james debate
james debate

Friday, 14 February 2020

That most magical period of the four year cycle is upon us, the start of President election season in earnest. The Democratic Primary is well underway, and as we move ever closer to deciding who will face off against Donald Trump in November the time has come for this blog to make a decision. The Ephemeric endorses Pete Buttigieg for President.

2020 election democratic primaries endorse mayor pete buttigieg trump democrat republican iowa nevada new hampshire election

If you had told me a year ago that I would be endorsing a little known 37 year old former mayor of small town Indiana for the Presidency I would not have believed you. But such has been the astonishing rise of Mayor Pete over the past 12 months that not only does he have a plausible path to the White House, he might even be one of the current frontrunners.

During this time I have flirted with the idea of throwing my support behind a few candidates, Senators, Congressmen, Vice Presidents, and I will admit to being highly sceptical when I first heard that this political unknown was throwing his hat into an already overcrowded ring. But I distinctly remember the first time I saw him speak, and was taken aback by his eloquence, his wit and poise. I remember thinking at the time that it was a shame this man would never gain any traction in the primary (or indeed in dark red Indiana for the foreseeable future), because it was clear that this guy had the makings of a future political superstar.

What stands out most about Pete is the way in which, when you ask him a question, he directly answers it rather than dancing around the topic with some carefully crafted political spin. This is an impression that has been voiced by some of the industry's most renowned interviewers and pundits. When Pete speaks to you, he really speaks to you and not at you. He comes off as a genuine, passionate, and above all ordinary guy, who just so happens to be pretty darn bright.

That he answers questions so frankly and directly is all the more notable considering how many ostensible liabilities Pete has as a candidate. His youth, his relatively low level of political experience, his homosexuality... these are all things that call into question his electability for President, and yet they are things that he is happy to address head on, and does so in a way that is surprisingly convincing and sensible.

As a mayor of a town, he actually does have more executive experience than most of the candidates running (many of whom hail from Congress). As a former army Lieutenant, he has more military experience than everyone else running for President combined. He is a Harvard educated Rhodes Scholar who speaks eight languages fluently. He may be young, but he would be the first to point out that the two most successful Presidents of his lifetime (Clinton and Obama) were also considered young for the office. As for his homosexuality: in a race full of multiple divorcees and fifty-somethings who struggle with commitment, Pete's stable and happy relationship with primary school teacher husband Chasten and two dogs Buddy and Truman by contrast paints an idyllic picture of a wholesome and well-adjusted American family. Anyone who has a problem with that in this day and age really needs to reconsider their priorities in life.

Yes, much has been made of Pete's intellect and charisma. He rarely seems perturbed even under pressure, and responds to difficult questions with a convincing and reassuring calm and directness. I have long been of the opinion that the single most important criteria for selecting a leader is intelligence, and this unflappable quality he possesses undoubtedly makes him a great fit for the demands of the office, not to mention a formidable challenger to take on Trump in a debate. But of course, these personal qualities are not the only reason to make someone President. Pete also has  strength in his policy platform.

A lot has (strangely) been made about how Pete is one of the "moderates" in the race, but the reality is that his platform would represent the most progressive of a Democratic Presidential nominee in decades. His proposals include a $15 minimum wage, quadrupling the earned income tax credit, universal childcare and Pre-K up to age 5, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are willing to work for their status.

Pete promises enfranchisement for the millions living in Washington DC and Puerto Rico who are American citizens and yet, astonishingly, do not have the right to vote in supposedly the world's greatest democracy. He has proposed bold political reforms to gerrymandering and the electoral college, which have been disgracefully abused in recent years to allow consistent minority rule over the majority. His proposal to curb the increasing partisanship of the Supreme Court (by making half the court non-political appointments) is easily the most workable proposal anyone has put forward.

The most important (and yet strangely under-addressed) issue in this election is always going to be the climate. To this end, Pete's proposal contrasts those of his primary competitors by focusing on pragmatism and efficacy, rather than simply throwing the largest dollar amount at the problem.

But the centrepiece of Pete's platform is Medicare for all who want it, a commonsense solution to American healthcare that builds on the near-universal coverage achieved by Obama's Affordable Care Act by offering what essentially amounts to the public option originally proposed for that reform package before being gutted by Republicans. It is hard to see any downsides to this approach; provide a minimum level of care for all Americans, while allowing those who want to pay extra for the quicker or more comfortable private plan to do so. It just makes good sense.

Simply put, Pete's platform is an array of sensible, well thought out policy proposals backed by evidence. It contrasts the proposals of just about any other candidate in that there is barely a whiff of an agenda or partisan red meat, just good ideas intended to solve real problems.

But above all the President is the face of this nation, and his message of positivity and inclusion is what this country needs right now more than anything. Pete's brand of oratory and optimistic tone have earned comparisons to Barack Obama, as has his preference to remain above some of the uglier infighting we have seen on the primary trail to-date from the likes of Bernie/Warren, Biden/Castro, etc.

We are going to need someone who can inspire the nation to come together and rebuild. Pete recognises that people won't turn out to the polls just because of Trump's issues, but because they see someone else running that they believe represents their interests and will make the country better. The next decade is going to require a gargantuan effort to restore America's reputation and place in the world, and in my view there is no one better suited to that task than Pete Buttigieg.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

oscars 86th academy awards 2014

Welcome back to The Ephemeric. Today we will take a break from our annual Hot List in order to bring you some last minute Oscar predictions (don't blame me, not my fault the Oscars are two weeks earlier this year)!

