“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode One: “The Boy on the Bridge”

Playing the title character presents Brühl with a tough task. Dr. Kreizler spends his non-sleuthing hours dealing with the living, not the dead; his work with troubled and vulnerable patients — children in particular — requires sensitivity, gentleness and genuine care. As such, aloofness, arrogance and the other traits that typically define maverick masterminds like Kreizler would be out of character. In its way that’s a blessing: Do we really need to see the umpteenth knockoff of Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House? Indeed, Brühl imbues the alienist with a plain-spoken dignity, even in the moments when his behavior is demanding or shocking by the standards of his day.

But there’s a reason you don’t often see the phrase “eminently reasonable visionary” used to describe fictional detectives. (To be fair, with all due respect to our fictional Times colleague John Moore, sexually magnetic crime-solving newspaper cartoonists are rarer still.) Kreizler is so calm and so conscientious that he has a tendency to fade into the meticulously constructed background as a result. When he finally does something truly weird, delivering a concluding monologue about his need to “become” the killer in order to catch him — to “cut the child’s throat myself,” psychologically speaking — the change is so sudden and stark that the lines land with a thud.

The fact that serial-killer procedurals from “Manhunt” to “Mindhunter” have painted their protagonists by pretty much these exact same numbers doesn’t help either. It’s true that the source material here predates the current surplus of unstable cop geniuses, but this adaptation of a 1994 book about an 1896 crime must still move and thrill us in 2018. Like the killer himself, who escapes Kreizler during a peculiar pursuit through an abandoned building after taunting him with a grisly trophy, the answer as to whether it will remains elusive for now.

I’m back in the New York Times to cover The Alienist all season long, starting with my review of tonight’s series premiere.

‘Breaking Bad’ at 10: How the Gamechanging Show Redefined TV’s Golden Age

If the series has faded from the zeitgeist somewhat, you could perhaps blame the finale – an attempt to provide closure that was perhaps a little too successful, and pulled a few too many punches at the expense of “redeeming” its chrome-domed king. We’d hardly be the first to say that if the show had ended two episodes earlier with the bleak and brutal “Ozymandias” – directed by Johnson, written by Moira Whalley-Beckett and frequently cited as the finest single episode in the history of television – it would be a better show.

But this stumble at the finish line can itself prove instructive, since it provides a full clip of ammo for the fight over the role series finales should play in our assessments of series as a whole. It does so in much the same way that the finale itself existed in conversation with The Sopranos‘ cut to black and Lost‘s journey into the light, to cite two previous blockbuster sign-offs. Success or failure, it exists to be argued about – which is a form of success all its own.

Most importantly, and more than any other show of its time, Breaking Badproved that you can have your cake and choke on it too. Boasting roller-coaster thrills, catchphrase gold (“Science, bitch!” “I am the one who knocks!”) and a crack supporting cast so strong that they could sustain an entire second spinoff show (thank you, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito), Breaking Bad was an absolute blast to watch and a delight to look forward to every week. Yet it bore no illusions about the horrors being perpetrated in its hero’s name; it never passed up an opportunity to remind us what he’d done in the name of “family.” Its balance between the exquisite and the awful – thrilling us with Walt’s misadventures one moment, beating us emotionally bloody with them the next – was unequaled in its time. It remains an achievement worth remembering and rewatching. To paraphrase the original Ozymandias himself: Look on its works, ye mighty, and despair.

I wrote a Breaking Bad retrospective in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary for Rolling Stone. In addition to tackling the thorny issue of the finale, I also tried to emphasize the strength of the cast, the resonance with the growth of the MAGA alt-right, the danger of mere political readings of the show (pro or con), and its flabbergasting proficiency with action and suspense, which I suspect is its most lasting legacy. I, uh, kinda forgot to include this, but I do think that shows like The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story give lie to the idea that the antihero genre is a spent, or even destructive, force.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #16!

