Enix have inexplicably spent most of the past fifteen years trying to expand the world of Final Fantasy XIII, probably the most poorly received title in the series, with various sequels and spin-offs. FFXIV was an MMO spin-off rather than a mainline title, which went through a calamitous release (and, in fairness, a miraculous comeback) and had to be redesigned from the ground up. Leading us to the most recent title, FFXV, which was itself a repurposed spin-off from the FFXIII era ultimately transformed into a standalone title following more than a decade of development hell. Through this entire period, the only out and out success story for the developers has been its remake of FFVII.

So there is a lot riding on FFXVI. Fortunately, the game appears to be in sound hands, with Naoki Yoshida, the man credited with FFXIV's turnaround, at the helm. The title will see a return to western medieval-inspired high fantasy, with a completely original setting and cast of characters. The title releases this summer. 

Release Date: June 2023

11. A Highland Song (PC, Switch)

highland song inkle 80 days overboard heaven vault 2023 best gameInkle might just be the most underrated indie developer in the industry. Primarily known for their mobile titles, including 80 Days, arguably the greatest travel game of all time. Their first major home console title, Heaven's Vault, was well received for its originality and unique linguistics-based gameplay. 

A new Inkle game is cause for celebration. Their latest, A Highland Song looks to be another joyful and original twist on gaming formulas: a musical survival platformer set in the Scottish Highlands. Visually, this looks like one of Inkle's finest works, with a hand-drawn watercolour aesthetic and liquid smooth animations. 

Set your expectations for a light and serene side-scrolling adventure when A Highland Song releases for Switch and PC in 2023. Date still to be confirmed.

Release Date: TBD 2023

10. World of Horror (PC, Playstation, Switch)

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Sticking to the indie theme we have World of Horror, the long-gestating debut project from Polish gamedev and full time dentist Paweł Koźmiński. 

World of Horror is a love letter to 1-bit pixel-art games. An adventure game with turn-based combat inspired by the horror of Japanese folklore, as well as the works of horror authors H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito. World of Horror employs semi-randomised roguelike elements, which sees players explore various locations and fight otherworldly creatures in a series of constantly changing modular stories, which are set for further expansion after launch.

After three years of development and a pro-longed early access period, World of Horror will release in summer of 2023. 

Release Date: Summer 2023

9. Homeworld 3 (PC)

homeworld 3 best games 2023 pcThe original Homeworld was a title that carried a great amount of hype when it launched in the late 1990s. A massive, bombastic space opera with cutting edge graphics and presentation, not to mention pioneering 3D gameplay unlike anything other developers were putting out at the time. It was a game of unprecedented cinematic flair for the time, which went on to greatly influence the genre and industry as a whole going forward. While critically acclaimed at the time, the series has laid dormant since 2003's Homeworld 2, due in part to the IP kerfuffle in the wake of original publisher Sierra's collapse. 

Homeworld went on to form something of a legendary cult status and has seen a revival in recent years with a prequel spin-off and remastered versions of the original games finding release. The announcement, finally, of Homeworld 3 may have been somewhat inevitable in retrospect, but still a very welcome surprise. 

Little is known so far, but it can be presumed that Homeworld 3 will follow its predecessors in gameplay and style. This has been tentatively pencilled in for a summer 2023 release.

Release Date: Summer 2023

8. Alan Wake II (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

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At long, long last, after many years of rumour and speculation, and the longest cliffhanger in history, Remedy is bringing us their sequel to Alan Wake. Us old fogies will remember the notorious ambition and hype that surrounded the original title throughout its long, delayed development time. So it seems fitting that Alan Wake II has taken an equally extravagant amount of time to reach us.

Little is known of this title other than that it will be a survival horror game, picking up where Alan Wake's story left off in the first game. It will be interesting to see what angle they take given the sticky situation in which Wake found himself at the end of the previous game. It will also be interesting to see how, if at all, Remedy intertwines the worlds of Alan Wake with that of their more recent hit title, Control. 

The Remedy Connected Universe is ripe with spooky storytelling opportunity and this will undoubtedly be one of the titles to keep an eye on in 2023.

Release Date: TBD 2023

7. Hogwarts Legacy (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

hogwarts legacy harry potter best game 2023When Hogwarts Legacy first leaked a few years back, it created about as much of a stir as one would expect. A massive open world RPG based on the Harry Potter franchise is the stuff of many gamers' dreams, not to mention the closest thing to a money-printer you can find in the entertainment industry. It would have been easy for Avalanche Software to rely on this fact and simply put out something safe and sufficiently fan-servicey. But the more we have seen of this title, the more ambitious it looks. 

Players will control a student at Hogwarts in the 1800s, attend classes, explore the environs, and presumably embark on some grand adventure. The game looks to be extremely customisable, with players able to design their character in quite specific detail, choose their House and wizarding proficiencies. Players even have access to their own room of requirement and beast vivarium, all of which can be customised down to the smallest detail.

Hogwarts Legacy looks to be the ultimate experience for fans of Harry Potter, allowing players to live within this world and enjoy all it has to offer in a way never seen before. I predict this will be a big deal when it releases, barring some unprecedented botching. After much delay, this title is due for release in February.

Release Date: February 2023

6. Deliver Us Mars (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

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2018's Deliver Us the Moon was perhaps the most underappreciated title of the past five years. An atmospheric, hard sci-fi puzzle adventure that sees players explore an abandoned lunar base to discover what led to its downfall. Think Everybody's Gone to the Rapture mixed with Gravity and you have some idea of the experience. A very impressive storytelling experience for an indie title.

With the sequel, Deliver Us Mars, everything is bigger and more ambitious. The success of the original has allowed for a much expanded budget and development team. The result is more action-adventure gameplay, fully animated cinematic cutscenes. If this manages to capture the thrill and mystery of the original, combined with its higher production values and the increased expertise of its developers, then it will be one to watch in 2023.

Originally planned for release last autumn, Deliver Us Mars will now be out in February 2023.

Release Date: February 2023

5. Skate Story (PC, Mac)

skate story sam eng blood cultures best game pc mac 2023Sometimes a project will sell you on the tagline alone: "You are a demon, made of glass and pain. And yet you must skate." The Devil has given you a skateboard with a simple deal: Skate to the Moon and swallow it — and you shall be freed.

Skateboarding games have long fallen out of fashion since the halcyon days of Tony Hawk and Skate. Perhaps what they've needed is something more than just generic urban grit. Such is the thinking of Sam Eng, the one man band behind Skate Story

There's a lot to love about this project. It is visually absolutely stunning, with great music to complement the lonely, wistful themes. The story is just daffy and over the top enough to work. If they can nail the feel of the controls, this looks like it will be solid gold. A baffling, brilliant original.

Release Date: TBD 2023

4. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (PC, Mac, Switch)

bomb rush cyberfunk jet set radio hideki naganuma best game pc 2023I'm a 90s kid. That means I inherently love Sega. But Sega are an objectively bad company. How else can you explain why a company that always appears to be on the verge of collapse is allowing a vast catalogue of classic intellectual properties and franchises (arguably matched only by Nintendo in depth) to just collect dust in a warehouse somewhere? Chief among these is the great Jet Set Radio series of games. Frustrated by their intransigence, a group of indie devs (and apparent fans of the series) have taken matters into their own hands by crafting their own spiritual successor to the long dormant franchise. The result is Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.