I'm busy, you're busy, I won't waste your time. Please find below predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through Hollywood; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.

Best Picture


  • Ford v Ferrari 
  • The Irishman 
  • Jojo Rabbit 
  • Joker 
  • Little Women 
  • Marriage Story 
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 
  • Parasite 
And the winner: 1917
Who should really win: 1917

Best Director

  • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
  • Todd Phillips – Joker
  • Sam Mendes – 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
And the winner: Sam Mendes – 1917
Who should really win: Sam Mendes – 1917

Best Actor

  • Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory as Salvador Mallo
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Rick Dalton
  • Adam Driver – Marriage Story as Charlie Barber
  • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker
  • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
And the winner: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker
Who should really win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker as Arthur Fleck / Joker

Best Actress

  • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet as Harriet Tubman
  • Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story as Nicole Barber
  • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women as Josephine "Jo" March
  • Charlize Theron – Bombshell as Megyn Kelly
  • Renée Zellweger – Judy as Judy Garland
And the winner: Renée Zellweger – Judy as Judy Garland
Who should really win: Charlize Theron – Bombshell as Megyn Kelly

Best Supporting Actor

  • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as Fred Rogers
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes as Pope Benedict XVI
  • Al Pacino – The Irishman as Jimmy Hoffa
  • Joe Pesci – The Irishman as Russell Bufalino
  • Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Cliff Booth
And the winnerBrad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Cliff Booth
Who should really win: Joe Pesci – The Irishman as Russell Bufalino

Best Supporting Actress

  • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell as Barbara "Bobi" Jewell
  • Laura Dern – Marriage Story as Nora Fanshaw
  • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit as Rosie Betzler
  • Florence Pugh – Little Women as Amy March
  • Margot Robbie – Bombshell as Kayla Pospisil
And the winnerLaura Dern – Marriage Story as Nora Fanshaw
Who should really win: Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit as Rosie Betzler

Best Original Screenplay

  • Knives Out – Rian Johnson
  • Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach
  • 1917 – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
  • Parasite – Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
And the winnerParasite – Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
Who should really win: 1917 – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Irishman – Steven Zaillian based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
  • Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
  • Joker – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver based on characters created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson
  • Little Women – Greta Gerwig based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Two Popes – Anthony McCarten based on his play The Pope
And the winner: Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
Who should really win: Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! Coming up next week, I stop procrastinating and finish the Hot List!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2020 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.

best anticipated new theatre theatrical production 2020 hot list
The London stage in 2019 inevitably seemed a reflection of the times in which we live, a funny old mix of nostalgia and ennui at the plight of the working man. No play better embodied the mood than the Donmar's award winning Sweat, although Roger Allam receives great credit for gamely bringing the excellent Rutherford and Sons to the National. London remains the world capital of theatre, and 2020 promises another dazzling array of productions featuring some of the biggest names of the stage and beyond.

Here's our list of the top 15 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2020, starting with number 15:

15. "Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer" by Tom Morton-Smith, at the Hampstead Theatre

london best theatre 2020 hampstead ravens spassky fischer chess cold war Let's start things off with the Hampstead Theatre's telling of a cold war classic. Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer is a retelling of the events surrounding the 1972 chess match between then world champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer.

Seen globally as a form of proxy war between the two cold war powers, Ravens delves more into the personalities behind the propaganda: two ambitious and hungry men more concerned with personal excellence than politics.

Robert Emms is electric as Fischer in this Annabelle Comyn production. A timely story at a time when everything seems to get filtered through the lens of politics. Ravens is running now.

14. "Albion" by Mike Bartlett, at the Almeida

london best theatre 2020 albion bartlett almeida brexit victoria hamilton Mike Bartlett's piercing Brexit parable, Albion was one of our Debbie runners up back during its original run in 2017. Now returning to the Almeida to commemorate the UK's departure from the EU, and it seems more relevant than ever.

This new production brings back Victoria Hamilton after her previous award winning turn in the role, while Rupert Goold will direct once again.

Albion will run throughout February. If you did not have the opportunity to see this excellent piece of theatre the first time around, this is your chance.

13. "The Seven Streams of the River Ota" by Robert Lepage, at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2020 seven streams river ota national The Ex Machina theatre company is bringing their production of The Seven Streams of the River Ota on a world tour, including a limited run this year at The National Theatre.

Robert Lepage's grand opus, originally staged in 1996, traces the story of survivors of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima across five decades, exploring the way one event can change human history.

Ex Machina's tour is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the bombing. It doesn't make for easy watching, but it is an indelible theatre experience. This limited run begins in March.

12. "Life of Pi" by Lolita Chakrabarti and Yann Martel, at Wyndham's Theatre

london best theatre 2020 life of pi wyndham A new adaptation of Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi, which was famously made into the award winning film. It's an ambitious production from director Max Webster that will tell the story of the marooned Pi and his animal companions through elaborate puppetry and special effects that have earned comparisons to War Horse and His Dark Materials.

After this adaptation of Lolita Chakrabarti premiered in Sheffield theatres last summer to rave reviews, it was only a matter of time before it made a switch to the West End.

The Wyndham's new production promises to be quite the visual spectacle. This will run over the summer, starting in June.

11. "Force Majeure" by Tim Price, at the Donmar

london best theatre 2020 force majeure tim price donmar The highlight of new Donmar artistic director Michael Longhurst's upcoming season, Force Majeure is the state adaptation of the acclaimed 2014 film of the same name.