Moment 16 | Sean vs. Mad Max: Fury Road & The Fifth Element

It’s another surprise Sean solo edition of BLAM! This time, Sean’s tackling two movies he dislikes, at the request of listener Jonathan Mauro: George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. What’s your illustrious co-host’s beef against these two much-beloved blockbuster sci-fi/action hits? Subscribe for just $2/month and find out!

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“The Assassination of Gianni Verace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode One: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

However you feel about Ryan Murphy’s other projects, ACS‘s debut season, The People v. O.J. Simpson, is unquestionably his apotheosis. In conjunction with writer-creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Murphy revisited a media-circus murder case nearly everyone thought had been exhausted of any creative or sociopolitical potential, and the result was a kaleidoscopic, knockout-powerful examination of racism, sexism, celebrity culture, journalism, the judicial system, the rise of reality TV, domestic violence, police misconduct, and the whole goddamn human condition. It was one of the best television shows of all time, full stop. Can Murphy, now working with writer Tom Rob Smith and adapting journalist Maureen Orth’s book on the case Vulgar Favors, draw water from that same dark well a second time?

Yes.

I reviewed the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the brilliant new season of American Crime Story, for Decider, where I’ll be covering the show till the end.

The Beat’s Best Comics of 2017

“In a year that many have found bleak and depressing, Mirror Mirror II managed to channel this energy into one of the most riveting visual experiences of the year….the best horror comics anthology available.” —Phillippe Leblanc

“This book should win all the design awards for 2017. It’s as magnificent as the contents are (purposely) horrific.” —Heidi MacDonald

I’m honored to that Mirror Mirror II made the Beat’s Best Comics of 2017 list twice over, once courtesy of Phillippe Leblan and again via Heidi MacDonald. Perpetually grateful and glad so see this book reaching people. Buy it here.

If you like what I do, please subscribe to my Patreon or donate to my PayPal

Here’s the Patreon. Yes, it’s technically for the Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast, and yes, I split it half and half with my illustrious co-host Stefan Sasse. But a) Stefan’s cool and deserves the scratch too, and b) you needn’t be interested in BLAH or the perks associated with becoming a patron to donate this way. Every bit helps.

And here’s the PayPal. This goes directly to me and you can make it a monthly subscription-type thing if you feel like it. Again, every bit helps.

I have big plans for this year and money is a constant worry, and I’m uncertain as to how my absence from Twitter will affect me professionally. Your financial support at any level means the world to me.

Thank you for your consideration.

Rob M’s Favorite Anthologies of 2017

Mirror, Mirror II, edited by Sean T Collins and Julia Gfrorer, published by 2D Cloud
I’m not going to lie, this one really messed with me. If I were listing comics that challenged me the most in 2017 (which Alex Hoffman has done in the past), this would have been number one with a bullet. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first finished it. Did I like it? Is it the kind of anthology that can be liked? Collins and Gfrörer push to the very edge without going over it, with stories that show the strong link between eroticism and horror. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Rob McGonigal named Mirror Mirror II one of his favorite anthologies of the year at Panel Patter. Can’t beat a lede like that.

Golden Globes 2018 Predictions: What Will Win, What Should Win

Best TV Series, Drama
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us

WILL WIN: To paraphrase Bruce Wayne, Globes voters are a superstitious, cowardly lot. After anointing The Crown over worthy competition last year as a nod to our collective norms, expect voters to join the #Resistance and crown The Handmaid’s Tale this time around.

SHOULD WIN: As usual, Game of Thrones aimed highest and hit hardest.

ROBBED: Where to begin? The Americans, Better Call Saul, Halt and Catch Fire and, most flagrantly, The Leftovers are all all-time-great series that the Globes have seen fit to circumnavigate.

Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy
Black-ish
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Master of None
SMILF
Will & Grace

WILL WIN: This is wild: The only series reappearing from last year’s suite of nominees is Black-ish. Your guess is as good as ours, but this certainly seems like a sign it’s a favorite.

SHOULD WIN: Go Black-ish, the most thematically ambitious of the bunch.