Fans of Jet Set Radio will find much of what they love here. Bright, cell-shaded visuals, the funky musical stylings of the brilliant Hideki Naganuma, and the same mesmerising neo-futuristic urban setting. Featuring a colourful cast of characters, you will skate around a dizzying cityscape full of gangs, graffiti and rebel-spirit. So far it looks great.

Release is confirmed to be summer 2023. Can this indie team succeed where larger studios have failed and emulate the success of this classic title? We shall see.

Release Date: Summer 2023

3. Kerbal Space Program 2 (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

kerbal space program 2 jebediah best game 2023The original game remains one of the greatest gaming surprises of recent years. Created by one amateur coder during his lunch break, the concept was fairly simple: build rockets and try to launch them into space under realistic physics and orbital mechanics. The deceptively deep toybox-like design tools proved such good fun that you could sink hours into just getting that one perfect spacecraft into orbit before even realising you had other planets to visit. Now a full team of professional designers are bringing a full-blooded sequel, Kerbal Space Program 2.

The goal of this sequel appears to be to take the successful foundations of the original and just build on it. More parts, colony building, multiple star systems. It's the type of feature list that fans and modders have been dreaming about, but the key will be to get the basics right. The physics system has to feel as solid as the original, the building tools need to be as intuitive. It won't be enough to just slap a coat of Kerbilish paint on a pale imitation.

Originally revealed back at the end of 2019 with an expected 2020 release date. The team has evidently been hit bad by the pandemic, but two years' worth of delays appear to finally be on the verge of bearing fruit. The recently returned series of dev diaries doing much to allay fans' fears. KSP2 is now set for a 2023 release, initially in early access.

Release Date: February 2023 (early access), TBD (final)

2. Starfield (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

starfield bethesda fallout best game 2023 pc xbox ps4 ps5For many, this is the biggest game coming in 2023. Starfield promises a grand space opera in the style of a Mass Effect or Star Wars, with open-world exploration built around the same concepts as Bethesda's tried and tested Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series, only set over a series of star systems and multiple worlds. 

Bethesda games often get a lot of flack, sometimes deservedly, but their track record speaks for itself and includes some of the most celebrated titles of the past 20 years. Engrossing world-building and lore, moddable to an unprecedented extent (for a AAA game). Open world RPGs are incredibly complex beasts and few developers have ever managed to create such immersive and flexible examples as Bethesda. While there may be valid criticisms over some of their recent decisions and business practices, they truly are one of the grand masters of the genre.

It is also notable that Starfield comes in the wake of 2019's The Outer Worlds, a similarly spacefaring RPG created by rivals and original Fallout creators Obsidian. That title met with moderate initial success, and it will be interesting to see how a competing effort from the current Fallout stewards compares.

After many years of speculation and delay, Starfield is due for release by summer of 2023.

Release Date: Summer 2023

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)

legend of zelda breath of the wild 2 sequel tears of the kingdom skyward sword switch best game ever 2023But as hyped as I am for a new Bethesda RPG, there are few things in any part of the entertainment industry that catch the spotlight as much as a new entry in Nintendo's fabled The Legend of Zelda series.

How do you follow up a game that is often considered to be one of the greatest ever made? That is the question Nintendo will be asking now as they craft The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. In fairness, it is a position in which they have found themselves before in following up the Ocarina of Time. The result on that occasion was Majora's Mask, a game considered by many to be even better than its predecessor. So no pressure then.

TotK will ostensibly make use of the same open world as its predecessor, with some added verticality and a new time manipulation mechanic. Lore-wise there appears to be some form of connection to a previous title in the series, Skyward Sword, but is otherwise a direct sequel to the events of BotW. No question about it, no other game in 2023 will command as much attention as this.

Release Date: May 2023

So there you have it folks: 2023 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new novels and literature coming this year!

Friday, 6 January 2023

Happy New Year to all and welcome back to The Ephemeric. I hope you are all well rested and well fatted from your holidays, but now 2023 is upon us it's time to get down to business. A new year can only mean one thing, it's time to break out The Hot List and see what's coming up next.

So here it is, your ultimate guide to the year ahead, The Ephemeric's 2023 Hot List. In this first entry we will be looking at the most exciting things happening in the world of television over the next 12 months, with a particular eye cast over the brand new shows hitting your screens in 2023.

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What more can be said about the state of television in 2023? With every tangentially entertainment-related company and their dog starting their own streaming network, the sheer volume of original content is near unmanageable. In 2022, this blog awarded the top prizes in television to The Orville's excellent third season and Apple TV+'s best drama to date, Severance. But in truth there was a wide array of very fine series, old and new, that didn't quite make the cut but nevertheless are worthy of praise, from Netflix's thrilling Cyberpunk Edgerunners, to Paramount finally making a decent Star Trek series in Strange New Worlds, to Disney creating one of the year's finest documentary series in Welcome to Wrexham. 

2023 promises to be another year of content abundance. Whittling down this list to just 15 was, once again, hugely challenging. But this final list represents a great cross-section of TV's most celebrated creators, some long-gestating projects finally coming to completion, and old returning favourites, some of which will be making their final appearance. There is something out there for everyone, but at the same time there is more than can possibly be digested by one person, so choose wisely. 

So without further ado here are the top 15 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves and their web-equivalent in 2023:

15. White House Plumbers - HBO (New TV Show)

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We will start off with some good old fashioned political drama, in HBO's White House Plumbers

This is an adaptation of the 2007 book Integrity, a dramatization of events surrounding the Watergate scandal and, in particular, the roles of G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, the Nixon operators and so-called "White House Plumbers" tasked with plugging leaks of classified information.

Directed by David Mandel, showrunner of Veep, also known for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm, featuring a strong cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Domhnall Gleeson, Lena Headey, F. Murray Abraham, Kathleen Turner, Gary Cole, and many other recognisable faces.

White House Plumbers is scheduled for release in March.

Start Date: March 2023

14. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Amazon

2023 most anticipated tv marvelous maisel amazonA fifth season and final hurrah for arguably 
Amazon's greatest comedy to date, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

At its best, Maisel is one of the finest series on TV. A love letter to a bygone era of Golden Age New York, this tale of 1950s feminism is hilarious, with strong performances and impeccable production that evoke the mood of the period without feeling too much like a pastiche. 

The award winning nostalgia-fest of a mid-century house-wife turned stand-up comedy queen has been charming audiences since 2017, during which it has been a consistently welcome highlight in the year's TV line up. But all good things come to an end. With so many narrative threads outstanding, I can't wait to see how they tie it all together.

Start Date: Spring 2023

13. Disclaimer - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

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A new thriller and the latest addition to AppleTV+'s increasingly impressive line up of original content, Disclaimer is based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Renée Knight.