A black comedy set in the alps, Force Majeure follows a family whose carefully constructed world is fractured by the shock of a near-miss, and the tragically hilarious consequences that ensue.

Longhurst will direct this production, which is set to hit the stage in the second half of the year, with the first tickets on sale for August.

10. "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett, at the Old Vic

london best theatre 2020 endgame samuel beckett old vic avengers marvel Who doesn't like a bit of Samuel Beckett? The Old Vic is bringing his existentialist classic Endgame to the stage this spring, and have an all-star cast along for the ride.

Daniel Radcliffe needs no introduction, the former Harry Potter star who, for all his early stardom, has reinvented himself as a stage actor of some notoriety. He is joined by the always excellent Alan Cumming, best known for his recent turn in the Good Wife but will be known to others for his long career in cinema and stage.

The cast is sure to generate hype, but expectations are high for Richard Jones' production which runs throughout the spring.

9. "Manor" by Moira Buffini, at the National Theatre

london 2020 best theatre manor moira buffini national Moira Buffini is a writer developing some reputation with the National Theatre following Greenland and Wonder.land. Her latest is Manor, a story of disparate folks banding together to survive a violent storm in an old manor house. It's a dark comedy with clear nods to the current climate crisis.

Nancy Carroll and Ben Daniels star, two actors with extensive stage pedigree and a number of recognisable TV and film credits to their name. Moira's sister Fiona Buffini will direct, their first collaboration since Dinner.

Manor begins on the Lyttleton stage in April and will run until the summer.

8. "The Haystack" by Al Blyth, at the Hampstead Theatre

best theatre london 2020 haystack hampstead blyth A duo of debuts, as Al Blyth's first full length play and the directing debut of Roxana Silbert as the Hampstead Theatre's artistic director.

The Haystack is billed as an spy thriller for the modern day. Oliver Johnstone and Enyi Okoronkwo star as two twenty-somethings with a taste for Netflix and videogames, who also happen to be computer whizzes at GCHQ. The story that follows is sure to get political and challenge the notion of "nothing to hide nothing to fear" that has been practiced by the nation's espionage apparatus in recent years.

The Haystack runs January through March.

7. "Uncle Vanya" by Conor McPherson and Anton Chekhov, at the Harold Pinter Theatre

london best theatre 2020 uncle vanya harold pinter anton chekhov Another year, another exciting Chekhov adaptation at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Uncle Vanya has all the great Chekhov tropes: faded glory, a big country house, and the death throes of old wealth against the tides of a changing world.

Olivier Award winning writer Conor McPherson collaborates with Ian Rickson, a director with some track record in Chekhov following his successful production of The Seagull. The highlight of the cast is the great Toby Jones, though he is joined by an able cast of Ciaran Hinds, Aimee Lou Wood, and Richard Armitrage.

Uncle Vanya will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre until May.

6. Untitled Punchdrunk Theatre Production

london 2020 best theatre punchdrunk drowned man sleep no more Immersive theatre is increasingly becoming a modern industry staple, but arguably no one has quite managed to match the high standards in the genre set by the trailblazing Punchdrunk production company, best known for their acclaimed London production of The Drowned Man, as well as the ongoing Sleep No More in New York.

As the company moves into their new production home in Woolwich, there are whispers of a major new London production in the making, expected to debut some time in 2020.

At the time of writing, this production is still shrouded in mystery. Punchdrunk have a record of drawing from a wide array of classics, from Shakespeare to Buchner and Aeschylus. Whatever form it takes, this is one to keep an eye on.

5. "The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage" by Bryony Lavery and Philip Pullman, at the Bridge Theatre

london 2020 best theatre dark materials book of dust belle sauvage golden compass philip pullman bridge theatre Director Nicholas Hytner accomplished something remarkable back in the rosy tinted days of 2003 in successfully adapting the infamously tricky Philip Pullman series His Dark Materials to the stage.

Twenty years later and we have a new novel in the series, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, and Hytner is duly returning to the world of Lyra and Pan to provide an adaptation that features the same top production values and state of the art stage wizardry that made the original such a roaring success. A cast has not yet been announced, but if it is anything like the star-studded lineup of the original (Ben Whishaw, Patricia Hodge, Timothy Dalton and Dominic Cooper starred) it could be quite the curtain call.

Unlike its predecessor, La Belle Sauvage will run at the Bridge Theatre, where Hytner is now artistic director. The His Dark Materials production still shines brightly in the memory, commonly held by many as one of the National's very best productions. This is definitely one to watch.

4. "The House of Shades" by Beth Steel, at the Almeida

best theatre 2020 london house of shades almeida beth steel The House of Shades promises a working class epic, told over five generations of a family struggling through the industrial landscape of 20th Century Britain.

This world premiere at the Almeida comes courtesy of Hampstead Theatre regular Beth Steel, best known for her productions of Wonderland and Labyrinth on that stage. Here, she collaborates with director Blanche McIntyre, a familiar face for patrons of the Almeida following her star studded production of The Writer.

The House of Shades will run over the summer, with previews commencing in May this year.

3. "Leopoldstadt" by Tom Stoppard, at Wyndham's Theatre

london best theatre 2020 wyndham leopoldstadt tom stoppardArguably the hottest ticket of the year so far. Leopoldstadt is the new production of Tom Stoppard, whose name alone has propelled sales (and indeed prices) for the Wyndham's new play into the stratosphere.