ROBBED: The final season of Girls, critical darling The Good PlaceBetter ThingsBroad CityCrazy Ex-GirlfriendSilicon Valley, InsecureVeep … seriously, it’s easier to list the shows that weren’t nominated than the ones that were.

Best TV Limited Series or Movie
Big Little Lies
Fargo
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Sinner
Top of the Lake: China Girl

WILL WIN: Big Little Lies has the star power and the critical acclaim in the most perplexing Globes category of them all.

SHOULD WIN: Fargo, hands down. It’s a season of television that speaks directly to our current predicament without ever lecturing us about it.

ROBBED: Never in the history of television award ceremonies have shows been as badly neglected as Twin Peaks: The Return and The Young Pope. The latter is a contender for the all-time surreal greats right out of the gate; the former was crowned as “the most groundbreaking TV series ever” by this very publication. Ignoring these shows makes the Globes a goofy joke, to be honest, though we’re happy to laugh along as long as we can.

Despite not caring about awards, I’ve come to both enjoy and be pretty good at predicting them. Go figure! I wrote up my predictions — as well as should-wins and snubs — for the massive, crazy Golden Globes slate for Rolling Stone.

Netflix Turned a Creative Corner In 2017 With Originals Like ‘Dark,’ ‘Suburra’ and ‘The Punisher’

Call it the Lilyhammer of the Gods.

In February 2012, Netflix established its creative model right out of the gate. Its first original show, Lilyhammer, starred “Little” Steven Van Zant, fresh from playing a mobster on The Sopranos…as a mobster, albeit one who’s relocated to Norway for witness-protection purposes.

The road from Lilyhammer‘s quirky Sopranos rehash to Stranger Things‘ unabashed theft from ’80s pop-culture staples is not a particularly long one. All that changed was the company’s self-identification as a creator of original content rather than an online video store, and its subsequent accumulation of user data and development of a predictive algorithm to deliver the goods.

Many of the network’s original series —”original” being a relative term— speak to this desire to please the crowd with things that have already pleased them. Why have only one off-beat comedy about the mildly crazy lives of young people set in New York (Master of None), for example, when you can also have one in Chicago (Easy) and Los Angeles (Love) as well? It’s too bad Donald Glover titled his show Atlanta and took it to FX, or else I’m sure Netflix would have something on the docket for that youth-culture mecca as well. In a more traditional move, reboots are common, from the campy (Fuller House) to the acclaimed (One Day at a Time). And that little row of Netflix Original rectangles contains enough grim-visaged cops, crooks, and killers to look like a photo array you’d use to identify suspects in the world’s most focus-grouped crime.

Which is what makes shows like DarkThe Punisher, and Suburra: Blood on Rome stand out. From the outside, these 2017 debuts seem like status-quo programming. But each veered of the course they could have cruised down effortlessly, taking creative risks that yielded entertaining and provocative results.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action: Over at Decider I wrote about the possibility that Dark, The Punisher, and Suburra represent a creative turning point for Netflix, in which the sheer volume of material the network puts out is now enabling some shows to complicate and interrogate their genre elements rather than serving them up straight.