The story follows Catherine Ravenscroft, played here by the great Cate Blanchett, a famed TV journalist who discovers that she is a prominent character in a novel that reveals a secret she has long tried to keep hidden. Blanchett is joined by an impressive cast that includes Kevin Kline, Lesley Manville, Sacha Baron Cohen in his latest dramatic turn, and HoYeon Jung in her first major role since her breakout performance in Squid Game

Perhaps most exciting is the attachment of Alfonso Cuarón, the Academy Award winning director of Gravity, Roma, Children of Men, and, surprisingly, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as showrunner.

Release date is still TBD, but expected for early 2023. 

Start Date: TBD 2023

12. The Fall of the House of Usher - Netflix (New TV Show)

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When it comes to the horror genre, Mike Flanagan can seemingly do no wrong at the moment. The filmmaker cut his teeth on well received films such as Oculus, Hush, and Doctor Sleep, but more recently has been widely acclaimed for his work with Netflix on miniseries The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass.

His latest, The Fall of the House of Usher is a miniseries based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, featuring a cast of Bruce Greenwood, Carla Gugino, Mark Hamill, and others.

A great horror filmmaker working with top level source material and a strong cast. This is one to watch in 2023. The release date has yet to be confirmed, but with filming having wrapped last summer, we should see it early this year.

Start Date: Spring 2023

11. Futurama - Hulu

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It just won't stay dead! That's right, after nearly ten years, Matt Groening's other great animated series, Futurama is returning yet again.

This latest revival comes courtesy of Hulu, presumably aided by parent company Disney's newfound ownership of all these old Fox-produced TV shows. The main cast all return and Hulu have ordered 20 episodes.

What more is there to say? Futurama is one of the very best animated series, and while its last few seasons may not have reached the heights of the original run, if it can capture even a slice of its wit, this will be a highlight of 2023. 

Hulu were allegedly targeting completion of all episodes by the end of 2022, which leads me to believe we will see this release sometime in the summer. But at the time of writing a date has yet to be confirmed. 

Start Date: TBD 2023

10. Shrinking - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

shrinking apple appletv plus bill lawrence harrison ford jason segel 2023 most anticipated tv showsThis promising new comedy continues the successful collaboration between AppleTV+ and the writing duo of Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein, creators of Apple's greatest series to date, Ted Lasso

Shrinking's plot has a whiff of The Newsroom about it. Jason Segel plays a therapist who, dealing with grief, finally decides he's had enough and begins to speak his mind, with massive consequences for both himself and his patients. The supporting cast includes plenty of proven comedy talent, such as Christa Miller (with whom Lawrence has worked previously, on Scrubs), Jessica Williams of The Daily Show, and, curiously, Harrison Ford in his first ever TV role.

Shrinking will release in January 2023. If it can achieve even half of what Ted Lasso managed, it will be worth the watch.

Start Date: January 2023

9. Fallout - Amazon (New TV Show)

fallout game videogame bethesda walton goggins jonathan nolan 2023 most anticipated tvYes, this is really happening. Amazon have ordered a TV series based on the celebrated videogame franchise Fallout.

For those not in the know, Fallout is a series of mostly RPG videogames, set in a post-apocalyptic world heavily stylised by the retrofuturism of midcentury America. It's a largely lighthearted affair that plays as a clever satire of post-war American exceptionalism and the unbridled optimism of the atomic age. It also happens to be one of my favourite series.

Quite how they turn this into a TV show, I am not sure. Getting the balance right for a witty comedy-adventure set in a nuclear wasteland will be tricky enough, but such a significant part of the Fallout series lies in player choice and autonomy, that I really wonder how well it will translate to a non-interactive format. 

That said, Fallout has some solid creative talent behind it, with Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies) and Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, as well as co-writer on his brother's films The Dark Knight and Interstellar) attached as showrunners. This, combined with the good track record that Amazon has with sci-fi and other high concept works, has me cautiously optimistic for now.

Start Date: TBA 2023

8. Masters of the Air AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

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Cary Fukunaga, a director best known for True Detective, The Alienist, and the most recent Bond film No Time To Die, brings us this new war drama, courtesy of AppleTV+.

Masters of the Air tells the true story of the Eighth Air Force of the United States during World War II, backed by the production companies behind Band of Brothers and The Pacific, headed by none other than Steven Spielberg.

With the talent involved, this could well end up being one of Apple's flagship dramas in 2023. No release date has yet been announced, but filming is said to have taken place in late 2021 and early 2022, indicating that we should see this sooner rather than later.

Start Date: TBA 2023

7. Succession - HBO

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It's possibly the most talked about series on TV at the moment, HBO's Succession returns for season 4 in 2023.

The last season ended on something of a cliffhanger, leading us into what promises to be a high stakes new season which, if rumours are to be believed, may be the penultimate season of the series. 

Whatever the case, I for one can not wait to see some more of the show's delicious scheming, backstabbing, and darkly hilarious character-writing.

Succession's new season is confirmed to be arriving in spring 2023, which could mean anything from March onwards.

Start Date: Spring 2023

6. Citadel - Amazon (New TV Show)

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Amazon's new series Citadel sounds impressively ambitious. A science fiction, globetrotting spy drama centred around some, currently shrouded in mystery, groundbreaking global event.

What is remarkable about Citadel is that, in addition to the main english language series, Amazon will also be producing several local language spin-off series set in various countries including Mexico, India, and the Italian Alps. These series will feature a strong cast that includes Richard Madden, Stanley Tucci, and Priyanka Chopra.

If it all sounds like a lot to wrap your head around, then fear not. Amazon have placed at the helm of this project The Russo Brothers, a duo with considerable experience in crafting sprawling interconnected media from their projects in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and making it accessible to audiences.

Producing several spin-offs before the main series has even launched is either one of the most foolhardy things I have seen in television, or it's a masterstroke that will result in a worldwide phenomenon of a franchise. We will find out soon enough.

Start Date: TBD 2023

5. Nolly - ITV (New TV Show)

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On the surface Nolly, a new ITV series about 1970s soap opera star Noele Gordon might seem like a bit of "ok... so what?". But this is the latest project from none other than Russell T.  Davies.

Davies is on a hell of a run lately, with A Very English Scandal, Years and Years, and It's a Sin out in recent years, each one of which is solid gold. The casting of Helena Bonham Carter in the lead role, as well as the continued collaboration with Peter Hoar, director of It's a Sin, all bodes very well.

If I'm honest, I can't remember the last time ITV produced a series worth watching. But Russell T. Davies rarely misses and his name alone makes this must watch television for 2023. 

Start Date: Summer 2023

4. Severance - AppleTV+

2023 most anticipated tv severance apple appletv plus season 2The original content coming out of AppleTV+ has been remarkable in recent years, propelling them almost instantly to the top tier of streaming networks. The record breaking Ted Lasso has been the clear standout to date, but last season saw the release of a series that may well be the next best thing Apple have yet produced.

Severance was a real surprise package in 2022, a quirky, humorous, pitch black satire of corporate exploitation. Anchored by strong performances and whip-smart writing, the first season ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, making a follow up not only essential, but a mere formality with the success of its debut. That second season will release in 2023. 

