As we begin the new year, the media division at Trinity McQueen take a look back at what we watched and listened to in 2023, identifying some current trends in the process — from the gold rush for viable IP in film and TV to the blend of information and intimacy that makes a great podcast.
The art of the updo
TV and filmmakers continued to use existing IP to breathe new life into much-loved stories, characters and worlds – bringing a content-primed audience along for the ride. Titles based on well-known franchises from stories to toys and video games (The Little Mermaid, Roald Dahl’s Ratcatcher, Barbie, The Last of Us) clearly leveraged pre-awareness. But we’d argue that Oppenheimer, The Long Shadow (about the Yorkshire Ripper) and The Fall of the House of Usher (referencing Edgar Allen Poe) also drew on residual knowledge, to be celebrated, subverted or critiqued.
Ben: “What would happen if the Star Wars Universe decided to create a deeply political thriller which eschewed flashy space battles for melancholy characters meditating on the hopelessness of attempting to fight the system? Where venal ambition and amoral compromise are more common than ‘light’ vs ‘dark’? Where most characters are played by British TV and theatre character actors rather than film stars? The answer is – you’d get the masterpiece that is Andor.”
Luke: “Wes Anderson’s shorts on Netflix felt like an early Xmas gift – especially his reunion with Ralph Fiennes, who in his rancid depiction of Roald Dahl’s Ratcatcher nails a sort of desultory dreariness that lurks at the heart of English life. A perfect counterpoint to the urbane and flirtatious M. Gustave from Grand Budapest Hotel.”
The Last of Us
Megan: “As a fan of The Walking Dead (before it became never-ending), I was slightly dubious. I didn’t want it to become another typical zombie apocalypse-type show and there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. However, after some convincing from my partner, who was a big fan of the video game, I gave it a shot and thoroughly enjoyed it. The acting, the storyline and the cinematic feel all added to my enjoyment.”
Our TV picks
Alex – Succession, Euphoria, Andor
Ben – Poker Face, Andor, The Long Shadow
Laura – Boat Story, Happy Valley, Black Mirror
Luke – Ethos, The Ratcatcher, The Fall of the House of Usher
Megan – The Last of Us, Ted Lasso, Yellowstone
Paul – The Morning Show, Union with David Olusoga, Colleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story
Streaming and the pandemic supposedly rang the final death knell for cinemas. However, some recent cinematic releases have hinted that going to the movies still has a future, albeit against a background of cinema chain closures and independents struggling to survive.
Was Barbenheimer the biggest box office brawl in film history, or just great scheduling? 21st July 2023 saw Barbie and Oppenheimer hit cinemas across the UK, with audiences caught between black and pink — which one, or both, and then in what order? The excitement generated by these two films, followed by the worldwide record-breaking juggernaut that was Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour film, shows that the cinematic experience can still reflect and define the cultural moment.
Paul: “I saw Barbie twice. To not see it is to give into your own prejudice before you have started. To go see it is to be taken on a ride of wit, intelligence and imagination which will not be transcended for a while I suspect. Genius.”
Ben: “The greatest trick Christopher Nolan ever achieved was convincing the world that he was making an epic about the birth of the nuclear age – Oppenheimer is, in fact, a brilliantly taut court-room drama in which issues of reputation, legacy and memory are as important as the morality of The Bomb. A few marks are deducted for some less-than-fully-formed female characters. Those marks are immediately re-awarded for making Tom Conti Einstein.”
Our movie picks
Alex – Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Barbie, Society of the Snow
Ben – Barbie, Oppenheimer, Pearl
Laura – The Eras Tour, The Little Mermaid
Luke – Ehrengard, Barbie, Asteroid City
Megan – Barbie, Saltburn, Oppenheimer
Paul – Killers of the Flower Moon, Barbie, Past Lives
The podcast boom continues unabated. It seems anyone and everyone you’ve ever heard of (and many people you haven’t) are launching their own. Do you have your own podcast yet? Why not!
