james debate
james debate

Sunday 19 May 2024

Another Premier League campaign in the history books and it was... basically what we expected. Manchester City did claim a record breaking fourth consecutive title, but were unexpectedly pressed until the last day by an impressive Arsenal title charge. At the foot of the table, no mercy for the newcomers, as all three newly promoted clubs received their marching orders, a stark reminder of the massive step up that the Premier League requires.

premier league 2023 2024 manchester city champions

Is the Premier League becoming predictable? If the fact that I'm lazily reusing the same image as last year is any indication, yes a little. The league is waiting for a club to come along that can step up to challenge City, and while Arsenal have given it a go, the lack of credible competition from the club's biggest clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea has made it all too easy for Pep's boys in recent seasons. Liverpool, City's main title rivals of late, have the air of a club in stagnation, and while Jurgen Klopp will be missed, there is also a sense that a little fresh impetus may be required. Manchester United, for all the hype, have suffered yet another false dawn, and the glory days are looking far away indeed. Of City's potential rivals, arguably Chelsea look the club with the clearest upwards trajectory, but the Blues have struggled for consistency and fitness, their 6th place finish making clear that they are still some way off challenging at the top of the table.

Outside of the title race, Unai Emery continues to impress, improving upon Aston Villa's already impressive 7th place the previous year with a remarkable top four finish that will see the Birmingham club return to the Champions League for the first time since 1983. Newcastle failed to live up to their pre-season hype, with a solid season that nevertheless did not deliver the kind of progress their wealthy owners would have hoped - the disastrous £60million signing of Sandro Tonali, who would go on to miss the entire season following a ban for gambling, certainly didn't help.

As for the Premier League team of the season, predictably good showing from Manchester City and Arsenal. Jordan Pickford gets my nod for best goalkeeper. While Raya may have slightly better statistics, he also has a far better defence. The fact that Pickford even comes close is, for me, the more impressive accomplishment. Given Aston Villa's remarkable season, it was a very difficult decision not to include Ollie Watkins, but at the end of the day Erling Haaland is still the league's top scorer by some distance. It's remarkable that a 27 goal season is being viewed by some pundits as a disappointment!

Now let's get to some awards and the team of the season:

The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2024:

Winners: Manchester City 

Relegated: Luton Town, Burnley, Sheffield United

Player of the Year: Phil Foden (Manchester City)

U-21 Player of the Year: Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

Best Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Top Scorer: Erling Haaland (Manchester City) (27)

Most Assists: Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) (13) 

Manager of the Year: Unai Emery (Aston Villa)

Best signing of the season: Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

Worst signing of the season: Sandro Tonali (Newcastle United)

The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2024:

english epl bpl premier league best team xi of the season 2023
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!

Thursday 2 May 2024

Created by Graham Wagner, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Jonathan Nolan
Network Amazon
Starring Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, Walton Goggins
Genre Science Fiction, Satire
Running Time 45-74 minutes

fallout videogame amazon bethesda new vegas ella purnell walton goggins best new show 2024
Fans of geeky TV series are eating well. Hot on the heels of Netflix's really-pretty-good 3 Body Problem adaptation last month, comes Amazon with an even less likely adaptation of the celebrated Fallout series of videogames. 

So first of all, what is Fallout? In terms of its setting, Fallout takes inspiration from midcentury imaginings of the "world of tomorrow". Thinly veiled Cold War propaganda about the coming atomic age and how a combination of nuclear power and capitalism would bring us all flying cars, robot butlers and commuting to outer space. Fallout imagines a world where the future came to pass exactly as those 1950s propaganda films predicted: a world of all-American nuclear families, where everyone looks, dresses and talks like the 1950s, living in Googie houses and surrounded by sci-fi tech rendered with a retro-futuristic "atom-punk" aesthetic. But with that future came the darker side of atomic power, nuclear war. 

So Fallout is a satire of the politics and consumerism of the era. A cautionary tale against rampant jingoism and unregulated greed. Set in the nuclear wasteland of that obliterated world of marvels, each game in the series typically involves a series of factions and characters fighting over what remains, each with their own comically zealous ideology. 

Amazon's new TV adaptation adheres very closely to both the tone and moralism of the source material. This is a deeply silly world, with colourful characters that range from hopelessly naive to comically selfish, but always with a grain of truth to their motivations. It is also a very violent world, as the cold hard reality of the horrors of war continually crash against the blinkered optimism of its premise. This violence is over-the-top and bloody, just as fans of the games will expect. TV fans can imagine something like The Boys to get a sense of its severity.

Without spoiling too much of the story, Fallout follows three main protagonists. The first is Lucy, a young woman who has grown up in a vault, constructed pre-war to shelter survivors until enough time had passed to allow them to reclaim the surface. This is a classic Fallout trope that mirrors the opening of most of the games. Starting off in a vault, with characters completely alien to the shenanigans happening on the surface, is a great way to introduce newcomers to the setting, allowing both the character and viewers to discover this world at the same time.

The second is The Ghoul, a pre-war actor heavily irradiated by an atomic blast in the war, rendered horrifically disfigured, yet functionally ageless by his mutations. Scarred by this post-war world, and dark secrets in his past, The Ghoul serves as a more experienced window into the setting, cynical and jaded, his sense of morality long-since eroded.

Possibly most interesting is the third protagonist, Maximus. Maximus is a squire in training with the Brotherhood of Steel, a faction modeled on the old medieval Orders of Knighthood. Their objective is, essentially, to seize and hoard all modern technology from the wasteland, in order to prevent humanity from using it again to destroy itself. The Brotherhood has always been one of the more fascinatingly grey factions in this world, torn between the often cruel fanaticism of their ideology and a de facto role as protectors of the wasteland denizens. Fittingly, Maximus is one of the more enigmatic characters in the franchise. Often driven by acts of nobility and a sense of wanting to "do good", but more often driven by his ego, ambition and desire for self-preservation.

There is so much about this adaptation that is on point. Amazon have nailed the look and feel of this world, from the visual aesthetics, to its music. The set and prop design is incredible, imagining all kinds of whacky retro-futuristic technology that has never existed, but looks functional.

The writing is also very strong, capturing the satirical tone of the source material, the humour, homages to pop culture and pulp fiction. The story is a little derivative, it has to be said. The whole "vault dweller leaving the vault to find a family member" has been done at least a few times already in Fallout. For the most part though, the story is fine. If the story could be a little more original, though, the character stories are thoroughly excellent. The main protagonists all have fascinating arcs with plenty of tantalising details left to be explored in future seasons. The secondary characters, too, are great, and I was surprised by how engaged I found myself by some of these B-plotlines.

There are some moments where the dialogue can fall flat. The show is always trying to be so subversive and irreverent that sometimes can lead to exchanges that are more cringe than satirical absurdity. A particular scene between Maximus and Lucy talking about the mechanics of sex comes to mind.

Ultimately, any quibbles I have with this series are minor. Fallout stands as a rare example of something that is, at the same time, a great adaptation and also a work of high quality in its own right. The series fits perfectly into the world that already existed, but also stands on its own and expands that world. 

Videogame adaptations have historically had a bad reputation attached, although this seems to be changing in recent years. Both Sonic and Mario have had well-received big screen outings, and then The Last of Us came along and became one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed television hits of 2023. Fallout seems to have followed that trend. It is easily one of the best videogame adaptations yet created, one that looks set to become both a critical and commercial hit. But where Last of Us was a direct adaptation of the story in that game, Fallout is an entirely original tale, one that can be taken in any number of directions. I can't wait to see what comes next.

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