The Best TV Shows of 2017

15. On Cinema at the Cinema / The Electric Sun 20 Trial

14. The Punisher

13. Girls

12. Dark

11. The Affair

10. Billions

9. Suburra: Blood on Rome

8. The Americans

7. Better Call Saul

6. Fargo

5. Game of Thrones

4. The Leftovers

3. The Young Pope

2. Halt and Catch Fire

1. Twin Peaks

I’m a TV critic, and to my astonishment I realized that this year I watched and reviewed every single episode of twenty-three different shows in addition to whatever else I watched for fun or edification. (Which to be honest was not a whole lot, considering the amount of time the paying gigs ate up!) I’ve always preferred tailoring my career to that kind of episode-by-episode writing (the term of art is “recaps” but thats a preposterously inadequate term for what anyone worth reading does) because it keeps the focus on the work itself instead of the conversation surrounding the work. The art is what goes on the screen and how it affects you, not what’s being said about it in tweets and thinkpieces. That sounds condescending, and I guess maybe it is, but I’ve preferred this approach ever since I was primarily a comics critic, reviewing three books a week every week for a couple of years, and tons on either side of that too. My pal Matthew Perpetua always took that approach to music with his Fluxblog — that’s how we became friends — and over time maintaining that outlook has been a real sanity saver. It doesn’t hurt that this makes my precarious full-time freelance existence a lot more predictable in terms of workflow, scheduling, and income than it would be if it were dependent on pitching new essays every week.

Anyway! It was an absolutely marvelous year for television, which is funny to reflect on given the wave of “prestige drama is over” pieces that crested during The Young Pope and just a couple of weeks before Twin fuckin’ Peaks. (I have strong, pretentious, goth feelings about why many of my peers prefer adorkable comedies to drama, and overreact to novelty over quality within the drama category too, that I’ll keep to myself.)

If you look at that top 15 list, I’d say the top 7 are genuine for-the-ages seasons of TV, an extraordinary amount of great work compared to almost any other time even in the New Golden Age. Twin Peaks aired the best season of any show ever, imo, and I’m not sure it’s even close; it was the best work of David Lynch’s career, and I love David Lynch’s career. (The blu-ray box set used a quote from one of my pieces as the pullquote on the back of the box, which I imagine Lynch voicing his approval of in Gordon Cole’s voice.) Halt and Catch Fire‘s last few episodes were so fucking warm and humane without ever getting sappy or feel-good that it skyrocketed straight to my all-time list. The Young Pope did, too, right out of the gate; I laughed with pure delight and admiration a whole lot during that show. With the exception of the animated sequence that ripped off that World of Tomorrow guy, which is very much not my thing, I thought Fargo Season 3 was unfairly maligned compared to its predecessors (and especially compared to Legion — there’s that novelty bit I mentioned); Thewlis, Coon, Stuhlbarg, Winstead, and Wise all crushed it, and McGregor caught up by the end too, and V.M. Varga is the villain for our time if you go for that sort of thing.

There were some surprises too. Like a lot of people I felt like this season of The Americans was impeccable on an episode by episode basis but didn’t add up the way past seasons did. To my shock, Billions became one of the most entertaining and meticulously constructed shows on TV, and all of the cast additions this year were a ton of fun. Netflix went from having aired close to zero shows I really give a shit about to three that I adore in what felt like overnight: Suburra, an intensely emotional Italian crime drama about three extremely handsome young criminals; The Punisher, a show that was much better and more moral than it could have easily gotten away with being when you see Blue Lives Matter-branded Punisher skulls everywhere you look; and Dark, a horror-tinged sci-fi story that is actually a ruthless character drama.

I don’t care for very many sitcoms and find it hard to compare comedies to dramas no matter what, since the main responsibility for characters in a comedy is to be joke delivery mechanisms and thus you can’t really evaluate them on a human-emotions basis. (Or at least you shouldn’t!) But Girls is basically a very funny drama, like Mad Men, or a very mean comedy, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, so I’ve always enjoyed it, and the On Cinema Universe is like freebasing Tim Heidecker.

The big letdown for me this year was Mr. Robot. I loved Season 2, and while I could see that Season 3 was a deliberate move back toward the more straightforward rhythm of Season 1 I was right there with it because it’s so good at portraying how bleak contemporary existence can be — until the big second act climax, after which I thought it lost its way. Oh well!

One thing I love about my job is that without it, I would never have watched DarkSuburra, or Billions at all, and wouldn’t have stuck with BillionsThe LeftoversThe Americans, or Halt and Catch Fire past their first seasons, or even just a few episodes into their first seasons. So that’s nice!

