Some people tune in to the Super Bowl for the football. (Sorry—tennis and basketball have my heart.) For me [Editor's note: And for the rest of the world that's not the US], America's largest sporting event is all about the commercials and trailers. The questions [...] have nothing to do with quarterbacks, betting odds, or even Taylor Swift. I just want to know who will eat the new Doritos flavour, OK? Also: which celebrity will talk to to the E-TRADE baby. One more: which former athlete (probably Gronk) will sing on top of a pool full of White Claw.
This year's slate of commercials features brand and celebrity partnerships so outrageous that they seem selected by a randomiser. Chris Pratt grows out his Super Mario moustache for Pringles, Eric André tries to pass through airport security with a bag full of Drumstick ice cream, Dan Marino reps both Michelob ULTRA and M&M's, and the Beckhams promote the big "baseball game" for Uber Eats. We're off to a great start.
Here's a rundown of the best commercials we've seen so far.
Super Bowl halftime performer Usher and actor Christopher Walken feature in a new BMW ad titled, "Talkin Like Walken." In the commercial, everyone is doing Christopher Walken impressions. "Don't you got somewhere to be?" a frustrated Walken asks Usher.
This year, LL Cool J is the conductor of the—wait for it—"Chill Train," for Coors Light. Apparently, he's delivering chill vibes across the country. Recent Grammy winner Lainey Wilson also makes an appearance in the ad.
The Scrubs duo sing to Jason Momoa about the wonders of T-Mobile cable in a new commercial for the home cable and internet provider. Naturally, Momoa shows them up with his own singing skills.
"What if one of the biggest moves of Super Bowl Sunday was taxes?" asks Abbott Elementary's Quinta Brunson. The ad—where we'll presumably hear the answer—is directed by Taika Waititi.
I'm not going to lie: I did think there was a "T" in Skechers. Either way, now there is... sort of. Mr T is here, people, and he loves the new slip-on Skechers. "I pity the fool that has to touch his shoes to put them on," he says.
[Editor's note: The author's original copy is about Paramount+ in the US. As our IP address is unable to hook to the US embedded video, the text seems moot. Good thing that Paramount has some sense (of humour) as it has a UK & Ireland version that we can watch. Fittingly enough, it begins with "Meanwhile, on the other side of Paramount Mountain...")]
Tina Fey sends body doubles out into the world to check out hotels for her in person. That would be a cool service in real life if it was offered, but the ad does give us cameos from Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, and Glenn Close.
Aubrey Plaza rides a dragon in the new Mountain Dew Baja Blast ad. [Editor's note: And she gets to use her trademark deadpan in all sorts of situations, which include riding on a dragon.]
Jeremy Renner sings "I Got You (I Feel Good)" in this ad for Silk almond milk alongside his daughter, where he throws a wooden spoon so hard that it goes through the carton. I just want him to bring the Jeremy Renner app back.
"Ironically, it is the cold brew that births the fire-breathing dragon," says Anthony Hopkins in the new STōK ad. He's getting ready for his toughest role yet: Wrex the Dragon, the soccer team mascot from Welcome to Rexham.
What if a horse and a dog were friends? That's the question Budweiser has asked for years at the Super Bowl, and it's always been charming.
I'll take any excuse to see Ronald Gladden on my television again, even if it's in a cosmetics ad for the big game.
Ken Jeong is unfrozen in time in a world that apparently had never invented the chicken wing. Crazy! That's even worse than that Everything Everywhere All at Once reality where everyone has hot dog fingers.
In one of the most mysterious ads for the event, Addison Rae is teaching somehow to dance while eating NERDS. Who could it be? A nerd, perhaps?
I wouldn't recommend drinking beer before running a marathon, but somehow I believe that if anyone could do it, it would be Rob Riggle.
Yup, you read that right. Kawasaki has an ad this year where coming in contact with their new Ridge off-roader gives you a mullet instantly, even if you're an eagle or a bear.
There's a lot going on in this one—even aside from the all-caps "MY DAD HAD A ROLLS ROYCE" shirt. The whole bit is a play on the viral scene from Netflix's Beckham, where David made Victoria concede that she did not grow up in a working-class family. Now, they've forgotten what sport their big commercial is for. Baseball? Hockey? Either way, Jessica, er... Jennifer Aniston will be there, too.
Who earned Chris Pratt the big bucks? Mario, Garfield, or Mr. Pringle?
I can't tell if Post Malone is just at a party where everyone has Bud Light, or if he's also an anthropomorphic beer bottle with arms and a head sticking out of that limo. Either way, Posty is also singing "America the Beautiful" before kickoff.
Finally, the Doritos ad! Looks like the chips nabbed Jenna Ortega this year for their new flavor, "Dinamita." Hold on while I try to guess what "Dinamita" tastes like.
Messi, Sudeikis, and Marino are simply having a great time on the beach together, drinking Michelob ULTRA. Solid.
We have a new Hellman's mascot: Mayo Cat. The gist? The cat says "Mayo" and not "Meow." And that's how a star is born.
PSA: M&M's is planning to crush peanut butter into a diamond—you know, to make a Super Bowl ring. It'll bring comfort to almost-champions like Marino, who never won the real thing on the big day. Perfect. Great idea. I want one, too.
"We're three great athletes" Vaughn jokes, before Brady mentions that the actor tripped just walking into the room. I'd bet that this trio has more quips saved for the big game. (Sorry.)
Drumstick's first-ever Super Bowl ad will see the TSA confiscating Eric André's ice cream. There's also a little guy named Dr. Umstick involved... somehow.
Arnett has long been the voice of Reese's, but now the chocolate and peanut butter candy is making a "big change" on game day.
Ice Spice is pretty worried about running into her ex at a bar. Hopefully, it's not the Starry mascot from last year, which was slurped up by Keke Palmer.
Red Alert! Kris Jenner is stacking Oreo's on top of each other.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Agent State Farm in a Marvel-esque action film that I hope is someday made into a full movie.