Filming is due to wrap in the spring, meaning we can expect a release late in 2023.

Start Date: Late 2023

3. Daisy Jones & The Six - Amazon (New TV Show)

2023 most anticipated tv amazon daisy jones six novel reece witherspoonFinally, at long last. This series has been featured on the Hot List for a few years running now, but after several pandemic-related delays, Daisy Jones & The Six will release in 2023. 

This is the adaptation of the Debbie Award winning novel of the same name. Snapped up by Reese Witherspoon's production company, the series was first pitched as potentially making its way to HBO, it has since ended up finding a home on Amazon.

This is of course story of the titular Daisy Jones and her fictionalised 1970s rock band, based loosely on the history of Fleetwood Mac. The novel was written in the format of a documentary film, but it is expected that the series will be a more traditional drama, albeit with an Office/Parks and Rec confessional mockumentary style.

The cast may be mostly unknown, but in its lead they have some bona fide musical credentials in Riley Keough, grandchild of none other than Elvis Presley himself. She is joined in the cast by Sam Claflin, who you might recognise from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films. 

The book is a classic. I am skeptical of how well this will translate into television, but if they can pull it off then this will be one of the series to watch when it releases in March.

Start Date: March 2023

2. Ted Lasso - AppleTV+

ted lasso season 3 apple appletv+ plus new most anticipated tv 2023One of television's great surprise hits, Ted Lasso has turned its forgettable origins into a masterstroke of feel-good comedy and taken its place as the flagship of Apple's nascent original programming division.

Great credit needs to go to showrunner Bill Lawrence and lead man Jason Sudeikis for helping to craft an unforgettable array of loveable characters, but what shone from season 2 was the increased ambition and ramped up drama that brought unexpected levels of depth without sacrificing everything that made its debut so enjoyable.

After a few delays (this was previously tipped for autumn 2022), filming has now wrapped and we are expecting a release no sooner than spring 2023. This is currently set to be the final season, although there have been hints that the creators may be open to continuing the show beyond the originally planned three-season run. Fingers crossed Apple convinces them to keep going, but if not then let's enjoy it while we can and hope they go out with a bang.

Start Date: Spring 2023

1. The Three-Body Problem - Netflix (New TV Show)

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And finally, our top pick for 2023 goes to another long-gestating project. The oft-tipped, highly anticipated, eye-wateringly expensive adaptation of Liu Cixin's award winning series of novels, Death's End. This series takes its name from the first book in that series, The Three-Body Problem.

Put simply, the novel is a masterpiece of science fiction. A deeply intelligent series that draws on mankind's history and contemporary society to depict a hypothetical first contact scenario. Everything about the novel is sublime, from its clever real-world allusions to the tantalisingly slow-paced drip-feed of revelations as we learn more of its central mystery, and its rigid adherence to hard-science and the constraints that puts on many of our most common sci-fi tropes.

After a protracted bidding war (at one point Amazon were allegedly willing to drop $1billion on it), the series has ended up at Netflix, with a cast that includes Benedict Wong, John Bradley, Liam Cunningham, Jonathan Pryce

The one thing that gives me pause is the involvement of Game of Thrones showrunners Benioff & Weiss (some may see this as a good thing). In my view one of the worst scourges of current sci-fi/fantasy TV is the tendency for producers to try and "Game of Thrones-ify" their series. The recent Star Trek series are a great example, Apple's Foundation as well (albeit to a lesser extent). I really hope that doesn't happen here.

This is due for release some time in 2023. If they manage to do the novel series justice, then it could well be a landmark series. Fingers crossed.

Start Date: TBD 2023

So there you have it folks: 2023 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!

Thursday, 29 December 2022

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You all know the drill by now. Break out your finest evening wear and your dancing shoes, because tonight we are all going to the big show with VIP tickets. It's the Debbie Awards, the traditional end of year showstopper that celebrates the good, the bad, and the downright dazzling of the year gone by. 

2022 was a year of highs and lows. Family health scares, war, national mourning, but on the other hand weddings, babies (not mine), family health recoveries, and more memories forged together as the world continued to reopen and return to normal. 2022 was a year of great scientific and technological accomplishment, a year of renewed creative output, and a return of spectacle as live events moved from online streams back into the real world. So get comfy, break out the bubbles, let's settle in for the night and get into this.

Without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2022 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:

2022 Debbie Awards

Cinema & TV

1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year 
Winner: The Orville (Hulu/Disney+)
Runner Up: Stranger Things (Netflix)

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The return of The Orville has been a long time in the making. Originally slated for release in 2020, the show's third season has been beset by delays as a result of the pandemic and a switch in production from Fox to Hulu/Disney. But after three rough years, it's back and it's fair to say that the wait has been worth it. Backed by the considerable financial heft of Disney and free from the commercial considerations that come with cable TV, this new season is the most narratively ambitious and creatively daring to date. Everything about The Orville season 3 is bigger and better than ever and the result is some of the most thought provoking and entertaining sci-fi we've seen in years.

2022 also marked a strong return for old Ephemeric favourite Stranger Things. Don't be fooled by the fact that this is the first entry in the series not to win a Debbie, this is the strongest season of the Duffer Brothers' joyous horror nostalgia-fest since the first one. A thrilling 9 episode arc that raises the stakes, meaningfully expands the world of Hawkins, and perfectly sets up the series for its final curtain next year.

2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year 
Winner: Severance (AppleTV+)
Runner Up: This is Going to Hurt (BBC)

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Increasingly, this is becoming one of the most competitive categories of Debbie, with the streaming era's considerable expansion in both the quality and quantity of TV showing no signs of abatement. This year saw Apple continue their remarkable run of quality with Severance, a dark comedy/psychological thriller from Ben Stiller, of all people. Severance is a brilliantly audacious satire of corporate greed that in equal parts allures with its mystery and entertains with its charming absurdity.

This was a very difficult runner up to pick, with many worthy series excluded, but ultimately I'm going with This is Going to Hurt. This is the BBC's adaptation of the disturbing, yet hilarious memoir by former doctor Adam Kay (who you may also recognise as one half of the music-comedy duo Amateur Transplants, creator of the London Underground song). The TV series is fittingly uncompromising. Perhaps one of television's best ever depictions of life as a doctor.

3. The Debbie for Film of the Year 
Winner: The Banshees of Inisherin
Runner Up: Living

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Martin McDonagh is a writer/director with a very specific brand attached to his name. Acclaimed though his work may be, one can generally expect pitch black comedy combined with pronounced, sometimes cartoonish, violence. His latest, The Banshees of Inisherin, is a tale of two feuding friends on a quiet, fictional Irish isle, loosely allegorical of the Irish civil war. This film marks something of a departure from the McDonagh trope, being that it is neither particularly violent nor as riotously funny as some of his other work. It might also be his best film to date. Blessed with sharp writing that blends just enough humour with tragedy, stunning performances throughout (both leads could easily lay a claim to Oscars this year), and probably the most spectacular visual work of any McDonagh film to date. It may be a bit of a slow burn, but it is a film most worthy of your time.