I also watch cartoons with my kids sometimes. Nearly every kids’ cartoon on Netflix is insufferable, but they love Gumball and Uncle Grandpa on Cartoon Network and so do I. Those are shows that really are for kids and are totally hilarious to them but are also totally hilarious to me, and not in a “here’s a joke about mortgages, Dad” or “now let’s get serious about our feelings, neurotic millennial who is also watching this children’s show” kind of way — they’re just funny, like Ren & Stimpy used to be.

I’m looking forward to doing more writing about television this year and doing it the only way I know how to do it. I’m excited to be off twitter for the process, too. If you need me, you know how to find me.

The Boiled Leather Audio Mixtape Vol. 1!

A holiday gift for you from Boiled Leather! Sean proudly presents a surprise collection of music from the Boiled Leather Audio Hour and the Boiled Leather Audio Moment — full-length versions of our opening and closing themes by composer Kevin MacLeod, plus 17 superb songs from across the musical spectrum that Sean threw on the podcasts just because he felt like it. Enjoy, and we’ll see you this time next year for Vol. 2!

DOWNLOAD IT HERE

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD

Dark Times – Kevin MacLeod // Seattle – Public Image Ltd. // Twist – Goldfrapp // Into the West – Annie Lennox // Spin Spin Sugar – Sneaker Pimps // Long, Long, Long – The Beatles // Bang – Yeah Yeah Yeahs // Nutmeg – Ghostface Killah // The Court of the Crimson King Including the Return of the Fire Witch and the Dance of the Puppets – King Crimson // Running the World – Jarvis Cocker // Go Get It – Slowdive // Into the Void – Nine Inch Nails // Set Adrift on Memory Bliss – P.M. Dawn // To the Moon and Back – Fever Ray // Ballad of Maxwell Demon – Shudder to Think // Last Caress – The Misfits // Back to Back – Drake // Fairytale of New York – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl // Lone Harvest – Kevin MacLeod

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #15!

Moment 15 | Tinfoil

It’s our final BLAM of 2017, and man is it a juicy one! This episode of our subscriber-exclusive mini-podcast concerns a question pitched to us by subscriber Björn Mark Helgoe, who’d like to know which tinfoil-hat theories we believe in that the majority of the fandom doesn’t, and why. Strap on your thinking cap, subscribe to our Patreon for just $2/month or more, and listen in to Sean’s “Oberyn poisoned Tywin” theory and beyond. Thanks to you all for subscribing and listening! Happy New Year!

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The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 70!

The Impact of Ice and Fire

For our very special 70th episode of the podcast, and our lucky 13th installment of 2017, BLAH is going big! In this freewheeling, wide-ranging episode, Sean & Stefan trace the effects of A Song of Ice and Fire (and Game of Thrones) on our lives, our minds, and our world. How has ASoIaF shaped your illustrious co-hosts’ thinking on art and literature? How can it help us understand the simultaneous rise of the New Golden Age of Television and nerd culture, including nerd culture’s toxic elements as well as its positive ones? Where would each of us be without it? The answers to all these questions and many more await you in the grand finale of our three-part holiday special!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 70

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The 10 Best Comics of 2017

MIRROR MIRROR II edited by Sean T. Collins & Julia Gfrörer

Darkness is as intimate as a caress and as distant as history in this chilling anthology of horror comics….This collection doesn’t just feel haunting; it feels corrosive.

Mirror Mirror II, the comics and art anthology I co-edited with my partner Julia Gfrörer ( @doopliss ), was named one of the 10 Best Comics of the Year by The Verge. As always, I’m so pleased to learn how this book has reached people.

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2017

2. The Young Pope: “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO

“Sexy and I Know It” is Paolo Sorrentino’s ambitious, emotional, confrontational series about an autocratic American-born pope in miniature. Granted, using LMFAO to represent your drama about faith, loneliness, power, corruption, and lies is a bit counterintuitive compared to, say, summing up Twin Peaks with a song from the Twin Peaks score. That’s the joke, in part: It’s very stupid, and therefore very funny, to watch the Holy Father dress up for his first address to the College of the Cardinals while Redfoo drawls about wearing a Speedo at the beach so he can work on his ass tan. Girl, look at that body … of Christ?!