After the monumental success of Avengers: Endgame, I remember wondering, like many people, what Marvel could possibly do to follow up such a cultural juggernaut. How could they raise the stakes or stage bigger battles? What else was left to explore?
Then, in the trailer for Spiderman: Far From Home, after Tom Holland’s Peter Parker learns from Nick Fury that Quentin Beck is “from Earth, just not ours,” Peter asks with nervous excitement, “You’re saying there’s a multiverse?”
Yes, Peter, there is—well, I’m not sure if there are actually parallel worlds adjacent to ours, but in terms of contemporary storytelling? There are multiverses everywhere. There is, if you will, a multiverse of multiverses.
To name just a few, there’s the Academy Award-sweeping film Everything Everywhere All at Once, the popular sci-fi cartoon Rick & Morty, Amazon’s Philip K. Dick adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, Apple’s space race alternate history For All Mankind, the sprawling DC and Marvel franchises, and even onward to novels like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Lauren Beukes’s Bridge, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, and Iain Pears’ Arcadia. In recent years, tales of adjacent realms and alternate timelines have become more and more pervasive in popular culture.
Of course, stories involving alternate timelines, what-ifs, and speculative histories are nothing new (in fact, as we’ll see, they long predate the scientific theories that explain them). What, after all, is Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Future but a glimpse into a multiverse? Because Scrooge heeded the three ghosts’ warnings, the vision shown to him by that ghost wouldn’t come to pass, meaning that this dark timeline is either an illusion conjured by the spirit or an alternate version of Scrooge’s life. The same can be said of It’s a Wonderful Life, the multiple finales to the film adaptation of Clue, the Gwyneth Paltrow romance Sliding Doors (and its precursor, the Polish film Blind Chance), and the ‘90s cult show Sliders.
But the cluster of multiverse narratives of the past decade has not just technically been multiverse stories. They’ve been explicitly multiverse stories—as in, they employ the scientific language that originated with the theory. They are directly inspired by the Many Worlds Interpretation, not merely tapping into the kinds of emotional desires that the multiverse offers.
For God’s sake, Marvel’s recent spate of ten films, eleven shows, and two shorts (and many more on the way) are collectively referred to as the Multiverse Saga. Even more significant, though, is how, much like time travel, the multiverse as a storytelling device began as a nifty concept and eventually deepened into a fruitful (and quickly overused) tool to explore things deeper and closer to home. What began as an esoteric theory and a heady narrative device has become as mainstream and emotionally resonant as any cinematic trope.
But as soon as an idea enters the zeitgeist and then the upper echelons of corporate IP, it gets flattened by the cynical and crass exploitation of pandering and profit hunting. The seven Oscars awarded to Everything Everywhere All at Once probably mark the apex of our current multiverse saga, now that the DC and Marvel films lashed to this subject have become increasingly unsuccessful, bombing at the box office and engendering some heavy animosity from fans. The multiverse has gone from an obscure theory to a sci-fi trope to a popular mainstream conceit to an underwhelming excuse for fan service of the crassest kind.
Paul Halpern’s new book, The Allure of the Multiverse: Extra Dimensions, Other Worlds, and Parallel Universes, regales us with the history of the concept—from Pythagorean cosmology to quantum mechanics—in scientific terms. With his insight and expertise, perhaps we can illuminate the social side of the story. Why has the multiverse emerged so ubiquitously in the past decade? What mode of contemporary life does it capture? Why did it catch on so infectiously? And why does it seem to be crashing just as dramatically?
The multiverse as a theoretical concept fittingly has numerous origins. Science—particularly high-level physics—relies on brilliant thinkers intertwining each other’s ideas into a cosmic braid of impenetrable complexity. As The Allure of the Multiverse makes clear, radical and counterintuitive theories like the multiverse—also called the Many Worlds Interpretation, parallel realities, etc.—arise out of a series of breakthroughs, insights, discoveries, and audacious leaps of logic. It typifies, in many ways, the highest level of human thought.
But the multiverse as a metaphoric concept has been nestled inside our ponderous and rueful psychology for as long as humanity has possessed a psychology. Our unique self-awareness, responsible for our physically fragile species’ global dominance, also causes our unique melancholy: we know that we have only one life. And what a precious life it is. The more exposure a person has to the bewildering and intricate enormity of existence, the more one is keenly attuned to the infinitesimal capriciousness of one’s place in it. As Richard Dawkins elegantly put it in the opening of Unweaving the Rainbow:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Imagine, then, knowing how much it has taken for us to be born and how easily it may not have happened. The pressure this awareness places on our one precious life! It is miraculous to even draw breath at all—now what are we going to do with this gift?
Mostly, not a whole lot. Remember, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We can’t all be winners, kid.
And so we’re left, at the end of our days, with regrets and musings about alternative paths, convinced our benighted fate was not inevitable, but rather the result of a misstep, a wrong door, a left instead of a right. Who might we have been? What other choices might we have made? Could we have lived a better, more fulfilling life? Or might our circumstances have been worse? The hypothetical versions of ourselves we invent in our minds may not outnumber the sand grains of Arabia, but maybe, like, Cocoa Beach?
The multiverse, then, in addition to attesting to human ingenuity, also represents the most fundamental aspect of the human condition. The multiverse lives in the depths of our minds and our hearts.
In the preface to the revised edition of his 1969 novel The Eternal Champion, legendary sci-fi author Michael Moorcock claims to have coined the word multiverse in his first novel, The Sundered Worlds (1965). He didn’t. That distinction belongs to William James, the philosopher, psychologist, and brother to novelist Henry James, who invented the term to characterise the ambivalence of existence. “A moral multiverse,” he wrote in his 1895 essay “Is Life Worth Living?”, “and not a moral universe.” What Moorcock did was provide the word with the meaning we’ve become so familiar with: “an infinite number of slightly different versions of reality,” as he puts it.
