What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Oct 18, 2018

Post TV critic Hank Stuever talked about what's bad, good and so bad it's good on TV.

Here's what Hank would watch if he wasn't paid to watch TV: "Game of Thrones," "Better Things" "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Shameless" Lately he's been digging "You," "Kidding" and "The Haunting of Hill House."

Gather yon TV Chatters.

Some recents: My review of Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House." Loved it until an egregiously sappy and unworthy final episode. Did you watch it? Thoughts?

My review of "The Conners" premiere (aka "'Roseanne' Minus Roseanne"), which wasn't too bad, but not that remarkable? Anything left to say, feel free to say it. (I notice it's acquired 472 comments on it. That's sort of like driving by your old house and noticing the septic tank has flooded the yard.)

Interesting piece from Travis M. Andrews, a reporter on The Post's pop-culture team, about how "South Park" has spent too many years in the safety zone of false-equivalency satire, making fun of extremes, sans concrete opinions. Is this admirably fair of them or the worst kind of audience trolling? (To which I would only add: Hasn't it run its course?) Are you still watching "South Park?" Would love to hear why.

With that, let's chat!

Hank, your Romanoffs review hit the mark with the first episode--pretty but meh (aside from Hajar, who I thought was outstanding, and I liked the comeuppance--couldn't have happened to a nicer woman!). The second, however, was nearly hard to watch, with the Michael/Michelle plotline written like a high-school boy's fantasy. There was no question that the writers, editors, director, and showrunner were men from Michelle's first scene, when she walked over to the water cooler, closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair, then leaned over to touch her toes, all in a skin-tight dress and with every man in the room gawking and commenting to each other. It got even worse from there, from the fact that she would actually get with this idiot after the laughable lengths he went to to drag out the deliberations to the scene where she pulls off her shirt to reveal that her regular underwear apparently is Frederick's of Hollywood. I was ready to turn this off at so many junctures, but I kept on, waiting for the moment I was sure to come--the reveal that he'd imagined the whole thing because he's too much of a sleazy schmoe to ever get that lucky. No such luck! Show biz bros, do better. We cannot elevate women's voices in the entertainment industry soon enough. The message from this episode was that every sexy woman just needs to be stalked long enough to be won over because she secretly just wants a fling with whomever comes along, and I'm getting bleeping sick of it. Shonda, take me away! /soap box

This is a good observation and I thank you for taking the time to write it so clearly. I only have two -- well, three -- replies:

1. My review of "The Romanoffs" does say that the show is surprisingly basic, and by that I mean in most ways: Plot, conception, characters (and characterizing), thought, writing, outcome. This episode struck me more as basic than sexist. But ...

2. Men gonna men.

3. Nothing to say about Shelly (Kerry Bishe) and her solo trip on the Romanov cruise? There is a story there. Still too man-centric? (Handsome stranger trope, etc.) Or just empty? Too basic?

 

Hi Hank. I watched this series on your recommendation. It was weird but kept my attention. Is it over? Or is this a show that will return? Thanks!

Miraculously (or by some other alchemy), AMC has ordered a second season, which we should expect sometime next summer. (My "Lodge 49" review here, for those who haven't watched it yet.)

Liked the first two episodes. Good, not great. Hope the remaining episodes fare a little better. Marthe Keller = Emmy nomination

I think "underwhelmed" is the prevailing response. I predict a sharp falloff in interest/talk as the remaining episodes trickle out. Unless something amazing happens, of course.

As I watched the first two episodes, I kept thinking it would be better if Dule Hill was in it. And if the dialogue was better... like, if it was written by Steve Franks. And if they were outside in a sunny place (maybe hypothetically Santa Barbara), not perpetually trapped in some dreary grey interior.

Yes, if only it was set in Santa Barbara.

A Million Little Tennis Courts

A Million Little Wildfires

A Million Little Dollars

...is picking up again, after the past two episodes, don't you think? I just find all, all, of the characters vastly entertaining.