Coming in second this year is a film that I suspect will fly under the radar of many this year, Living. The newest film from Oliver Hermanus, penned by award winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted from a Kurosawa film which was itself adapted from a Tolstoy novella. So there's a lot of pedigree here. It's difficult to describe what makes this film as special as it is. The story of a man coming to terms with terminal illness is, on the surface, intolerably sad, but the way the story is told is charming and strangely humorous to the point that it never feels like a drag, the entire production anchored by an all time great Bill Nighy performance.

4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year 
Winner: David Letterman, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction

david letterman next guest needs no introduction netflix zelensky late show talk show host of the year 2022

The elder statesman of talk show hosts returns. David Letterman has been doing his select series of Netflix interviews on and off for a few years now, but with its fourth season My Next Guest Needs No Introduction has delivered some of its best material yet. A special interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in particular, caps off an impressive series of in depth and uncompromising discussions.

5. The Debbie for Rising Star of the Year 
Winner: Paul Mescal

paul mescal normal people aftersun breakthrough star of the year 2022

Not the flashiest actor in the film industry, but one who has been quietly working, putting together an increasingly impressive filmography, in addition to a strong career on the stage. These last few years, in particular, have seen a remarkable rise to prominence for Paul Mescal. Many will recognise Mescal from the recent TV adaptation of Normal People, for which Mescal received both BAFTA and Emmy nominations last year. 2022 will have seen his name reach an even wider audience, starring in one of the year's best films Aftersun, as well as the sleeper indie hit God's Creatures. One imagines his agent will be very busy reviewing offers in 2023.

6. The Debbie for Web-Show of the Year 
Winner: Tifo Football

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Tifo Football is not a new series. The video-content arm of The Athletic (itself arguably the sport's best publication) has put out a steady stream of entertaining football-related videos, typically to explain the finer points of football tactics, history, as well as analysis of specific teams, players and strategies. In 2022, the channel took a notable step further into the more in depth analytical format, culminating in a fantastic series explaining the history of the Qatar World Cup in the run up to this year's tournament. This is top tier content and that series in particular is essential viewing for anyone seeking a greater understanding of why Qatar 2022 was such a big deal.

Music, Art & Theatre

7. The Debbie for Theatrical Production of the Year 
Winner: The 47th (the Old Vic)
Runner Up: Jerusalem (Apollo Theatre)

47 47th old vic trump mike bartlett king charles best theatre 2022

It's been a strong year for the stage as theatres resume regular operations and the various cancelled productions of 2020/21 make their long-awaited release. Mike Bartlett is a playwright best known for 2017's King Charles III, a (remarkably prescient) imagining of the day when then Prince Charles would ascend to the throne, and the Shakespearean power struggle that would ensue, written appropriately in blank verse and old English. With his new play, The 47th, Bartlett has pulled the same trick, but this time in imagining a hypothetical second Trump run for the White House. This too is written in the classical style, but whereas King Charles III used this in a fairly straight-faced telling of a Shakespearean-style drama, The 47th uses this to great comedic effect. The result is a satire for the ages, anchored by one of the best yet depictions of Trump himself by Bertie Carvel.

In second place we have an old production, but one that has made a comeback in 2022. Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem originally graced the stage back in 2009 and received widespread acclaim, in particular, for the performance of Mark Rylance. 2022 saw a revival of the production, with Rylance returning to the role after more than a decade. Fortunately the touch hasn't been lost in the interim and this is unmissable theatre. A second chance for those who did not catch it the first time.

8. The Debbie for Album of the Year 
Winner: Once Twice Melody - Beach House
Runners Up: Blue Rev - Alvvays, The Car - Arctic Monkeys

beach house once twice melody alvvays blue rev car arctic monkeys best album 2022

Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House win 2022 in music with their grandest work to date, Once Twice Melody. Known for their easy listening style and lush, intimate soundscapes, their latest is bold, epic and "big" from the very first track. The music retains their trademark dreamy, ambient style but with an added drive that allows the music to sink its teeth into the listener in a way that their earlier work rarely did. The duo of title track Once Twice Melody and Superstar is an opening salvo that any band would envy, and it follows quickly with Runaway, Over and Over, and possibly the most impressive track on the album, New Romance. It's a work of greater ambition that we've seen to date and one that establishes them firmly among the upper echelons of musicians working today. 

Another band hitting new heights in 2022 is Canadian indie pop group Alvvays (not to be confused with the similarly v'd Chvrches). This melody-focused group plays like a mix of classic Canadian indie pop with a touch of British rock. Their latest release, Blue Rev, is being viewed as something of a benchmark in the scene. An uplifting record of fun and energising tracks that each stand out as memorable in their own right, from the gauzy bedroom pop Pharmacist, to the jangly, Murakami-inspired After the Earthquake, and the delightfully animated (by ConcernedApe, creator of Stardew Valley, no less) Many Mirrors. This album is just hit after hit, a great record.

For our second runner up, we have the latest from Sheffield rockers Arctic Monkeys, The Car. This album continues Arctic Monkeys' recent evolution into more retro-tinged lounge rock, heavily influenced by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Steely Dan, and, in particular, David Bowie. Alex Turner's songwriting is as sharp as ever. Perhaps not quite as lyrically focused as their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, but with a more consistent musical flow and some memorable tracks, including the wonderfully cinematic There'd Better Be a Mirrorball, the funk-laden Thin White Duke-era Bowie-tinged I Ain't Quite Where I think I Am, and the almost mystical mid-album crooner Body Paint.

9. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year 
Winner: Angels & Queens Part I - Gabriels
Runner Up: Quiet the Room - Skullcrusher

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2022 has also been a very strong year for new musical artists. For the first time in a long while I really struggled to decide on an eventual winner between a handful of very impressive debuts. Ultimately, I had to go with Angels & Queens Part I, the debut LP from California trio Gabriels. Soul revivalists with an edge, a frontman with a dazzling voice, and consistently strong songwriting that is as comfortable dabbling in the realms of funk and jazz. It's impressive how fresh this sounds, despite its deep ties to nostalgia and history, with key tracks like Angels & Queens and If You Only Knew.

For the runner up position, we have the very inaptly named Skullcrusher and her debut album Quiet the Room. Despite how the name sounds, Skullcrusher is, in fact, a musician with a talent for crafting delicate, multi-instrumental folk songs. For the past two years she has impressed with a series of EP releases and her debut does not disappoint. The standout track here is Whatever Fits Together, a gorgeous and otherworldly slice of melancholy. 

10. The Debbie for Song of the Year 
Winner: Zenith - Kavinsky
Runners Up: New Romance - Beach House, Wo Bisch du Hut z Nacht - Patent Ochsner

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After years of radio silence, it feels strange to say that we have a new album from French DJ Kavinsky, yet here we are. His follow up album may not be the cultural touchstone of its predecessor, but it is still very impressive work. The pinnacle of the record has got to be second single Zenith, a veritable masterpiece of atmospheric composition with its vintage, cinematic instrumentals and melancholic vocals. Kavinsky is just great. He takes Blade Runner, Terminator, and everything dark and stormy about the 1980s and distils it into its pure musical essence. If ever a song could be described as sounding like a late night glass of fine scotch, it's this.