Before Moorcock’s influential usage, the theory languished in the physics world under many different names. Attempts by sci-fi writers to christen the multiverse were similarly unsuccessful, though not always because their entries were inferior. Take Philip Jose Farmer’s The Maker of Universes (1965), published the same year as Moorcock’s debut, in which a man uses a magic horn to travel between “tiers,” or “world upon world piled upon each other like the landings of a sky-piercing mountain.” The novel’s front cover declares it “the many-levelled cosmos,” which is a lovely phrase I quite enjoy. As wonderful as it is, it’s not quite portable enough. Perhaps in another universe…
The contexts for the two origins of the word “multiverse” are worth a brief detour, as they afford some convenient insights into the heart of the concept itself. The subject of the essay in which William James coined the word multiverse was optimism and pessimism. Optimism here does not refer to a generally positive outlook, as we mean today, but rather a philosophy championed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his 1710 work Theodicy and popularised by Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.
This optimism addresses the problem of evil in theology by arguing that our reality has been chosen by God from a selection of “all possible worlds.” Our reality may contain evil and sin and suffering, but according to Leibniz, realities without the bad stuff are not any better. Ours is, in an infamous phrase, “the best of all possible worlds.” This is an early example of the multiverse, albeit one that exists only in the mind of God. The notion of alternate realms can be found all over philosophical and theological thought.
On the other hand, when Moorcock discusses his use of the multiverse in his novels, he waxes giddy about its storytelling utility. He can narratively “deal in non-linear terms with versions of perception” and create “simplified models of ideal worlds (for which large numbers of people in Western society yearn so nostalgically),” allowing him to consider “by what particular injustices they might be maintained.” Right away, Moorcock saw the treasure trove of metaphoric largesse the multiverse granted a novelist—how the vast expanse of the cosmos could be used to explore the innermost depths of the human soul.
Comic books, those precocious nieces and nephews of genre fiction, similarly grasped the potential of the multiverse. Consider, for instance, the origin of DC’s Barry Allen, a “police scientist” who becomes the second iteration of the Flash (the first being Jay Garrick from the 1940s comics). Barry Allen’s introduction occurred in Showcase #4 from October 1956; in it, Barry is shown reading a comic book featuring his idol, the Jay Garrick Flash (referred to as the Golden Age Flash). So when he’s quite coincidentally struck by lightning and also doused with chemicals, gaining superhuman speed, he names himself after his hero.
DC cleverly incorporated their earlier era into their new one. But in 1961, Garner Fox wrote an issue of The Flash called “Flash of Two Worlds.” In his wonderfully informative book The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios explores this story as an introduction to quantum mechanics; he writes, “it was revealed that the Silver Age Flash [Barry] and the Golden Age Flash both existed, but on parallel Earths, separated by a ‘vibrational barrier.’” The explanation is that Barry “accidentally vibrated at superspeed at the exact frequency necessary to cross over” to what they refer to as Earth-2.
“Flash of Two Worlds” was a hit, and as companies are wont to do, DC repeated the formula over and over, increasing the number of Earths each time, now with Earth-3, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-Prime (our reality), culminating finally in 1985’s massive crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which, like Moorcock, emphasised the utility of the multiverse for the practicalities of narrative.
The major comic event was orchestrated, as Kakalios puts it, to “normalise the multiverse,” a “vast housecleaning of continuity… to weed out poor sellers from many of the less-popular worlds and bring all the heroes from the best-selling titles together on one Earth.” Executive editor Dick Giordano wrote a memo listing the fallen characters (which included Barry Allen), commanding, mafioso-like, “they should never be seen again, nor should they be referred to in story.”
What unites DC’s coldblooded housecleaning and Moorcock’s pragmatism is their sense of testing out the utility of multiversal plots. Each had found a new mode of narrative and were keen to stretch its limitations. But in the scientific community, the theory of the multiverse remained a subject of much derision; it wouldn’t become an accepted mainstream notion until the ‘90s. Thus these stories, which incorporated a version of the actual physics concept rather than merely a hypothetical, had niche audiences.
For all their innovations with the multiverse, from coining the term to crafting it into novels and expanding the world of superheroes, none of these figures fully realised the notion of infinite realities as an avenue to richly scrutinise the pitiful and helpless exercise of wondering what might have been.
If you wanted to explore the emotional possibilities of the multiverse before the 21st century, you did so without mention of any quantum mechanics or general relativity. Instead, you severed the idea from any esoteric mumbo-jumbo that might catapult your novel or film into nerdy territory. Because anything nerdy, for a long time, wasn’t considered emotionally evocative or even representative of typical human experience. Nerds, like the multiverse, existed on the fringes.
The multiverse was born for me when, as an early 20-something reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I was startled by the famous passage about the fig tree. Esther, the protagonist, a 19-year-old aspiring writer, contemplates the innumerable choices that lay before her by comparing them to figs falling from a tree she’s sitting under, each one representing “a wonderful future [that] beckoned and winked.”
“One fig,” she writes, “was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor.” Other figs are exotic places she could travel, lovers she might take, ambitions she may pursue. And while this seems like a particularly envious position for a young kid to be in (each of her hypotheticals is a good scenario), Esther is instead filled with prophetic fear:
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
As a young adult, I couldn’t have understood the pangs of remorse given off by older people looking back on an imperfect life. But I could absolutely fathom the frightening prospect of future remorse. Plath’s evocation of paralyzing choices and the many lives those choices might lead to struck a chord with me. For the first time, I grasped the insane caprice of the human condition: how every YES inherently implies a NO to everything else. As the priest says in Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York, “There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose.”
While we’re on the subject of Synecdoche, New York, isn’t the central conceit of that film that the obsessive recreation of life into art leads to a concerning inability to tell the difference between the two? When we make art, don’t we effectively create multiverses in which we make a different decision or kiss a different person or move to a different city or pursue another career?