Set in the Jewish quarter of Vienna in 1900, this promises to be one of the most personal pieces of work yet from the legendary playwright, much of whose family died at the hands of the Nazis during world war 2. Stoppard collaborates with producer Sonia Friedman, who is responsible for some of the West End's biggest hits of recent years, including Harry Potter and The Ferryman.

Leopoldstadt could be a tricky one to get tickets for, but if you can, you will want to see this.

2. "The Visit" by Tony Kushner and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, at the National Theatre

the visit national kushner durrenmatt friedrich london best theatre 2020 Tony Kushner brings this latest adaptation of the Dürrenmatt play to the National Theatre, directed by Jeremy Herrin, who frequent visitors of the National will remember from the excellent This House, and starring two genuine stars in Lesley Manville and Hugo Weaving.

Kushner adapts the original tale of revenge to a 20th Century setting, post-war in the town of Slurry, New York.

The Visit is set to be the National's first big tentpole of the year, running over the spring on the Olivier stage.

1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Aaron Sorkin and Harper Lee, at the Gielgud Theatre

london best theatre 2020 to kill a mockingbird harper lee aaron sorkin rhys ifans gielgudBut our number 1 play to see in 2020 is the Gielgud's superstar production of the classic Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is a production of the adaptation by legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, previously a mega-hit on Broadway that has earned rave reviews from the critics. The London production will star the great Rhys Ifans, best known to casual audiences for Notting Hill and Pirate Radio.

It is sad that in 2020, the 60th anniversary of the novel's original publication, its themes of racial injustice remain so pertinent, hopefully this production can serve as a timely reminder, and stir some fresh impetus into solving some of the problems that we still face as a society.

So there you have it folks: 2020 in theatre. Tune in soon for our next instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new music coming up in 2020!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

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 2020.

new videogames games gaming 2019 ephemeric

As the gaming industry continues to grow, I am increasingly impressed by the diversity of what's out there. Now more than ever you can find games for any person and any set of tastes, whether it's deep, story-driven titles or casual mobile games. We have genres like walking simulators and "dad games", while 2019 also saw one of the finest RPGs in a generation. With this year's selection I feel there's a good breadth of the different types of experiences and genres that gaming has to offer. It is a good time to be a gamer.

2020 looks set to mark the beginning of a new era as we transition towards the new generation of hardware. Microsoft are set to release the bizarrely named Xbox Series X, PS5 is set to be revealed, and Nintendo are rumoured to be launching some kind of a Switch successor in the summer. You even have the likes of Google and Apple getting in on the action with Google Stadia and Apple Arcade, challenging our notions of what a videogames console should be.

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. Age of Empires IV (PC)

age of empires iv pc 2020Who says videogame companies never listen to the fans? The Age of Empires series has always held a fond place in the hearts of old school strategy gamers, and in particular the 1999 classic Age of Empires II to this day retains a surprisingly devoted fanbase and active multiplayer and modding communities. So much so, in fact, that Microsoft even deemed to make one of the community's more popular mods an official expansion, some 15 years after the game's release.

It seems Microsoft's newfound embrace of the franchise was not limited to just fan-made expansions and HD re-releases, and have announced Age of Empires IV, the first entry in the series since 2005. Little is known about the sequel, but the teaser trailer appears to imply a medieval setting roughly in-line with the second and most enduringly popular game in the series.

One of my biggest memories of Age of Empires was that my school used it as a teaching aid, so whatever happens I hope this new title does not skimp on the educational value. Release date is still to be announced.

Release Date: TBA 2020

14. Sable (PC, Mac, Xbox One)

sable best pc game 2020 80 days meg jayanthI love a good indie game, but few make a debut as eye-catching as Sable. Produced by two lifelong friends in their basement, Sable promises to be a contemplative adventure focused around exploration, with a Gibli-esque aesthetic and stunning hand-drawn art style.

It's certainly one of the best looking games to pop up in recent years, but such an introspective game is always going to succeed on the merit of its storytelling. It is fortunate then that the award winning Meg Jayanth is behind the story. If she can build the world of Sable with the same flair and aplomb as Sunless Seas or 80 Days then it could be a memorable experience.

Releasing initially on Steam, with a later launch on Xbox Live, we should see this one close to the summer.

Release Date: Summer 2020

13. Everwild (PC, Xbox One)

everwild rare most anticipated game 2020 px xbox Rare are on something of a comeback at the moment. Sea of Thieves was well received, and they are riding that hype with Everwild, a game whose ambition harkens back to the glory days of the storied developer.

This is an exclusive PC/Xbox title, not a shock for a company owned by Microsoft. Little is known beyond what one can see in the trailer: a colorful world rendered in a striking cell-shaded art-style, a magical world full of mythical animals and, presumably, whimsy. It looks fantastic, now we just await details.

A firm release date has not been confirmed, but is expected to be released late in the year.

Release Date: TBA 2020

12. The Artful Escape (PC, Xbox One)

the artful escape francis vendetti annapurna edith finch david bowie best game 2020Award winning film studio Annapurna made their debut in videogaming with the spellbinding What Remains of Edith Finch and have since followed it up with a series of remarkable and creative titles, including last year's excellent Sayonara Wild Hearts. This year they will finally follow up this success with their long-awaited title The Artful Escape. This one has been in the works for a while, but 2020 appears to be the year that it finally sees release.

 The concept is quite unique. Players take the role of aspiring folk musician Francis Vendetti on a journey to reinvent his musical and stage persona. The result has been described by the game's lead developer as "David Bowie traveling off from London on an interstellar trip to create Ziggy Stardust".

