My best of 2023: Books, film, music, podcasts and TV

My Best Entertainment of 2023

Pop culture is back in full force in 2023 after the unavoidable Covid lag. Barbenheimer, everything Taylor Swift, as well as Britney and Harry’s tell-all biographies (RIP Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream). However, mainstream media isn’t always for me, so you might find something new to enjoy in this list.

My 2023 has been dominated by incredible TV. I was unlucky enough to read many books that didn’t move this year, but thankfully this run has come to an end.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, here are some of the best books, films, TV, podcasts and music that have made me happy in 2023.

BEST FILM OF 2023

I’ve watched a ton of films this year, mostly horror/psychological thrillers, but none have hit me the way my one movie choice did.

Talk to Me was good, Evil Dead Rise was a blood-fest and Oppenheimer was pretty soul-destroying.

However, there was a plastic fantastic babe that stole the show this year, and that was…

Barbie

With so much hype surrounding the Barbie movie and not quite knowing what to expect, I went into the cinema unsure whether I was going to love it or hate it. I’m so happy to say that I thought Barbie lived up to the hype and then some.

In short, Barbie travels to the real world following an existential crisis, brought on by her owner’s unhappiness.

Highlights of the movie include Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie (the Barbie that got played with too hard and can only do the splits), Michael Cera as Allan (he isn’t on screen much, but he steals every scene he’s in) and the Mojo Dojo Casa House.

For anyone still under the misguided apprehension that the Barbie movie is a kids’ film about a toy, you’re in for a shock. It might be a cliche to say I laughed and cried, but I absolutely did. It’s also one of the few movies I’ve seen that made me want to stay in my seat and watch it all over again. I wanted to watch it with my mum, my sister and every man that’s tried to play me their guitar against my will.

Is this a female-dominated movie? Yes. Is it just for women? Hell no. Let’s be honest, if women had that attitude about movies, we’d miss out on entire genres and decades of film. Both Barbie and Ken’s character arcs are a joy to watch, and even if Barbie sees Ken as a background character, his exceptional musical numbers prove quite the opposite.

Barbie was easily my favourite movie of 2023.

BEST TV OF 2023

The Bear

I was lucky enough to devour both seasons of The Bear this year; each is very different but incredible in their own way.

The first season is possibly one of the most stressful TV series I’ve ever watched; up there with Euphoria and A Handmaid’s Tale. And it sounds so wrong to love a piece of entertainment that makes you feel so uncomfortable it could bring on a panic attack, but there it is.

Jeremy Allen White plays Carmy, a Michelin star-level chef who is left in charge of the struggling family sandwich shop after his brother’s suicide. With the pressure of rejuvenating a failing business, mourning his brother’s death, and mental health battles revolving around his feisty family and intense chef training, he has a lot on his plate (sorry, not sorry).

The first season focuses on getting the sandwich shop up and running, while the second season mostly shows Carmy and the team prepping to open The Bear restaurant. I personally preferred the first season, but this could be because it was such a punch in the face of style, characters and incredible writing. The second season has all of that, but as they say, you can’t make a first impression twice.

One of my favourite character arcs across the two seasons belongs to Richie, Carmy’s cousin. He originally worked in the sandwich shop and has his nose put out of place when Carmy comes in and tries to change everything. Because of this, he’s a blunt and confrontational character in season one. However, his journey during the second season takes him somewhere very different and it makes for a fun watch.

More wind-up than wind-down TV, but it’s so damn good.

Ted Lasso

I’m going to get it out there straight away; I can’t stand football. I’ve genuinely tried to get involved and understand people’s passion for it, but I just find it boring as hell. That’s probably one of the main reasons I ignored the hype around Ted Lasso until early 2023.

I was doing some writing for an incredible company (called Tackle This Together) that focuses on improving mental health within sports, especially grassroots football. Working on this project led several people to recommend Ted Lasso. No lies, a freebie Apple TV account with my bank account helped too.

Ted Lasso was an American football coach, famous for his team-building and bonding skills, but not necessarily dominating the league. In a change of direction, he’s employed by Rebecca Welton to manage AFC Richmond as the team struggles to stay in the Premier League.

You don’t need to know a single thing about football (or even like it) to appreciate this heartwarming programme. What this show focuses on is positivity in all its various forms. Ted himself is vibrant with labrador energy, Roy Kent stole my heart as the sweary and sarcastic team captain who’s fiercely loyal to his favourite people, and Keeley Jones, who follows her dreams from model/wag to business owner.

There are a ton of characters I haven’t got time to mention, but it’s these beautifully written people that draw you into the series and their unique challenges that keep you watching. Yes, the messaging is occasionally heavy-handed and sickly sweet, but as a show that was born out of lockdown, I can see why. Ted Lasso is a truly moving and funny show that’s probably started conversations about supporting mental health (especially for men) in rooms across the country. For that alone, it deserves the highest praise.

Atlanta

I’m a latecomer when it comes to the 2016-2022 series Atlanta, but damn I felt lucky I could binge the whole thing from start to finish. It’s a journey, and a bloody great one.