As 2024 begins, podcasts continue to eat into ‘Share of Earholes’ in a way that is meeting a consumer need. But what is a podcast in 2024? Over the years, popular podcasts have had forms stretching from the highly edited and produced storytelling of Serial or This American Life to the unstructured “two blokes and a microphone” shows (Joe Rogan being the classic example, of what comedian Adam Buxton refers to as a ‘Ramble-chat’). What is the best, most desirable form of pod for listeners?
In the UK at least, the success of Gary Lineker’s Goalhanger stable of podcasts in 2023 is suggestive of something interesting. Containing The Rest is History, The Rest is Politics, The Rest is Football, The Rest is Money, and most recently The Rest is Entertainment (and also including non-’Rest Is…’ shows like Empire and Leading), and despite the criticism that they seem to be aimed only at a certain milquetoast demographic (easily dismissed as ‘The Centrist Dad’), their podcasts reliably dominate the weekly charts.
Perhaps the key to their success is in their reliable format. Each one is indeed like listening to a chat between two friends (or at least close colleagues). But this is no ramble-chat. The shows are professionally produced and structured, well-paced, and manage to be information and expertise-rich. Informative and intimate – the podcasting sweet spot. It’s a recipe that managed to, at the end of 2023, sell out the Royal Albert Hall to fans of The Rest is Politics – a Proms-sized crowd for an ex-MP and political spin doctor. Powerful stuff.
The Rest is History
Paul: “The year I finally caught up with everyone who’d been banging on about this – these guys can bring history to life with as much sly wit as informed brilliance – if in any doubt, start with the episode ‘Oh the swinging 60s’.”
The Anfield Wrap
Alex: “These guys have set the bar extremely high for fan-media podcasting, regularly duking it out with Guardian’s Football Weekly at the annual podcasting awards. Their hilarious, relatable and insightful cast of contributors churn out reams of content every week, while their commitment to social activism (with weighty deep-dives into female representation, racism in football and the Hillsborough justice campaign to name just a few) embody the noble, community-focused ideals of my home town, Liverpool. After years of being a subscriber, they now feel like close personal friends I can turn to in good times and bad – and this is the ultimate hallmark of enduring podcast success.”
The Square Ball
Laura: “If Alex is going to talk about the Anfield Wrap, it’s only right that I back my team – The Square Ball. The beating heart of this Leeds United fan media company is their amazing fanzine, packed full of the best illustrators and writers every month (and me, on occasion), but the weekly podcasts offer an irreverent take on the always eventful goings on at Elland Road.”
Our podcast picks
Alex – The Rest is History, Succession Podcast
Ben – Pivot, Origin Story, Sports Horn
Laura – Things Fell Apart, The Rest is Entertainment
Megan – Dish, Parenting Hell, My Therapist Ghosted Me
Paul – The Rest is History, Political Currency, WTF
What will our favourite entertainment look like in 2024?
While there’s some crossover in our picks (Barbie, for example), there’s also a lot of variety. We aren’t watching exactly the same stuff as each other, any more than anyone else is, but we make it to the best content one way or another – even if, late to the party, we end up bingeing shows and podcasts we hadn’t sat down to watch before.
While streaming shows can certainly be event TV and a shared experience in the modern sense, traditional broadcasters can still – even with TV ad spending dropping – provide watercooler content that plays out in real-time. From a king in his seventies struggling with a fountain pen, or a sixteen-year-old darts player just falling short, to the excitement over the reboot of Gladiators, telly can still bring us into the same front room – for a while at least.
Our choices reflect a tension between wanting to engage with the world – there’s a lot of more or less overtly political content, in film and TV as well as on podcasts – and unapologetic escapism: not surprising, when the future looks as bleak as it does in the tech dystopias of Black Mirror and A Murder at the End of the World! The comfort we take from the familiar voices on podcasts, accessed in our own time, would be familiar to radio listeners past and present.
We’ll be following up on this throughout the year as we see which trends hold, fade and emerge in 2024.