In terms of actual gameplay, this takes the form of a musical platformer which sees Vendetti's performances depicted as journeys through mind-bending fantastical and sci-fi landscapes, with occasional rhythm-based music sections to pass. Frankly it's stunning to look at and listen to, with a pleasingly relaxing pace to it.

Release Date: TBA 2020

11. Empire of Sin (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Switch)

empire of sin paradox crusader universalis best games 2020 An interesting prospect from the masters of grand strategy, Paradox Interactive. Empire of Sin gives you the chance to build your mafia empire from the ground up in prohibition era Chicago. Players will be responsible for recruiting underlings, managing their businesses, and dealing with rivals through an X-Com style combat system.

As with most Paradox titles, Empire of Sin will play like a mix between a strategy game and an RPG, and there is no developer with more experience in this niche genre.

Empire of Sin will launch across every home console, PC and Mac, with a release date set for some time in the second quarter of the year.

Release Date: Spring 2020

10. Starmancer (PC, Mac)

starmancer chucklefish stardew valley starbound kickstarter best game 2020The latest title from Chucklefish, publisher of Stardew Valley and Starbound. Starmancer is another love letter to the 16-bit era of games.

First appearing on Kickstarter some two years ago, Starmancer is a colony building game in the style of Rimworld or Dwarf Fortress, with an isometric pixelart visual style that is reminiscent of fellow Kickstarter success Star Command, as well as Chucklefish's other titles. Players manage a colony, complete missions and expand through a procedurally generated living world.

Starmancer has been in closed alpha for most of 2019, with an initial public release expected towards the end of 2020.

Release Date: Late 2020

9. Flight Simulator (PC, Xbox One)

flight simulator 2020 best most anticipated games pc xboxI can practically see the dumbfounded expressions on some of your faces. James has Flight Simulator on his most anticipated games list? What's next, Myst? Minesweeper? Flight Simulator is, of course, the venerable Microsoft games series dating back to the 1990s. The gold standard of the genre and a passion of flight aficionados the world over. But the series has been defunct for some 15 years now, so what has prompted Microsoft to bring the franchise out of retirement?

This newest edition employs some quite remarkable technology. Powered by Bing maps, Flight Simulator will feature an accurate simulation of the entire world to fly over, complete with textures, topography and 3D features powered by Microsoft Azure. But really it is the attention to detail that is most remarkable, zooming in close to see this staggeringly scaled world populated by simulated traffic on the streets, animals in the wild, and stunningly detailed weather systems. Even if you are not into flight sims, this is a game to just switch on and gawp at.

Release Date: Spring 2020

8. Starfield (PC, Xbox One, PS4)

starfield bethesda fallout best game 2020 pc xbox ps4Anything you can do, we can do better. Having seen rivals and original Fallout creators Obsidian try their hand at a spacefaring RPG in 2019's The Outer Worlds (to moderate success), the current stewards of the Fallout franchise Bethesda are themselves getting into the mix with the as yet still very mysterious, Starfield.

Most of the details of this title remain shrouded in mystery, but rumours suggest 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. Quite how this will adapt to a game which allegedly features multiple worlds and the ability to fly a spaceship is anyone's guess, but the few teasers we have seen point again to titles like Mass Effect for hints.

I am very excited about this game. The only reason it is this far down the list is because of my skepticism that it will in fact launch this year as expected.

Release Date: TBA 2020

7. Gamedec (PC)

gamedec rpg cyberpunk disco elysium best game 2020Slow-burning story-based RPGs are in vogue after last year's Disco Elysium, as is the cyberpunk genre (see number one on this very list). Combining both those things is Gamedec, an adaptation of the Polish series of sci-fi crime novels.

The concept is deliciously on trend, a hard-boiled neo-noir detective story who investigates crimes in virtual worlds. Think Ready Player One mixed with Bladerunner. As with last year's Disco Elysium, this is an RPG that decidedly does not focus on violence and action, but instead on its story and characters. Gamedec will live and die by the quality of its writing, but the premise so far is intriguing.

Gamedec will launch in 2020.

Release Date: TBA 2020

6. Half-Life: Alyx (PC)

pc half life three 3 alyx episode vr steam valve best game 2020Has hell officially frozen over? Is Half Life 3 finally upon us? Unfortunately not.

When Valve announced the first new title in the Half Life series, some 12 years after the most recent entry in the series, it understandably caused a lot of hysteria. However, Half Life: Alyx is not the sequel that we had all been hoping for. Rather this is a "sidequel" if you will, intended more to show off Valve's new virtual reality technology than to really expand the franchise.

Now that's not to say that this isn't going to be a worthwhile game. It is Half Life after all, and while a Valve game is a rarity these days, they still consistently manage to deliver a high quality product when they deign to do so. The game still looks great and has me very excited, even if that excitement is a 7 out of 10 as opposed to the 11 out of 10 that Half Life 3 would have been.

Release Date: March 2020

5. Crusader Kings 3 (PC)

crusader kings 3 europa universalis best game pc 2020 paradox We have already covered how Paradox Interactive are the masters of the grand strategy craft, and the Crusader Kings series has always been the best of the bunch. Nearly a decade (and some dozen or so expansions) since its release, the second title in the series remains one of the finest games of the genre, so naturally I am very excited about the upcoming sequel.