Art allows us a peek into the multiverse. Take poetry, for example—it abounds with the mournful, melancholic, and mopey among us pondering the possibilities of passed-over paths. A.E. Housman laments “the land of lost content” made up of “blue remembered hills” in a lyric in A Shropshire Lad (1896), which employs landscapes as its metaphorical terrain, as does Robert Frost’s infamous poem “The Road Not Taken,” from Mountain Interval (1916) twenty years later.
Neither Housman’s blue hills nor Frost’s forking roads feature any suppositions about their might-have-beens—only the utterly human tragedy of regret, our tendency to agonise over our decisions and blame the caprice of causality for all of our problems. The multiverse, in its most basic sense, is about our perpetual unhappiness.
The multiverse, in its most basic sense, is about our perpetual unhappiness.
This is why the multiverse is an immensely appealing device in fiction. But it's also why it’s ultimately unsatisfactory as a means of narrative self-exploration. The multiverse is too multi. Human beings can’t accommodate notions like infinity. Moreover, our lives don’t hinge on endless possibilities but rather on starker binaries like Frost’s splitting roads. Our regrets are small, in the grand scheme of things. And any attempt to extend our regrets into cosmic proportions tilts the realm of human meaning somewhere bewilderingly distant from what we understand.
This accounts for why an otherwise uninspired romantic comedy that was a minor hit in 1998 can coin a phrase that’s persisted in culture for much longer than any of the details of the film itself. Sliding Doors articulated and named humanity’s relationship to the multiverse. We obsess over missed connections, either/or scenarios, door #1 or #2, yes or no, stay or go.
Tales of two outcomes of the same moment entice us, but more options added to the menu tend to overwhelm us emotionally, leaving only our intellectual side intact. Ricky & Morty succeeds because it aims at our brains, revelling in cleverness. But a version of Sliding Doors with three, four, 10, Gwyneth Paltrows would undercut the personal stakes for us.
Multiverse stories can, in fact, diminish their own narrative stakes, particularly in franchises. Corporate studios see the multiverse as an opportunity to expand the scope of their IP. They bring in characters from past cinematic universes, as in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, The Flash, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. In this last example, the Spider-Man films featuring Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield are now MCU canon. As film critic Clarisse Loughrey observed, the multiverse, for major studios, doesn’t lie in its “creative potential,” but “its cameos.”
More significantly: an endless series of universes means that any character’s death is impermanent, that all dire circumstances are reparable, and that all possibilities tend to equate to no possibilities. This last idea can be summarised by a line from a superhero movie: the recurring theme of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles (2004) is if everyone is special, then specialness loses its specialness and thus no one is special. Specialness is defined by contrast to regularity, just as the weight of our life choices is tied to the limited amount of alternatives we perceive.
Of course, it’s true that at any moment, we can radically change our lives. This means that for any given scenario in which we see only two options, there are in truth many paths we could take. Gwyneth Paltrow could have been hit by the train, too. Our minds ignore these possibilities because we aren’t fully aware of them (who, after all, thinks, Well, I could have turned left at that light or I could have done doughnuts in the intersection until the cops showed?). Just as we aren’t conscious of the millions of coincidences that don’t happen, only the rare ones that do.
What we’re less inclined to enjoy are multiverses with many scenarios where we lose our cosmic footing. Ironically, the MCU’s move to the multiverse—which seemed like such an inspired way to up the ante from Thanos’s threat to half of one universe to a vast war involving infinite ones—had the opposite effect: it flattened the stakes, making them more representative of corporate mergers than insightful explorations of personal potential.
In physics, the multiverse is a fascinating concept that lends theoretical support to other unexplained phenomena of existence. But in our daily lives, a multiverse is mostly meaningless. We cannot consider every possibility, or even many of them; indeed, keeping mental tabs on a single branch (which itself branches again and again) is pretty much impossible. If the multiverse were proven to be real, our natural proclivity for minor regrets would render the world more suited to the scope of our tiny, insignificant lives, which are also—to us—the most important in the universe.
Theories explain; metaphors reflect.
The multiverse, as a theory, emerged because of some as-yet-unexplained problems resolving Einstein’s general relativity with the mysteries of quantum mechanics, not because our hearts are filled with longing and regret. It seeks to account for certain aspects of reality. Whatever emotional implications it also evokes are beside the point. Relativity, quantum physics, infinities—these are beyond our capacities.
But the chance to investigate the many ways our lives could have gone by vivisecting seemingly arbitrary decisions? That is as appealing to people as pondering the ability to stop time, to fly, or to make the right choice in the first place. But these multiverse fictions are not legitimate attempts to explain our current state. Instead, they represent our feelings about our current state. When you’re at your most joyful, you don’t waste time relitigating past choices—unless it’s to marvel over how lucky you’ve been.
Rather, you bathe in the present moment, content that in all the infinite possibilities of this vast, eternal, and relentlessly enigmatic universe, that out of the millions of strings attached to every action, that in the teeth of such stupefying odds, you’ve managed to eke out a sliver of life that gives you purpose and pleasure. Those mired in miserable circumstances are much more likely to sift through their timelines to locate potential missteps. The multiverse, then, explains more about our self-regard than it does the vagaries of light and gravity and particles and waves.
People are filled with regret and weighted by creativity. So we can conjure up invented selves with a magician’s ease, but only for so long. Very quickly our ideas run their course, mostly because we aren’t personally invested in worlds where we’re made of paint or have hot dog fingers or are controlled by the Nazis. These are too far-fetched to be anything but thought experiments, emotionally inert and pragmatically irrelevant.
But give us a missed train or an unrequited love or an untaken journey, and we’ll dedicate much of our lives to concocting stories in which we got things right, found our passions, and chased our dreams, as if it were possible for us to say, as E. E. Cummings once wrote, “there’s a hell / of a good universe next door; lets go.”
This story contains spoilers for the season finale of The Last of Us but not the video game, The Last of Us Part II. You're safe. (For now.)
Grizzled fans of The Last of Us, we have some big news. Season 2 of the post-apocalyptic series will reportedly continue to follow the plot of the game closely, which will have massive ramifications for those who know exactly what goes down between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in the second installment. "If that does take place in the show," Ramsey told Esquire in our cover story, "I don’t know that I’m emotionally ready for it."