The first season is a cohesive story of Earn (Donald Glover) working as a manager for his cousin and upcoming rapper Alfred/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), as they try to make it in the music industry. It’s a solid series; shot beautifully, with well-crafted characters and an interesting storyline. However, it’s from the second season onwards that it really starts to become something I couldn’t look away from,

Throughout series 2-4, Atlanta takes each episode as an opportunity to do something different. One episode will feel like a horror, the next an arthouse move, and another an in-depth history of a background character. That might sound confusing or disjointed, but somehow it is the complete opposite. Every episode is a new little adventure, and they smash it every time.

Atlanta is a show I’d be happy to watch again and again; an absolute masterpiece.

Midnight Mass

I was slow to pick up on this series, but out of all filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series, Midnight Mass has become my second favourite (because The Haunting of Hill House is peak).

The first episode sets up almost every horror trope there is; an isolated community, a storm on the way, a deeply religious group of people, a new face in town, an old face returning and animals dying. Is any of that new? No. But is it done really well? Absolutely.

It’s hard to go into any detail without spoilers, but overall, a small island community starts to witness ‘miracles’ with their community, but they’re not all they appear to be.

If, like me, you were put off Flanagan’s work by the disappointing Haunting of Bly Manor, please, please, please welcome him back with Midnight Mass.

Only Murders in the Building

I came to Only Murders in the Building without knowing much about it. I’d heard good whisperings and as my free Apple TV account was ending, I thought I’d give it a go. The best way I can describe the series is as this generation’s Midsummer Murders, but better. Cosy crime at its finest.

A shared passion for murder podcasts and a suspicious death in their apartment building draws together former actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), struggling theatre director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and millennial Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez). They team up to both investigate and report on the crime in their own podcast series, Only Murder in the Building.

Each season brings a new murder to their yard and raises questions over how well they really know each other and who they can trust.

What makes this series shine is the great onscreen chemistry between the three lead characters. I can’t think of another series which pairs these age groups and comedy styling together, and it’s really refreshing. You’ve also got some brilliant cast additions, including Meryl Streep, Paul Rudd and Tina Fey that keep each season fresh.

As long as they’re old enough to accept some blood and minor threat, this series makes for a great family-friendly watch.

Roll on season four, which was confirmed in October 2023.

Yellowjackets

All you had to say to make me love Yellowjackets was – it features Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis. Their inclusion lets you know straight away that it’s going to be dark, feisty and a little bit twisted.

The show follows one group of women at two different points in their lives. In 1996, their flight to take part in a girls’ football league crashes and they’re left to survive in the Canadian wilderness. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, looking back on how their experiences changed the women forever.

There are a couple of points across these two series that feel a bit slow, especially when you can feel an inevitable horrific plot reveal coming. However, it all adds to the great character development and increases your understanding of their individual actions.

If strong female leads float your boat (hold on while I raise both my hands high), this series won’t disappoint.

The Last of Us

Do I really need to explain this one? Pedro Pascal walks around being rugged in a postapocalyptic world of people infected with a fungus that’s turned them into zombie-like ‘clickers’.

Ok, there’s a tad more to it I guess (but to be honest, that’s all I needed!). Joel (Pedro Pascal) is given the responsibility of ensuring teenage Ellie escapes the disease quarantine zone. Once he discovers why Ellie is so special, their journey changes paths.

I can’t begin to imagine how much money went into this series but it looks absolutely stunning. Everything from the locations, cinematography, costumes and casting is perfect. Some might complain that there’s not enough action involving the clickers, but personally, this doesn’t bother me at all because I see it as a character-driven story instead of the monsters being the focus. The clickers are part of the world, not the point of it.

Also, the third episode, titled A Long, Long Time, is one of the most heartbreaking character studies I’ve ever seen on the small screen. The episode moves from Joel and Ellie to doomsday prepper Bill (Nick Offerman) and attempted home invader Frank (Murray Bartlett). Thrown together during terrifying times, their relationship blooms.

Something that truly makes this series stand out is the on-screen (and apparently off-screen) chemistry between the actors that play Joel and Ellie. Their fierce loyalty to each other appears so genuine, it draws you in and adds to the inevitable tension and drama they face during their journey.

My only complaint about this story is having to wait so long for the next season. Bring, It. On.

BEST BOOKS OF 2023

Sadly 2023 was plagued by books I was so excited to read but turned out truly disappointing. From new releases to books that I’ve wanted to read for a decade, barely any left me moved in any real way. However, two books stood out as the cream of the crop and made me super happy.

Sarah Hall – The Burncoat

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

I swear you can’t go wrong with Sarah Hall. Her writing has brought me so much happiness over the last decade or so that I feel I owe her some unrepayable debt. My favourite story of hers has long been The Electric Michelangelo, followed closely by her short story/novella, Mrs Fox. Anyway, back to Burntcoat…

Burntcoat introduces us to successful sculptor, Edith Harkness. After growing up with a mother suffering from brain damage resulting from a car crash, she lives alone in a huge converted barn/studio. She starts a relationship with a man she barely knows, called Halit, from a nearby restaurant.