Crusader Kings is a grand strategy title that sees you play as a land-owning noble anywhere from the county to empire level in medieval Europe (and later Africa, Middle East and Asia). What sets it apart from other medieval strategy games is the unique blend of strategy and RPG elements that has come to define the grand strategy genre. You don't just play some faceless god-king as in the Civilisation series, but an actual character in the game world. You are responsible not just for managing your fiefdom or empire, but your whole dynasty and all the relationships that entails. The breaking down of a strategy game to the level of individual people is quite unique for the genre and provides a remarkable sense of flavour and character to the series. The newest title in the series is doubling down on those RPG elements, with more character and story-based events, skill-trees, and much more.

Crusader Kings 3 releases in 2020.

Release Date: TBA 2020

4. Kerbal Space Program 2 (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4)

kerbal space program 2 jebediah best game 2020 The original game remains one of the best 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 slated for release by March, it has now been pushed back into the next financial year, indicating a release later in 2020.

Release Date: Summer 2020

3. Watch Dogs: Legion (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, Stadia)

watch dogs legion brexit trump london best game pc xbox ps4 2020 stadiaWatch Dogs: Legion is the latest title in Ubisoft's Watch Dogs series, and looks to be the most exciting addition to the series yet.

For those who have not played a Watch Dogs game before, picture an open world third person action game in the style of Grand Theft Auto, but with a technological, hacking focus ala Deus Ex. Watch Dogs Legion brings the series to a new London setting and adds a hugely intriguing new mechanic: play as anyone.

WDL imagines a post-Brexit dystopian London that has fallen into authoritarianism and hardship. Players will be members of the resistance, with the aim of recruiting other members of the public to the cause.That's right. In this open world recreation of London, you can play as any NPC you see. The scale being promised is remarkable ambitious, and the concept is timely. If they can pull it off in a way that doesn't feel like a gimmick, this will be a GOTY contender.

Release Date: March 2020

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (Switch)

legend of zelda breath of the wild 2 sequel switch best game ever 2020How 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: Breath of the Wild 2 (presumably a working title). 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.

We know nothing about this game, other than the fact that it is apparently directly related to its predecessor, itself a somewhat rarity in the Zelda series. One of the major boons in Majora's Mask's development was the fact that the engine and assets were already there, which meant that the developers could use their time more for adding finesse and character. If they pull the same trick this time around then we could be in for something special.

Release Date: Late 2020

1. Cyberpunk 2077 (PC, Xbox One, PS4, Stadia)

cyberpunk 2077 rpg game 2020 pc Cyberpunk 2077 is an RPG set in a tantalising Cyberpunk setting in near future California. The impressive trailer at last year's E3 showed off a seamless, living open world, and a series of quest and character design systems that allow for a remarkable level of player agency. It is said that every mission will have multiple paths to completion, allowing for a high variety of playstyles and roleplaying options.

2019 revealed a further surprise with the presence of Cyberpunk icon Keanu Reeves as one of the game's main characters. Developers CD Projekt Red have exceptional pedigree when it comes to RPGs, and now with the budget and ambition to match we could be in for quite the spectacle.

After years in development, Cyberpunk is finally almost here, and will launch in April.

Release Date: April 2020

So there you have it folks: 2020 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new theatrical productions coming this year!

Sunday, 12 January 2020

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 2020 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 2020 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 2020.

best anticipated new tv television shows 2019 hot list ephemeric

The new golden age of television is in full swing and shows no signs of abating. The era of mainstream premium networks and subscription models has yielded an industry with the funding and creative resources to produce content on a scale rarely seen before. Increasingly the world's great auteurs are choosing to tell their stories in the form of a ten hour series rather than a two to three hour movie, and the talent has followed.

2019 represented a new high point of this era. We saw the entry into the market of two major new players in Apple and Disney, and the coming year looks like it could be even bigger. Indeed there is such a huge array of high quality content available these days that it is honestly becoming a bit overwhelming to keep track of everything. My intention is that The Hot List can help in that regard, giving you at least an overview of some of the most interesting work to come in the year ahead.

So without further ado here are the top 15 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2020:

15. The Eddy - Netflix (New TV Show)

the eddy la la land damian chazelle jazz netflix tv show 2020 best most anticipatedSeemingly a perennial feature of the Hot List. Netflix's The Eddy marks the first venture into television from Damian Chazelle, the Academy Award winning writer/director of WhiplashLa La Land, and First Man. This is a series that plays very much to Chazelle's talents. A musical drama set in a Parisian jazz club. The series will feature original music from Glen Ballard, Grammy award winning producer of albums such as Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, and Michael Jackson's Thriller.

We have been hearing about this one for a while now, but this winter we finally received some concrete information in the form of a cast list and the first production photos. The Eddy will star Moonlight's André Holland, along with Joanna Kulig (fans of foreign films will recognise her from Cold War) and Melissa George.

For the last two years, this has been one of the Hot List's most anticipated series, and the only reason it finds itself so low in the ranking this year is that, after two years of delays, I'm taking with a pinch of salt any suggestion that it will finally see release in 2020. I am an optimist though, and now that we have an actual cast, synopsis, and set photos I am confident that the Eddy will arrive sooner rather than later.

Start Date: TBA 2020

14. The Morning Show - Apple+

the morning show apple tv apple+ plus season 2 carrell anniston witherspoon 2020 most anticipated tvApple+ had a storming debut last year and maybe the most impressive of their initial lineup has been The Morning Show.

Easily the most considered and thoughtful of the media's attempts so far to adapt the #MeToo movement into a scripted drama. The Morning Show is not afraid to challenge the limits of the movement and address multiple perspectives.