In the first season of the HBO series, the unlikely duo of Joel and Ellie set out on a cross-country trip to find a cure for a deadly fungal infection that turns victims into zombies. (We're simplifying, we know.) It proved to be a smash hit—even setting viewership records during its 2023 airing. The series also managed to keep fans of its source material, 2013's The Last of Us video game, relatively happy with its faithful retelling of its dark, emotional story.
According to our 2023 interview with Pascal, the adaptation will remain true to the game in season 2 "like entirely, I think." The actor added in Esquire's accompanying "Explain This" video that, "It wouldn’t make sense to follow the first game so faithfully only to stray severely from the path. Now, more recently, on the red carpet at Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of his new film, Freaky Tales, Pascal told Deadline that the showrunners are, "always going to find ways to build on the incredible source material that they have, and surprise us with how they can use that material in a different format like a television show." Still, the leading star maintained that he, "wouldn’t want to spoil it for anybody, and the truth is, I don’t actually have all of the information as of yet."
For those looking to dive deeper, both The Last of Us Part I and The Last of Us Part II are available to play on PlayStation. The Last of Us Part II also just received an official remaster ahead of season 2, which is out on January 19. "I tried to play the game but I was really shit at [using] the controller," Pascal revealed to Esquire. "It looks like a lot of f**cking fun, but I was so bad at it."
According to HBO chief Casey Bloys, the network isn't eyeing a release for season 2 until 2025. Still, there's a lot to look forward to between now and then. Check out everything we know about The Last of Us season 2 below.
Yes. HBO has officially locked in the actors for season 2's most important players: Abby, Jesse, and Dina. To start us off, Kaitlyn Dever (Dopesick) is officially joining the cast as Abby—AKA, the most influential member of The Last of Us Part II's insane story twists. Though we won't spoil anything here, just know that fans of the video game who are aware of what lies ahead have been eagerly awaiting this announcement. We'll just leave you with a short teaser from HBO that describes Abby as, "a skilled soldier whose black-and-white view of the world is challenged as she seeks vengeance for those she loved."
According to Deadline, Dever emerged as the frontrunner following the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike back in November. "Our casting process for season 2 has been identical to season 1: we look for world-class actors who embody the souls of the characters in the source material," co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann said in an official statement. "Nothing matters more than talent, and we’re thrilled to have an acclaimed performer like Kaitlyn join Pedro, Bella and the rest of our family."
But that's not all. The Last of Us has also cast two other major players for season 2. Young Mazino (Beef) was announced as Jesse, while Isabela Merced (Madame Web) will play Dina. Jesse is a selfless member of the duo's new community, according to HBO, while fans of The Last of Us Part II will recognise Dina as Ellie's eventual love interest. Merced also recently starred alongside Dever in the Shakespearean film Rosaline back in 2022. Speaking about casting Mazino, the Last of Us creators stated that he is "one of those rare actors who is immediately undeniable the moment you see him."
Of course, The Last of Us season 2, like season 1, will have a clear roadmap to follow: 2020's divisive The Last of Us Part II. The sequel has even more material to cover than the first season—which compiled all of the events of the first game into its nine episodes. "This should be fairly obvious to anyone by now, but I don’t fear killing characters,” Mazin revealed to Esquire. “But the important thing to note is that neither Neil nor I feel constrained by the source material."
Showrunners Mazin and Druckmann hope that the remainder of the show will have something for anyone watching—from newcomers to devoted fans of the video game series. If you need reassurance that the HBO series will pull off any changes to the game, just look at episode 3's story of Bill and Frank, or even the flashback scenes of Ellie and Ramsey from episode 7. "We will present things, but it will be different," Mazin told Variety. "Sometimes it will be different radically, and sometimes it will be barely different at all. But it's going to be different, and it will be its own thing. It won't be exactly like the game. It will be the show that Neil and I want to make."
Pascal and Ramsey will also be back in Vancouver, according to Deadline, where a majority of the second season will be filmed. Though The Last of Us takes place in the U.S., much of the first season was actually filmed in Calgary, Alberta. For fans of the series, they're already well aware that the duo's time in the Pacific Northwest makes for a majority of the story to come.
Well, even though the series plans to follow the plot of The Last of Us Part 2 "exactly" there's a big question about whether or not the show will end after just two or three seasons. What happens when HBO runs out of material? Will Mazin and Druckmann start dreaming up new plot points to finish the TV series like Game of Thrones? It's a tough choice, especially since creator Druckmann and his video game company, Naughty Dog, are also busy with the next installment in the The Last of Us video game franchise.
"Our plan is to do it not just for one more season. We should be around for a while," Mazin told a panel in Las Vegas, according to Deadline. Earlier, he also told IndieWire that, "Even though we were greenlit for a season of television, Neil and I felt like we can’t just make a season of television without considering what would come after. There is more The Last of Us to come. And I think the balance is not always just about within an episode or even episode to episode but season a season." That includes, potentially, original stories in other cities told beyond the material from the game. We could be looking at a whole world of Last of Us stories, and not just material adapted from two video games.
That's all we'll say about that! We don't want to accidentally reveal the shocking events that occur in The Last of Us Part II. In the coming months, Esquire will break down even more about how the HBO series will adapt the franchise's brutal second entry. For now? Just enjoy the good news: clickers will be sniffing you out well into 2025.
There are obviously a ton of highly anticipated TV shows and sequels in the pipeline this year. There's Masters of the Air coming to Apple TV+ this month, a Mr. and Mrs. Smith reboot (Amazon Prime) and Abbott Elementary Season 3 (Disney+) across early February, and 3 Body Problem (Netflix) on 21 March. That's just the first three months of the year, guys.
Our hearts are personally on Severance and Silo, even though the mind knows better than to expect seeing their new seasons this year. In the meantime, there are a handful of already confirmed installations, with HBO Max taking the most of the picking. The trailers aren't just teasers. These shows are certainly dropping this year, the only uncertain thing is the exact date, which are to be announced in due time. Get excited.