For our first runner up, we have the standout track from our album of the year winner, Beach House. New Romance is an immaculately formed slice of indie pop. A nostalgic backdrop of synth strings against driving piano keys bring to life a wistful, angsty ode to the confusion of young romance. It is a standout from what is already a top collection of songs.

And lastly we have (I believe) a first for the Debbie Awards, a top three placing for a song not sung in the English language. Patent Ochsner is Switzerland's greatest musical export. This year the band released two new tracks, one of which is pretty special. I'll admit, the finer points of Swiss German are lost on me, but musically, Wo bisch du hut z Nacht is a classic. Starting off as jazzy, low-fi affair before swelling into a Paul McCartney-esque piano anthem. Music doesn't only come from the UK or America, and this is one of the year's standout tracks.

11. The Debbie for Live Concert of the Year 
Winner: First Aid Kit

first aid kit best live performance concert 2021

There are few things that so appropriately celebrate the fact that we can go out and do things together again than live concerts. You can watch someone perform online all you like, but it's never going to be the same as seeing it in person. First Aid Kit are a band very much worth making that extra effort to see in person. The Swedish indie-folk duo are excellent songwriters in general, and in 2022 released another very strong album in Palomino. But their live performance elevates the music to the next level. Up close and personal, you can feel the detail in the music in a way that isn't as easily accessible from a studio recording. Those luscious, iconic, vocal harmonies resonate like never before. The two sisters also have great personality and chemistry on stage, which does much to bring their work to life in an entirely new way.

12. The Debbie for Art Exhibition of the Year 
Winner: The Bushwick Collective

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For this Debbie I'm thinking a little bit outside of the box. Partly because I haven't seen any museum exhibition this year that really blew me away, partly because The Bushwick Collective is really pretty damn awesome. Located, surprisingly, in Bushwick, New York, the Collective is effectively an open-air gallery covering an entire neighbourhood, featuring extraordinary building-sized murals, graffiti and other artwork. It really is a sight to behold, and as a living, breathing artistic space the work is constantly evolving. Last year marked the 10 year anniversary of the collective, so there has never been a better time to visit.

13. The Debbie for Book of the Year 
Winner: Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel

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Emily St. John Mandel is on a roll at the moment, with acclaimed novels The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven out in the last few years, one of which has been turned into a hit TV series, the other of which is about to be. In 2022, Mandel released her latest novel, Sea of Tranquility, and it's a pretty exceptional read. An intelligent, but page-turning adventure, written with wit and a cinematic sense of fun. Sea of Tranquility takes readers across time and space that nimbly balances its ambitious scope with intimate character-focused storytelling. It's impressive how far out there Mandel is able to go with some of her concepts without ever alienating the reader or feeling like its getting into too niche a genre, but here she gets the balance just right. The highlight of 2022's reading list and a novel that's hard not to enjoy.

Business & Technology

14. The Debbie for Scientific/Technological Breakthrough of the Year 
Winner: NIF achieves net energy gain fusion reaction

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It's easy to be skeptical when the media publishes a story about some "breakthrough" with headlines of typically breathless hyperbole, particularly when it concerns that holiest of grails, fusion energy. But in this case, the hype is warranted. After decades of work, false dawns, and a target that's always just tantalisingly out of reach, in 2022 the National Ignition Facility in Livermore California finally achieved the unachievable, a fusion reaction with a net gain in energy. 

For those who don't appreciate the background here, fusion energy is the energy that is produced when two lighter atoms fuse to form a heavier atom, releasing energy in the process. Hypothetically, a fusion reaction can produce more energy than is required to trigger the reaction. This is the process which drives the sun and stars, the generators of most of the universe's energy and matter. To be clear, this is not a promise of unlimited energy, nothing is unlimited. But its fuel source, deuterium, is so plentiful that it could potentially provide all the clean energy mankind will need for billions of years. Not unlimited, but in practical terms it may as well be. By managing to generate a net gain of energy, the NIF has demonstrated for the first time that the fusion energy process can be feasibly recreated here on Earth. After so many years of hope, that dream of energy abundance may finally be within our grasp, and it will absolutely change the world.

15. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
Winner: Playdate

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The gaming industry as a whole tends to obsess over technology, whether it was the bit-count back in the day, or processing power today. But time and time again we see that the best gaming experiences tend to come from good design rather than simple horsepower. When I first heard about the Playdate, I was skeptical. This is an unashamedly nostalgic 1-bit handheld system with the main hook being that once every two weeks it will download a new game, giving its owner a constantly changing library of experiences. But it's hard not to be won over by this charming piece of hardware. The build quality is excellent, for a start. The new "crank" control mechanic is used in innovative ways. The fortnightly "surprise" new game is a delightful treat. But above all, the games themselves are generally pretty clever, with some of the industry's best indie designers putting out content (most prominently, Lucas Pope of Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn fame). This really is a delight, perfect for travelers and commuters, but also fully recommended for anyone who wants to play something a little bit different.

16. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year 
Winner: Pentiment (PC, Xbox)
Runners Up: Strange Horticulture (PC, MacOS, Switch), High on Life (PC, Xbox)
Honourable Mention: Unpacking (PC, MacOS, Linux, Switch, Xbox, Playstation)

pentiment obsidian strange horticulture high on life pc console game of the year 2022

As a quick foreword: this really has been a weird year for gaming. For whatever reason, it's clear that this industry is taking longer than most to recover from the pandemic, and the result is that most of the year's biggest releases (an astonishing 12 out of 15 of this year's Hot List) have seen delays into 2023. For this reason, I expected this award to be a difficult one to decide. However, in spite of the difficulties, 2022 did turn out to be an excellent year for indie games, as well as games that aren't really indie but feel like they are. 

Representing the latter, we have this year's best game, Pentiment. Pentiment is the latest from masters of world-building RPGs, Obsidian, essentially a detective game set across three acts in 16th Century Bavaria. The gameplay is fairly simplistic, explore, talk to people, make decisions, but the level of autonomy that players are offered in determining their own character and driving forward the plot result in an experience with far greater depth than one might expect. The writing is also as stellar as one would expect from Obsidian, crafting a world full of interesting characters, social dynamics, and religious tensions that is enthralling to discover. But of course, no summary of Pentiment can be complete without a mention of the visuals, which draw on medieval and renaissance art styles to create a gameworld unlike anything you will have seen before, full of little details like different typefaces and painting styles to reflect each character's personality and place in society. A wonderful game that would be a worthy winner in any year.

2022 was a very strong year for indie games. One which stood out in particular, and which claims this year's first runner up prize, is Strange Horticulture. This is a marvel of clever game design, effectively a plant-shop detective adventure. Players run the titular plant nursery in a fantastical Victorian setting, collecting an array of unidentified plants and herbs that must be identified through a combination of environmental clues, the player's own observations, and an incomplete horticultural compendium. There are some exploration mechanics and an overarching plot (that I found to be mainly a distraction), but the real meat of the game is in this detective mechanic, and it is surprisingly riveting. The combination of having gameplay driven by a player's own investigative ability, along with the absolutely charming visuals, artwork and setting, makes for a cosy experience that is quite magical.