Steve Carrell is the disgraced former host of the titular morning news show, while former co-host Jennifer Anniston is left to pick up the pieces alongside Carrell's replacement Reese Witherspoon. The supporting cast impresses as much as its stars, with Mark Duplass, Jack Davenport, Nestor Carbonell and particularly Billy Crudup all very strong.

Season 2 will release this year and promises more of the same office drama and ruthless politicking. Catch up on the first season if you have not done so, and then spend 2020 looking forward to its return.

Start Date: November 2020

13. The Haunting of Bly Manor - Netflix 

2020 most anticipated tv netflix haunting of hill house bly manor
Whether or not you consider this a "new show" depends very much on your definitions. The Haunting of Bly Manor is, essentially, the second season of Netflix's excellent ghost story The Haunting of Hill House. The stories will (probably) be unconnected but the cast and crew and, most importantly, the spirit, remain the same.

This, of course, is the product of showrunner Mike Flanagan, a man who is becoming one of horror's hot properties with the likes of Ouija, Oculus and most recently Dr. Sleep under his belt. This season, as the name suggests, will be based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, set in Bly Manor.

Ghost stories are ten-a-penny. What made the first season so excellent was its high production and attention to detail. Subtle touches like statues moving between camera cuts, and barely perceptible ghostly figures in the background of shots lent a special air of creepiness that exceeds most of the genre. But Hill House impressed for more than just its scares; it was a genuinely impressive bit of filmmaking and writing, with one episode in particular filmed in almost a single continuous shot.

Start Date: September 2020

12. This is Going to Hurt - BBC (New TV Show)

adam kay this is going to hurt bbc amateur transplants london underground 2020 most anticipated tv shows
The name Adam Kay means a lot of different things to different people. To some, he is a former doctor and graduate of my alma mater Imperial College. To others of a certain age, he is one half of The Amateur Transplants, a musical comedy duo that brought us such classics as London Underground and The Drugs Song (Kay would probably rather we not remember some of his other, most disturbing songs like "Never let a Woman Drive" to the tune of the Sheila's Wheels jingle, and "Rohypnol" to the tune of Blondie's Maria).

But to most, he is the author of the medical memoir This is Going to Hurt, detailing some of the horror stories from Kay's time as a doctor. The best seller is now being adapted to TV by the BBC.

If some of his material can be considered in bad taste, there is no denying that Adam Kay is a witty man. His writing is blistering, incisive, and hilarious, and if that translates well to the screen then this will be a very worthwhile series.

Start Date: TBA 2020

11. Run - HBO (New TV Show)

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Next up we have Run, the new HBO series from Vicky Jones, longtime theatre and screen collaborator of rising star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the latter of whom also co-produces and co-stars.

Waller-Bridge is joined in the cast by Domhnall Gleeson and Merritt Weever as Ruby, a woman living a humdrum existence, gets a text inviting her to fulfill a youthful pact promising true love and self-reinvention by stepping out of her life to take a journey with her oldest flame.

HBO is on a great run at the moment, as is Waller-Bridge. Pundits are betting on this new marriage between the two becoming one of television's next big things.

Start Date: TBA 2020

10. Space Force - Netflix (New TV Show)

space force netflix steve carrell john malkovich ben schwartz 2020 best most anticipatedIt's a series with a title that writes itself. As soon as Donald Trump announced the much derided Space Force, you knew someone was going to make a film or series by that name. That person turned out to be Greg Daniels, one of the key creatives behind the US version of The Office, as well as Parks and Recreation (and going back further, The Simpsons).

The new Netflix series is essentially a workplace comedy in the style of The Office focused on the group of people tasked with forming Trump's titular Space Force. Daniels is collaborating with Steve Carrell (who also stars) in the writers' room. Carrell is joined in the cast by John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, and Diana Silvers (of last year's excellent Booksmart).

Space Force will debut on Netflix this summer.

Start Date: Summer 2020

9. Foundation - Apple+ (New TV Show)

foundation apple 2020 most anticipated tvApple's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation had been billed as the main tentpole of the company's new push into original content. Perhaps predictably for such a massive and expensive project, delays followed, and the release is now (hopefully) expected for some time in late 2020.

The seminal, epoch-spanning book series has long been mooted for some form of adaptation, but has generally been considered either unworkable or too large-scale to depict on screen. Apple apparently feel the technology is now there, and are prepared to throw a significant budget into bankrolling this ambitious new series.

The project will be handled by David Ellison's Skydance production company, while Ellison will be joined as executive producer by a line-up of prominent names including David Goyer, Josh Friedman, and Asimov's daughter Robyn. Beyond that, much is still shrouded in mystery, needless to say this is going to be a major event when it gets here.

Start Date: Late 2020

8. Amazing Stories - Apple+ (New TV Show)

2020 most anticipated tv steven speilberg amazing stories apple plusAnother from Apple+, this time a reboot of Steven Spielberg's old 1985 series Amazing Stories.

The original was an anthology series in the style of a Black Mirror or Twilight Zone, only less focused on sci-fi and more on general storytelling and world-building of all genres. The remit of this new series is to "transport the audience to worlds of wonder through the lens of today’s most imaginative filmmakers, directors and writers".

Short form storytelling has a rich history on television, and yet at the moment you only really see it in the sci-fi and horror genres (Amazon's excellent Modern Love being a recent exception). If Apple can pull this off, and with their budget and a name like Spielberg you would bet on them doing so, then this could be a very worthy addition.