The redeeming spinoff from the messy conclusion that was Game of Thrones returns. With allegedly more dragons this time (“You’re going to meet five new dragons,” says showrunner Ryan Condal), the second season will likely pick off from the impending civil war and perhaps even trouble in uncle-husband-niece-wife paradise.
C'mon, that's how a trailer should be done. Give a little premise, but not spell out the entire plot in two and a half minutes. Name drop A24 under Executive Producers alongside the Downeys, and casually mention direction by Oldboy's Park Chan-wook. Plus, RDJ doing the most? Sold.
With the surprise cameos in Gen V season 1, it's reasonable to expect crossovers between the two narratives. Besides the familiar antiheroes reaching for their capes again, new faces joining the cast are Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Rob Benedict and Elliot Knight; characters yet to be revealed.
We didn't need the accolades to convince us what a gem the hit FX series is, but in case you needed reminding; it bagged a total of six awards at the 2023 Emmys. Best comedy series, lead actor in a comedy series (Jeremy Allen White), supporting actor in a comedy series (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and supporting actress in a comedy series (Ayo Edebiri). So yeah, can't wait to see Carmy get out of that fridge.
Whatever your verdict on Matt Reeves' The Batman was, no one can deny Colin Farrell's performance as the titular villain. Oh wait, did you just find out that was the actor under all those unrecognisable layers of prosthetics? We don't blame you. To his credit, the voice and mannerisms also played a part. Which is why we can only anticipate how the eight-parter on the Gotham gangster will play out.
Awards season kept rolling on Monday night, when the 2023 Emmy Awards graced Los Angeles's Peacock Theater. As usual, the star-studded event honored the best television series of the year and the actors who brought each project to life. The night began with a monologue from Anthony Anderson, who—unlike, you know, Jo Koy—made the audience laugh. I didn’t expect anything less from the black-ish star, though. He’s been nominated 11 (!) times for his comedic skills. Anderson closed his monologue with a plea, asking winners to keep their acceptance speeches short. Then his mother cut in from the audience, yelling, “Time’s up, baby, cut to the chase!”
In case you missed it, here’s how the rest of the night went down. Succession, The Bear, and Beef swept the ceremony. Meanwhile, Ayo Edebiri continued her reign on the awards-season circuit, taking home the trophy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She delivered yet another charming speech, too. Elton John finally clinched the EGOT after winning an Emmy for his concert film, Farewell from Dodger Stadium. Oh, and Brian Cox kissed Kieran Culkin.
Elsewhere in the ceremony, Quinta Brunson was the first Black woman in over 30 years to win Best Actress in a Comedy. Better Call Saul lost… again. Christina Applegate—who is battling multiple sclerosis—earned a standing ovation from the crowd. The cast of Martin (Tisha Campbell, Carl Anthony Payne II, Martin Lawrence, and Tichina Arnold) reunited on stage to celebrate the sitcom's legacy. Plus, Pedro Pascal joked about his feud with Kieran Culkin, RuPaul stood up for drag queens, and a green goblin appeared on the red carpet.
Naturally, viewers at home tracked the entire ceremony on X (formerly known as Twitter).
By now you've likely already watched at least one of the four shorts gleaned from Roald Dahl's literary world, retold through the symmetrical, pastel lens of Wes Anderson. This is not Anderson's first rodeo when it comes to a Roald Dahl adaptation, but it is the first live-action since Fantastic Mr. Fox was an animated take.
“I like the idea, right off the bat, of having a little company play the whole film,” the director told Netflix early this year. The release of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, The Rat Catcher and Poison spanned the last week of September, keenly featuring different combinations of six key recurring actors. And perhaps you're wondering where you recognise some of these faces from. Successful thespians in their own right, here are some of their most notable work across film and TV that you may have come across. Or, if you've not had these titles on your watchlist, where to see more of their performances.
Playing the almost fourth wall-breaking narrator across the series as Roald Dahl himself, Fiennes also repeats in minor roles as the policeman (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar) and rat man (The Rat Catcher). His collaboration with Anderson began from The Grand Budapest Hotel as concierge Gustave.
The Menu, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter franchise, Kingsman franchise, James Bond franchise
The titular Henry Sugar also rotates as makeup artist Max Engelman within the same film, and Harry Pope (Poison).
Doctor Strange, Sherlock, The Imitation Game, The Power of the Dog, Patrick Melrose
Is it me or is it always a delight to see Sir Ben Kingsley appear on screen? He plays the intriguing Imdad Khan, the casino croupier (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar), as well as Dr. Ganderbai (Poison).
Ghandi, Schindler’s List, Iron Man 3, Sexy Beast, Shutter Island
Rotating between Dr. Chatterjee and financial manager John Winston (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar), Patel is perhaps the chattiest as Woods (Poison).
The Green Knight, Lion, Slumdog Millionaire, Hotel Mumbai, Chappie
The main narrator in the haunting true story-inspired tale (The Swan) alongside Asa Jennings, and well, Claud (The Rat Catcher).
Asteroid City, Hitman: Agent 47, Homeland, Pride and Prejudice
You first catch Ayoade as Dr. Marshall, but later heavily disguised as the mysterious yogi (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar), and once again as the reporter (The Rat Catcher).
The IT Crowd, Gadget Man, Travel Man
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, The Rat Catcher and Poison are now showing on Netflix.
It's been a second since we've appropriated "star-studded cast" on a movie that doesn't involved superheroes. Not since Oppenheimer, The French Dispatch, and no, we didn't forget—Don't Look Up (we didn't say this was a list of good movies). Starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), and a longer glimpse of John Cena (The Suicide Squad) and Dua Lipa than we got in Barbie, the Universal Pictures/Apple TV+ collab looks almost exciting enough to make us forget a writer's strike was happening for five months.