For our second runner up we have an indie game that feels a lot bigger than your typical indie game. High on Life is a comedic first person shooter in a semi-open world adventure setting. It's a decent enough shooter with some clever platforming and exploration as well as gunplay that feels solid. But what really makes this game notable is the lineup of bonafide big-name comedy talent. This game is created and written by Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites fame, and features a voice cast that includes the likes of J.B. Smoove, Tim Robinson, Maurice LaMarche, Thomas Middleditch, Jack Black and Susan Sarandon, among others. Full disclosure, I have never been a particularly big fan of Rick and Morty and was skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the humour here, but I did. Maybe this brand of humour works better for me in an interactive medium, but it's constantly hilarious, from the main plot, to the small background characters and gaming satire. But most of all, this is a game that you can tell was crafted with passion, just bursting with ridiculous details, in-jokes, and things that 90% of players will never see, but are hilarious.

I would also like to make a quick honourable mention to Unpacking, a game which came out in 2021 and so is ineligible for this year's awards. I was late to discover this game, but if I had, it would almost certainly have been a big contender for last year's prize. On the surface, this just looks like your typical cozy game, unpacking items from boxes and placing them around a pleasingly drawn isometric home. What I did not expect, and what does not become apparent until later into the game, is the remarkable, nuanced storytelling that runs through the experience. The items your protagonist takes with them from each home to the next (and the items they don't), the items that are already there when they move in, these things all tell a story. The subtlety of the storytelling is nothing short of ingenious, and I've never seen anything quite like it.

17. The Debbie for Company of the Year
Winner: Labster

labster startup company of the year 2022

I am fortunate that, through my line of work as well as my own personal interests and reading, I am able to come across incredible examples of innovation. Business ideas that are not only great businesses, but also with the capacity to affect a positive change on the world. Labster is one of the most exciting names in EdTech, a platform that provides accurate virtual simulations to allow students to engage in risk free experimentation and learning, using storylines and game elements. Originally founded in 2012, this company has been a regular fixture of tech conferences and industry writers. 2022 has seen them become one of the fastest growing companies in the sector and the recipient of numerous accolades and write ups as the concept continues to take off.


18. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Karim Benzema - Real Madrid

karim benzema real madrid best footballer player in the world football 2022

This was not as simple a contest to decide as it may seem. Is Karim Benzema the best player in the world right now? Probably not. I have become a vocal critic of what football's biggest individual prize, the Ballon D'Or, has turned into in recent years. Historically a prize for whichever player has had the standout year, determined by personal accomplishments, quality, as well as club and international honours. During the Messi/Ronaldo era, however, it turned into a subjective "who is the best player in the world right now" prize, regardless of that player's actual accomplishments. Messi and Ronaldo were wonderful players and deserved many of the Ballon D'Ors that they claimed, but no one can say with a straight face that Franck Ribery shouldn't have won in 2013 when he was the lynchpin of an all-conquering Bayern side, or Virgil Van Dijk in 2019 when he carried a Liverpool side to European glory. For Messi's incredible talent, I would even argue that there were years during the Pep Barcelona era where Andrés Iniesta or Xavi would have been more deserving of the prize. 

The point I am making here is this: is Karim Benzema the best player in the world in 2022? No. He's up there, but you can't pretend that he's better than Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappé right now. What Benzema has done, however, is achieve a great year personally, leading the line at one of the world's biggest clubs, in a year where they were crowned champions of Spain and Europe as a whole. Their time will come, but 2022 was Benzema's year, the player who has stood out the most as having had an exceptional year in the game.

19. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Erling Haaland - Manchester City

erling haaland manchester city best young footballer player in the world 2022

However, while he may not be claiming the big prize this year, Erling Haaland did start the year still aged just 21. That is a thought that should terrify fans of any other club in the world, as well as make him eligible for the U21 Footballer of the Year prize. Haaland is without doubt one of the best footballers on the planet right now, an unstoppable force of strength, speed, and precision. He has been unstoppable since signing for Manchester City and if he continues in this fashion he will surely be claiming the top individual prize in the near future.

20. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year 
Winner: Carlo Ancelotti - Real Madird

best football manager in the world 2022 carlo ancelotti real madrid

If there had previously been any doubt as to Carlo Ancelotti's place in football history, that is surely no longer the case. Ancelotti is one of history's best football managers. His longevity at the apex of the game is second to none, having won his first Champions League title as a manager in 2002 and his most recent 20 years later in 2022. His four Champions League titles won as a manager (not even including the two he won as a player) make him the most decorated manager in the history of the sport's most prestigious club competition. A serial winner pretty much wherever he goes (hard luck, Everton) and still potentially with many years left.

21. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year 
Winner: Bayern Munich

football club of the year 2022 bayern munich

Here's a piece of trivia for you. Which one major football club managed to maintain a profit during the Covid years? The answer is German superclub Bayern Munich. On the pitch, it's a great time to be following Die Bayern. Considered by many to be the favourites for this year's Champions League, the young and forward thinking manager Julian Nagelsmann leads a side that mixes the top tier, seasoned experience of players like Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, and Sadio Mané with the exciting young talents of (I have to point this out, it's basically a meme at this point) Chelsea academy product Jamal Musiala, Alphonso Davies, and Matthijs de Ligt. But it's off the pitch where Bayern Munich continues to shine as a model of a well run football club. A financial powerhouse of the game, even without the eye-watering TV deals English and Spanish clubs enjoy. Purveyors of consistently shrewd dealings in the commercial and transfer markets. Best of all, the 50 plus 1 ownership rule in Germany makes Bayern the world's most successful fan-owned club.

Current Events

22. The Debbie for Politician of the Year 
Winner: Raphael Warnock

raphael warnock politician of the year 2022

I am aware that my political punditry tends to have an American bias. I came very close this year to awarding this prize to a European politician instead, but the more I thought about it, the more difficulty I had in not giving this prize to Raphael Warnock. No one in the history of democracy has had to work as hard to win their seat as Warnock. The Georgia Senator has been up for election an astonishing and record breaking four times in two years, first in the mid-term special election for his seat in 2020, then for the official end of term election in 2022, requiring a run-off election in both years. The fact that he managed to win all these races, in a historically conservative state no less, is quite the feat of endurance and messaging. He now enters a full six-year term, but hopefully will find time for a bit of rest first.

23. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year 
Winner: The catastrophic self-destruction of Liz Truss

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Also a contender for best comedy routine of 2022. This year we were blessed with a veritable smorgasbord of scandals from which to choose. From sports cheats, to the ongoing criminal case against Donald Trump, from FTX, to whatever the heck is going on at Twitter right now. Hell we even had a UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, resign in disgrace. So what could possibly top that? How about a UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, resigning in disgrace after just 49 days, the shortest premiership in the history of the United Kingdom. What could possibly have caused a major and apparently serious political party to oust their leader mere weeks after electing her? It all started with a budget so disastrous it nearly caused a collapse of the UK economy, followed by an embarrassing reversal and numerous sackings just a few days later. This chaos was not the steady hand Britain needed in the wake of the Boris crisis. But through all of these missteps, it was Truss's complete lack of leadership, her inability to communicate to markets, voters, and political leaders, that sealed her fate. It was clear before she even held office that Truss was not suited to the big job. The Conservative Party's plan must have been to find someone inoffensive and bland to weather the Boris storm and it backfired in a historic and humiliating fashion.

24. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Humanitarian relief in Ukraine

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The idea of all-out war in Europe would have been unthinkable a few years ago. It's easy (although still morally unjustifiable) to tune out of news stories regarding conflict in far flung corners of the world, but this is right on our doorstep. It's a developed country with Starbucks and Apple. A tourism hub. Many of us will know people directly or indirectly affected by the conflict, friends and colleagues who have had to leave the country, or worse, know someone still left behind. The idea of this becoming a war-torn land, with all the innocent suffering and atrocities we have seen in the past few months is, again, unthinkable. We must not allow ourselves to grow numb to it. 

So what can you do? Consider sending humanitarian aid, or donating money. Heck, even something as simple as raising awareness with a post on social media can help. Demand political action through petitions, demonstrations, and most of all, your vote. Of course, there's only so much the average person can do here, but through collective action we can put pressure on those who are in a position of power to do something.

25. The Debbie for Person of the Year 
Winner: Volodymyr Zelensky

volodymyr zelensky zelenskyy ukraine person of the year 2022

There was only ever going to be one winner of this year's prize. They say the moment makes the man, and that certainly is the case when it comes to a former comedian turned novelty political candidate, Volodymyr Zelensky. Prior to the invasion, the impression one had of Zelensky was that of a well-intentioned man sorely out of his depth, whether it was an apparent naive optimism with regards to Russian aggression, or the way in which he himself embroiled as a passenger in the Trump bribery scandal. But Zelensky has proven himself a man of far greater political nous than we could ever have expected and a war-time leader capable of leading from the front with incredible courage and grace. Rather than naivete, his Russia strategy has shown itself to be one of reassuring calm and quiet focus. For a man who faces a very real threat on his life and that of his family on a daily basis, he has managed to remain firm and galvanise both his nation and the world at large in the face of tyranny. It's such a remarkable story that it could almost be the plotline of a movie, let's just hope this one has a happy ending.

Social & Lifestyle

26. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: The Princess of Shoreditch
Runner Up: Olmsted

princess of shoreditch london olmsted brooklyn best restaurant 2022

I award this year's best restaurant Debbie with a tinge of sadness. The standout eatery of 2022 (and there have been a lot) is London's own The Princess of Shoreditch, the renowned gastro pub in the heart of, surprisingly, Shoreditch. This is English cuisine of the very highest calibre. Featuring both a formal set menu and casual à la carte, these dishes are all impeccably presented and delicious, with the chef imprinting their personality through clever and innovative twists on classics. I say a tinge of sadness, because this is all the production of the prodigious Ruth Hansom, who at just age 24 is one of the UK's most exciting chefs. Sadly, Hansom is leaving the Princess of Shoreditch to pursue new endeavours. One can only hope the Princess of Shoreditch can find a suitable replacement, but these will be difficult shoes to fill.

For the runner up prize, we hop across the Atlantic to Brooklyn, New York. Olmsted is a rare slice of originality in the realm of high end cuisine and one of the more unique dining experiences you can have today. Seated outside in the restaurant's garden, surrounded by assorted clutter: inhabited chicken coops, home-grown produce and herbs, and for some reason a Captain America shield. Olmsted brings to mind a real-world version of Oobah Butler's notorious The Shed at Dulwich. For a restaurant that has been adorned with praise from the culinary world, this feels very much like a casual family-run establishment. The food itself is both delicious and unexpected in their ingredients and presentation. Delectable crab rangoons served in a takeaway box. A divine, buttery carrot/pancake salad. Homemade bread with olive oil jam. It's a restaurant that oozes with idiosyncrasy, a highly memorable one.

27. The Debbie for New Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: Contento

contento harlem new york best new restaurant 2022

Remaining on the wrong side of the pond, this blog's pick for the best new restaurant of the year goes to Contento. Located in the New York neighbourhood of Harlem, a part of town that a few years ago you probably wouldn't have wanted to visit that now is on the brink of gentrification, Contento is worth the trip up north. Contento has made headlines for its wheelchair accessibility and social sustainability, but ultimately it's the immense quality of the food that makes this a memorable place. A Peruvian restaurant with a New York twist, the menu includes staples like yuca, ceviche, and various arroz. But then you also have short rib with udon noodles and a pleasingly cheesy "quinotto". 

28. The Debbie for Club/Bar of the Year 
Winner: Síbín

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Tucked away behind a false door in a nondescript hotel near Trafalgar Square, Síbín is easy to miss, but for those who know where to look, you will find a haven for whisky lovers. The breadth of their selection is impressive, as well as their cocktail and mocktail offerings for those so inclined, but it is the knowledge of the bar staff that make this a truly premier experience for enthusiasts.

29. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Berlin, Germany

berlin germany best holiday destination 2022

I have traveled to many of the European hotspots during my life, but for whatever reason Berlin is a city that has managed to evade my travel list. In 2022, this changed and I am glad to have finally made the acquaintance of the German capital. Berlin is known as a cultural hub for its art, theatre and music, with an eclectic vibe owing to its distinct historical eras. This is borne out through the starkly contrasting architecture of the city's different neighbourhoods, a mix of post-war brutalism and ornate classical construction, which despite its differences all somehow manages to form part of a cohesive and unique identity.

30. The Debbie for Wine of the Year 
Winner: Champagne Roger Brun Cuvée des Sires, Millésime 2013
champagne roger brun cuvee sires millesime 2013 best wine 2022

2022's wine of the year belongs to Roger Brun, a small family-run winery near Ay. Run by Philippe Brun, known locally as a personnage célèbre and something of an eccentric, whose individualism comes across in the bold complexion of the house's champagne. The cuvée des sires is a highly sought after cuvée made with first press juice from 2/3 pinot noir and 1/3 chardonnay, vinified in oak. A delicious and smooth wine with just enough of a punch, notes of vanilla, peaches and sweet spices.

31. The Debbie for Tipple of the Year 
Winner: Malfy Gin Con Arancia

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And finally our award for best tipple, a non-wine alcoholic beverage in which you would be wise to partake, goes to Malfy Gin con Arancia. This is the blood orange flavoured gin from Piedmontese distillery Malfy, an Italian brand quickly gaining a global prominence for their stylish branding, bright colours and delicious flavours. That their gin is itself of a very high quality is essential, but it's the exquisite flavoured gins that stand out, with just the right amount of fruitiness to add a bit of life to the drink without tasting overly sweet or tacky.

Well there you have it, another year in the books. Here's to 2023 being a year of peace, good health, and further progress. See you there!

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