But like so much of The Young Pope, there’s a much deeper and more serious meaning beneath the craziness and camp. To wit, the brand of tyrannical, uncompromising religion the pontiff formerly known as Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) embraces depends on craziness and camp. Look at the obscene decadence of his subsequent entrance to the Sistine Chapel, borne on a litter like an emperor of old. Listen to his megalomaniacal speech, demanding that the Church remake itself in his bizarre and imperious image. Watch how he demands his followers demonstrate their obedience by literally kissing his feet. It’s a contrast to the self-aware silliness of “Sexy and I Know It,” yes, but it’s a contrast achieved by taking that song’s boasts as deadly serious claims to superiority. He’s got passion in his pants and he ain’t afraid to show it. Spiritually speaking, anyway.

I wrote about the 10 best music cues on TV this year for Vulture. As is always the case with lists of this nature when I write them, it is objectively right and I shall brook no dissent.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 69! (nice)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Sean. Stefan. Star Wars. ’Nuff said! Discover why Sean rates The Last Jedi as his least favorite Star Wars movie and learn what Stefan thinks it has in its favor as we go in-depth about Rian Johnson’s peculiarly divisive film in our longest episode ever!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 69

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Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

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Mirror.

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The 50 Greatest Star Wars Moments

30. Porgs! (Episode VIII: The Last Jedi)

What’s a four-letter word for “cute little calico penguin puffin pug owl cat hamster Ewok Mogwai Tribble Furby Pikachu hybrid thing”? Ask literally any child you know and you’ll get the answer. These preposterously adorable critters, designed by Jake Lunt Davies, are so insanely marketable and merchandisable that Disney may as well have fired them via drone strike under every Christmas tree in the country (for a fee, of course). Even so, it’s hard to begrudge these island dwellers, several of whom take up residence in the Millennium Falcon, since they really are as delightful as advertised. The scene where Chewie can’t bring himself to chow down on roast porg will do more for vegetarianism than a million naked PETA ads.

With Star Wars: The Last Jedi now in theaters, I revisited and revised my list of the greatest Star Wars moments for Vulture, incorporating the new movie and cutting it down to a nice round 50 entries.

Just for fun, here’s how the list breaks down, movie by movie:

20th Century Fox theme for Episodes I-VI 1

The Phantom Menace 3

Attack of the Clones 2

Revenge of the Sith 6

Rogue One 3

A New Hope 10

The Empire Strikes Back 9

Return of the Jedi 10

The Force Awakens 4

The Last Jedi 2

Does the number for The Last Jedi tell you anything about how I felt about the movie? Hmmmmmmm.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #14!

Moment 14 | Believing in the Big Prophecies

That’s right, folks — Sean & Stefan are going back to back with two new BLAMs in a single night! The topic for our latest subscriber-only mini-podcast comes from $5/month patron Steve Shapiro, who asks why everyone’s so certain that the major story-ending prophecies involving Azor Ahai Reborn and “the dragon has three heads” will come to pass given Marwyn the Mage’s memorably profane line, “Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.” We love prophecy questions here at BLAM because they exist right in the venn-diagram overlap between theories and theme, so we really dig into this one. Keep your night of hot Boiled Leather content going strong by subscribing for just $2 a month at our Patreon and listening in!

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The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #13!

Moment 13 | Re-Adapting A Song of Ice and Fire

When George R.R. Martin finally sends A Dream of Spring off to the printer, will a Game of Thrones redux be on the way? That’s the question posed by $10/month subscriber Tom Berman in the latest episode of the BLAM mini-podcast, exclusive to our $2-and-up patrons! Sean & Stefan discuss the likelihood of a second film or television adaptation of ASoIaF, wonder who might be suited to do one should it happen, and compare it to recent developments in the re-adaptation front, like Watchmen and The Lord of the Rings (kinda). Subscribe for the low low price of $2 a month and enjoy!

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