Start Date: TBA 2020

7. Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO

curb your enthusiasm seinfeld larry david season 10 2020 most anticipated tv televisionHe's back. For thirty years now, the funniest shows on television have been from Larry David, whether through Seinfeld in the 90s, or Curb Your Enthusiasm since then.

Nowadays Curb seems to be on "whenever Larry feels like making one" mode. Well in 2020 Larry feels like making one, and Curb returns for an impressive 10th season this January.

Season 10 will see a return of all the usual cast and crew, and no doubt a plethora of guest stars and celebrities either playing themselves or humorous parodies. I mean come on, it's Curb, do we really need to know anything else? It will be great.

Start Date: January 2020

6. American Crime Story: Impeachment - FX 

american crime story oj simpson versace impeachment clinton lewinsky trump 2020 most anticipated tvIn terms of awards, American Crime Story has certainly been the most successful of Ryan Murphy's various vehicles. The first two seasons, covering the OJ Simpson trial and the murder of Gianni Versace respectively, were critical and commercial successes. Next, ACS is turning its camera on the impeachment (not the current one!) and subsequent Senate trial of President Bill Clinton.

Longtime Murphy collaborator Sarah Paulson returns to the cast, along with Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford. Clive Owen will play President Clinton.

On the surface, the subject matter marks something of a departure for the series. But ACS has always been about shining a light on the political and cultural context of the crimes depicted, and with that in mind an impeachment could well prove to be the perfect subject.

Start Date: September 2020

5. Fargo - FX 

fargo fx season 4 2020 best televisionNoah Hawley is the man of the minute. Having achieved in Fargo by far the best example of a movie-to-TV adaptation being done well, and following that up with his excellent interpretation of Marvel's Legion, he now finds himself riding high on the Hollywood it-list when it comes to showrunners.

Hawley is a busy man, recently tapped to helm the much anticipated adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and with 2019 having marked his feature film debut. Hawley is now also being tapped to direct the next film in the Star Trek franchise. But amid the hype, Hawley has found time to return to the series that made him a star.

Few details of Fargo's fourth season are known at this time, but it will feature a cast icluding Chris Rock, Ben Whishaw, and Jason Schwartzman and have a 1950s setting in Kansas City, Missouri. Seasons one through three were all excellent, we eagerly await the next chapter in this anthology.

Start Date: April 2020

4. Stranger Things - Netflix 

stranger things best tv show television 2020 season 4And of course you can't have a Hot List without a new season of Stranger Things. Netflix's mega hit remains one of the best things on television, and I know I'm not the only one who can't wait to see where season four takes us.

Little is known about the new season. The last season left us on something of an ambiguous note, with certain central characters potentially gone, and the ongoing status of Stranger Things' main villain left uncertain. And what of Eleven's sibling and the ambiguous fate of her "papa"?

While there are clear plot-threads to follow going forward, no one really knows what direction the Duffer Brothers will take this. Whatever the case, the strength of the writing and production thus far gives us no reason for concern, and we expect great things when this releases.

Start Date: TBA 2020

3. Hollywood - Netflix (New TV Show)

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Ryan Murphy is a busy guy these days. The creator of Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, and The Politician seems to have a knack of spinning TV gold at the moment, so it is only fitting that his next series Hollywood would celebrate the golden age of tinseltown.

A love letter to the 1940s film industry, with a cast featuring Darren Criss, Patti LuPone, Jim Parsons and Jeremy Pope. The series will apparently aim for the same upbeat tone of Glee.

Hollywood is set to debut on Netflix this May.

Start Date: May 2020

2. Russian Doll - Netflix

russian doll natasha lyonne netflix tv show 2020 best most anticipated Netflix's remarkable Natasha Lyonne vehicle Russian Doll will return for the second of what is expected to be three seasons.

For all the impressive content Netflix put out in 2019, this high concept project was surely the most surprising success story. To take a concept that sounds like a forgotten episode of the Outer Limits and turn it into an entire series that is not only coherent but wildly engaging is no small feat of writing, and Lyonne's compelling performance has rightly earned the actress a ticket across the awards circuit this year.

But television is full of these lightning in a bottle moments that start strong but fizzle out or find they have nowhere to go, particularly with this type of genre. It will be interesting to see what direction they take the series, but if it's as good as the first, it will be well worth watching.

Start Date: TBA 2020

1. Star Trek: Picard - CBS (New TV Show)

new cbs star trek next generation tng picard patrick stewart discovery 2020 most anticipated tvIt's certainly an interesting time to be a Star Trek fan. After years in the wilderness, CBS suddenly seem set on milking the franchise for all it's worth with two current series ongoing, and the expected release of at least four more in the next two years.

By far and away the headline item of this lineup is Star Trek: Picard, a new series which sees the return of Patrick Stewart's iconic Captain Picard, formerly of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. The series will see Stewart team up with familiar faces of Trek series' past (that I won't spoil here), and a whole new assortment of characters featuring actors Alison Pill, Isa Briones, and Michelle Hurd.

Bringing back such a beloved character after nearly thirty years is a bold move that naturally has longtime fans excited, but it is the concept that intrigues the most. This is a much older Picard, now long past his adventuring days. The setting presents intriguing possibilities as to the narrative direction this series will take. This has the potential to be something quite unlike anything we've seen from the franchise before. Star Trek: Picard debuts at the end of January.

Start Date: January 2020

So there you have it folks: 2020 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!

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