Early on in their relationship, a virus breaks out and leaves people scared and alone. Isolating together and forced to face their history and weaknesses, their new partnership is tested in ways many never have to endure.

If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a novel inspired by the COVID pandemic would be one of my favourite books of 2023, I would’ve laughed in your face. I think we all want to be done with it, and try to move on; even though the reality is, that we just have to live with it. I love reading fiction as escapism and understanding people and situations I might never have to face in my real life, so COVID does not appeal as a subject. This may be why the virus is given a different name in Burncoat, but it’s obvious where the inspiration lies. However, where Sarah Hall’s pen goes, I will faithfully follow.

Burntcoat is visceral and ultimately a harrowing read but Sarah Hall’s unique skill for exposing people at their most vulnerable and creating realistic characters with depth and passion made it a novel I couldn’t put down.

Alice Slater – Death of a Bookseller

Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

Death of a Bookseller is the debut novel from writer, editor and podcaster Alice Slater. I’d been looking forward to the novel from the former bookseller for months and it did not disappoint.

Roach is an outcast of a bookseller, bleak in humour and style, she’s obsessed with serial killers and has no interest in making friends. That is, until a new bookseller transfers to her shop. Laura is externally the polar opposite of Roach; fun, flirty, and fashionable, with everyone taking to her immediately. Roach thinks she sees some common ground with Laura and senses she’s hiding something dark that could bring them together. The more Laura pushes Roach away, the more Roach wants to know.

This tale of unwanted friendship reads effortlessly and was probably one of the books I devoured most quickly this year. Made up of bite-sized chapters, it kept me gripped and always wanting to read on just a little further. As a former bookseller myself, I could definitely see where some of the character inspiration came from. If you’ve ever had anything to do with books and publishing in your career, you’ll get a little extra out of this story.

I can’t into much detail without spoilers but Death of a Bookseller was a great, fun read and I really hope there’s more coming from Alice Slater soon.

BEST PODCASTS OF 2023

The Big Flop

The Big Flop, hosted by Misha Brown, looks at some of the most epic fails in modern history. From Fyre Festival to Juicero, it looks at the bright ideas that turned into dumpster fires in a way that had me snort laughing more than once (no shame, that’s pure happiness so I’ll take all the snort laughs).

My favourite episode involves the complete annihilation of Cats the movie. And before anyone says that all art requires effort and people’s work should be appreciated, Misha is careful to highlight how and why this movie went so wrong. These podcasts aren’t quick roasts, but a hilarious look at the insanity that caused some of these failures. Let’s be honest though, if Taylor Swift and Idris Elba looking…like that couldn’t save it, nothing could have.

Sit back and enjoy some major sass with this one.

Keys to the Kingdom

Keys to the Kingdom gives you a warts and all insight into the weird world of theme parks, hosted by former theme park employees Matt Gourley and Amanda Lund.

People love theme parks, and when it comes to Disney, that’s an understatement. I’ve heard so many urban legends surrounding the behind-the-scenes goings on at Disneyworld and this podcast confirms lots of these legends and more. From stealth weddings to banned deaths and human ashes, there are a ton of facts to keep you laughing in amazement.

I’m not a theme park addict myself so I was quite surprised this series pulled me in as it did. Keys to the Kingdom was a fun surprise to my listening this year and I loved every episode.

My Favourite Murder

Absolutely no shocker here that My Favourite Murder continues to be one of my favourite podcasts.

Over the last year and a bit, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark have changed the direction of their storytelling. They have expanded from murder-based stories to include epic tales of survival, weird historical events and more. This change has made me love it so much more.

I enjoy watching and listening to true crime (still a sentence I find uncomfortable saying, but it’s accurate), but I have very little interest in killers. Usually, it’s survival stories that grab my attention. If you feel the same, then I’d highly recommend episode 222 – That’s How Water Works. This features the incredible story of plane crash survivor Juliane Koepcke. It’s completely insane!

Please don’t be put off by the title of this series either, all stories are told with tact, concern and in-depth research. Karen and Georgia have accompanied me all over the place across the last few years and My Favourite Murder is the podcast I will always turn to if I want a good listen.

BEST MUSIC OF 2023

This year, I devoured the screamy and shouty throughout the colder, darker months and indulged in a lot of hip-hop during the sunnier times. But as normal, my Spotify revealed me as an unashamed punk rock fan.

Anyway, here are some of the songs that made up my soundtrack to 2023.

Better Lovers – 30 under 13

Still in Love – The Peace of Exhaustion

Dayseeker – Without Me

Post Malone with Doja Cat – I Like You

The (John) Candy – The World is a Vampire and it Feels so Good

Landon Tewers – I Like It

The Menzingers – Hope is a Dangerous Little Thing

Joey Valence & Brae – Punk Tactics

Tell me what I’ve missed, the highs and lows, in the comments below. What entertainment made your year in 2023?

If you’d like some more entertainment recommendations, check out my Best of for 2022.

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