Anyway. The fiction-to-reality plot where titular agent Argylle comes straight out of the novels of reclusive author Elly Conway inevitably draws parallels to Lost City (ha! Another stacked bill), but at the helm of Matthew Vaughn, we're definitely expecting more of a Kingsman vibe. The director has however, described the film as an ode to '80s action movies Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.
There are other big names adding to the headliner, of course. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays Aidan, the real-life spy who protects Elly, joined by Samuel L Jackson (Secret Invasion)'s character. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is the film's currently unnamed villain, and we get to see Catherine O'Hara (Schitt's Creek) as Elly's mother.
We can't not talk about it. It's not the first time we've seen Cavill involved in international espionage on the big screen, but it's certainly a first in Bart Simpson-esque glory. A great departure from Geralt of Rivia, the only viable explanation for that ridiculous hairstyle lies in the cover design of the fictional books. And upon further digging, a possible allusion to his name, after the Scottish argyle diamond pattern. Either way, we're not mad about it. The odder the hair, the better the performance.
The adorable cat Alfie is played by Chip, owned by Vaughn's wife Claudia Schiffer.
Argylle is slated to be in theatres 2 February 2024 and later for online streaming on Apple TV+.
The last time we saw Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston), he and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) killed Kang (Jonathan Majors) (the latter plunging a dagger into Kang's heart) and started a multiversal war—one that is the McGuffin for MCU's Phase 4.
Except, that was waylaid by a worldwide pandemic. And Majors' domestic abuse scandal didn't help matters so we don't even know if Majors will be a major player (ugggggh) in Marvel's future. There has been a bit of rejigging in terms of the storyline so we're not sure if Kang will be the big bad. But with enough time and distance, people will forget about the hiccups in favour of a newer, better thing.
But even with the presence of Kang in the second season of Loki, this is still about Loki. This is after all the titular demi-god of trickery and excellent hair's rodeo. He's now an agent of TVA (Time Variance Authority) and he'll be working with Mobius M Mobius (Owen Wilson), Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) and introducing OB or Ouroboros played by Oscar winner, Ke Huy Quan. And who is OB? According to a featurette, he acts like a Q-type who is in charge of the gadgets and sage wisdom.
Loki is also susceptible to timeslipping, where he phases in and out of his current and other timelines. Will this be detrimental to his well-being like the Spider variants from the Spider-Verse? Is this a side-effect of the multerverse? And what is the deal with Miss Minutes, TVA's animated anthropomorphic clock mascot (voiced by Tara Strong)? We won't know until the first episode drops 6 October.
Loki season 2 will drop on Disney+ this Friday.
Ah, Berlin we knew you well. If you haven't seen the original Money Heist, this fan favourite (played by Pedro Alonso) took the L for the team in the second season. It may be an early exit for someone with top billing but in later seasons, Berlin stuck around in flashbacks.
But given the popularity of Money Heist, why kill the cash cow when you can get more from a spin-off? An upcoming series, BERLIN, focuses on, well, Berlin and it will be set in Paris, during a period before the events of Money Heist.
It follows the same formula as the original series. (It's such a trope that we can rattle it off like we're reading from a food label.) There's a plan; then a recruitment; followed by the heist, which is sure to be filled with twists and turns. Could we expect anything more from this? Something that makes it stand out from all the rest of the heist series, we've seen thus far?
Welp, from the trailer, it looks like there's a lighter tone to the series, with an emphasis on the protagonist's charisma. Money Heist's creator Álex Pina helms the show. So, we may see the reappearances of some of the characters from the original series as well. Maybe Tokyo (played by Úrsula Corberó) but most probably The Professor (Álvaro Morte).
In the Q&A with Pina at this year's Tudum event, he has this to say about BERLIN. That it will be "a trip throughout the golden years of the character. When he was stealing all over Europe, madly in love." And given the romantic history of the character (married five times?!), expect to see Berlin fall heels over head over a femme fatale (probably).
BERLIN is expected to stream on Netflix on 29 December 2023.
For a filmmaker who purports to be foremost interested in realism, John Wilson has a knack for absurdity. In Friday night's “How to Track Your Package,” the superlative series finale of Wilson's show, a missing parcel first sends our hero to a shipping center. And when that fails, to a psychic. If you’ve been watching How To for the past few years, this will hardly strike you as an unusual detour. Wilson is the sort of guide who will turn the most straightforward task—say, appreciating wine—into an existential odyssey.
Throughout its three-season run, How To's unpredictability has been one of its greatest joys. (Editor's note: there may be some spoilers ahead.) In the process of investigating how to cover your furniture, Wilson discovered an effort towards foreskin restoration. Also, during an episode on memory, he chanced upon a man consumed with the Mandela effect at the grocery store. His camera is unparalleled at capturing small wonders. Be it a woman in the act of bagging a pigeon or a man dancing atop a moving subway train. Ultimately, How To can be understood as a detective show dressed up as a Kafkaesque tutorial. With Wilson, above all, searching for anything that will make him (and us) say, "Wow." And while the show’s wows often are born from little moments of unexpected comedy, more times than not they naturally lead Wilson back to the most profound subjects.
Like, uh, you know, mortality. How To has, from the start, had the tendency to encounter death in unexpected places—at MTV! Spring Break, for instance, or during Wilson’s quest to find a parking spot—probably as a result of Wilson’s worldview. “Thinking about mortality and grief is baked into the way I perceive things in daily life,” Wilson told me in a Zoom interview. This was following the finale’s premiere at Rockaway Film Festival last weekend. “I tend to take things to their logical extremes, an mortality is the ultimate question with no answer—and that's what I try to orient the show around.”
Fittingly, the finale gets to The End quite quickly. In a consultation about Wilson’s missing package, the psychic pulls the “death card". Then tells him that he has “commitment issues… a lot of commitment issues.” (It's a trait Wilson himself has mentioned in past episodes.) The psychic’s reading turns out to be portentous. A series of dada transitions brings Wilson to Arizona’s Organ Stop Pizza, home of the "largest theatre pipe organ ever created." There, Wilson meets a member of Alcor, a leading cryonics organisation.
How To loves nothing more than a gathering of niche obsessives. And as fate (or shrewd planning on the show's part) would have it, Wilson arrives in Arizona just as Alcor is about to have its 50th anniversary party. Wilson attends the celebration, where he surveys the various guests on why they want to be frozen. There is excitement for the future (“If you see the future as good, wouldn’t you want to be part of it?”), sci-fi fantasising (imagine your head on “a wardrobe of bodies”), and flat-out denial (''I don’t accept that,” one woman says of her father’s death). Many of the people Wilson interviews come off as comically eccentric—but the series, taken in full, gives them context. People, be they Avatar superfans or vacuum enthusiasts, come together and devote themselves to something for connection in the here and now. Also, perhaps, to cope with the ephemerality of existence.
And while Wilson wouldn’t himself pay to have his body and/or head frozen for eternity, he said that he connected with the impulse. The inclination towards preservation, after all, was the seed of his show. Long before he started making How To, Wilson felt compelled to use his video camera to document his surroundings. “Living in New York for so long, you become used to the tragedy of your favourite thing disappearing,” he said. “I just wanted to get ahead of that and preserve as much as I possibly could visually from my own perspective.”
In the grand scheme of things, Wilson’s archive is a narrow record. But more than truly preserving a period in time, these three seasons of How To are testament to how much there always is to marvel at so long as you have your eyes and ears open. After all, when Wilson first started the show, he worried that the magic moments he was capturing weren’t replicable. That he was catching lightning—or collapsed scaffolding, as it were—in a barrel. But by the show’s third season, he came to trust the process. That if he interviewed enough people and his team spent enough time on the street, they’d find gold. “Once we figured it out, it was just a numbers game,” Wilson said. Along the way, he found that actually, “it's much more common that people have a shocking history or obsession than that they're normal in any kind of traditional definition.”
So, near the end of the finale, when the Alcor member Wilson met at Organ Stop Pizza reveals that, as an adolescent, he castrated himself and “cut some nerves in the penis” to deal with unwanted sex drive, Wilson hopes viewers will empathise rather than gawk. “I feel like if you have a long enough conversation with anyone something like this might surface,” he said. “There are extremes in everyone's lives, and that's why the show speaks to a lot of people—because it's a bit of a mirror to their own eccentricities.”
Wilson, though, ever toeing the line between mischievous and sincere, said that he also hopes that that final interview will help fans of the show cope with How To concluding its run. “So much of the show is about the denial of satisfaction in the city because of whatever strange roadblock to getting what you want here,” Wilson said. “And especially with the show ending, that interview about castration, I felt like I wanted to give the viewers the tools to deal with [the impossibility of true satisfaction] in a way.”
“I never personally felt the urge to castrate myself, but if people are having a really hard time dealing with the end of the show, I gave them the tools to do it.”
Originally published at Esquire US
Given the popularity of the John Wick series and its mythos, is it any wonder there would be a spin-off? The trailer for The Continental was released. From the looks of it, it looks like it maintained the action-packed sequences the films were known for. Here's what we can infer from the trailer.
Set in the 70s, we follow a young Winston Scott (played by Colin Woodell). This is all before he became the owner and manager of the Continental New York. Tasked with finding his brother, Frankie (Ben Robson), Young Scott has to contend with some very bad people who are looking for him as well.
Set up as a three-part miniseries, we get to see a young Charon (Ayomide Adegun [RIP Lance Riddick!]), interesting characters like The Adjudicator (Katie McGrath) and—really to hammer home the fact that it's set in the past—the World Trade Centre.
Even more surprising is the appearance of Mel Gibson, who is playing Cormac the manager of the Continental New York.
Given that this is an expansion of John Wick, would we get a glimpse of the titular character? Given that this is a prequel, we may not see Keanu Reeves. But we didn't think there would be a John Wick: Chapter 5 but that has been greenlit so anything can happen.
Aside from The Continental, another spin-off that fans of John Wick can look forward to is Ballerina. Len Wiseman is attached to direct. As for the lead? Ana de Armas is rumoured for the lead. Another is a Sophia-led movie starring Halle Berry and that crossover with Nobody (starring Bob Odenkirk).
If you ask me, it looks like a world without John Wick (let the man retire) will do just fine.
The Continental comes out on Peacock (and maybe on other streaming sites?) on 22 September.
Killers of the Flower Moon took a while to be adapted. The rights to adapt David Grann's book started in 2016 but like any other project, the development of the film was halted due to the global pandemic. Still, the film was finally finished. It made its premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023 and received a nine-minute standing ovation.
While we have to wait a few months to watch it, Apple TV+ unveils the trailer of Killers of the Flower Moon today.
With stirring Native American pow wow chants spliced with dubstep ("Stadium Pow Wow" by The Halluci Nation née A Tribe Called Red), the trailer brings across the palpable tension of a community gripped with terror.
The American Western crime drama (that's a mouthful) is based on the real-life murders that plagued the Osage Nation. Set in the 1920s, the epic is directed and co-produced by Martin Scorsese and stars an ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons.
Given the subject matter, Scorsese involved the Osage Nation during the film's development. In a press release, Scorsese said, "We are thrilled to finally start production on Killers of the Flower Moon in Oklahoma. To be able to tell this story on the land where these events took place is incredibly important and critical to allowing us to portray an accurate depiction of the time and people. We're grateful to Apple, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office and The Osage Nation, especially all our Osage consultants and cultural advisors, as we prepare for this shoot."
In light of the current book bans and revisionisms in America, we are glad that someone made use of the medium to spotlight America's "hidden histories". (Another example was HBO's Watchmen which featured the Tulsa Race Massacre.)
America's history may not strike a chord with Singapore audiences but the cast and the dramatisation of a real-life event should be enough to get butts in seats.
Killers of the Flower Moon is tentatively slated to be in theatres on 6 October and later for online streaming on Apple TV+.