I still feel like I'm watching the ghost of what used to be a much, much better show. I also think of all those other seasons on the ratings cusp, when "Shameless" would end its season with a perfectly good episode that could, if need be, serve as a series finale. I might have ended it some years ago, when they threw Frank off the bridge. I'm just not enjoying it like I used to do. Neither is my better half. Several nights lately we've assumed the position (him: couch; me: chair) and I'll say "We have some 'Shameless' episodes to catch up on" and he's clearly lost interest. We watched this Sunday's episode (Ian goes to prison) but never bothered to catch up on the past few. Whoever said last week that Liam is the last interesting character -- I'm with you. Maybe the show ought to flash forward 10 years to his escape from Gallagher-ville.

Hi, Hank. Would I be correct in predicting that you're getting roughly equal blowback on your piece from folks who hate Roseanne and those who love her? For what it's worth, I watched and think the show is better without her. My only quibble with your take is that I hope they don't emphasize politics going forward, at least not regularly. There's plenty for the writers to say, both good and bad, about life for families like the Conners without explicitly invoking the Drear One. And this cast is strong enough to pull that off.

Fine (and thank you), but I think it's sort of pointless for these characters to have firsthand experience the painkiller epidemic, health-insurance woes, tentative employment, gender-questioning life in public school, balancing a military career and family life in time of active-duty combat, etc. and so on, but with zipped lips when it comes to policy, elections and civic life.

We used to watch every week, but I can't remember the last new episode I watched. Glad to hear Lodge 49 is coming back. I enjoyed it. I assume there will be a season 3 of The Sinner? Will there be a Season 2 of Dietland?

No word yet on a third season of "The Sinner."

"Dietland," meanwhile, has been cancelled.

I stopped watching about a year or two after college. I think I outgrew it's form of humor and satire. Don't miss it.

There's a strong argument, sort of alluded to in Travis's piece, that most people should outgrow "South Park's" sense of "everything sucks" and "nobody's right" worldview, which only prefers to monkey-wrench and disrupt all discourse. Otherwise you don't grow into a point of view. Or, it has been strongly suggested, you settled into libertarianism.

I think the earlier poster was going for A Million Little Psyches

I laughed at the back and forth in the chat last week about A Million Little Things and the high number of plot points already introduced. I remember thinking "At least no one's pregnant!" Then last night, in the teaser for next week's episode ... a pregnancy test.

I liked it more than I thought I would. Definitely glad it's getting a second season.

I liked the Kerry Bishe/Noah Wylie story. It seemed to me that the flirtation was enough to make her feel much better about herself. That was enjoyable. Janet Montgomery, who played Michelle, is on New Amsterdam (which I know you don't like!). I did like the first story better and am so glad Sophie (what a selfish bitch!) got her comeuppance. I second the Emmy for Marthe Keller.

Marthe Keller was fine, but I strongly doubt anyone will remember that performance (or maybe "The Romanoffs" at all) when it comes time for Emmy nominations, which are many months and many dozens of shows away.

Last Man Standing is a BIG ratings hit. Take that, ABC! I do feel bad for Molly McCook, who is getting a lot of grief because she's not petite brunette Molly Ephraim.

You're saying that a new actress is getting grief from fans for not being as skinny as her predecessor? What a pleasant fan base. I'm not surprised.

Am enjoying Haunting of Hill House a lot and I'm only on episode 5. I read the book and think it evokes the same mood and I like the little call-outs to the book ("whose hand was I holding?"). It's much more of a treatise on grief than a traditional horror/supernatural show. I like scary but don't like gore so was prepared to look away during the autopsy in the second episode but that was so sensitively handled, it made me think a lot about how we try to avoid death in the west, unlike other cultures who wash and care for the bodies of their loved ones when they die; the autopsy scene was like the final loving gesture from one character to the other (trying to avoid spoilers). So much in that show has made me teary eyed and I did not expect that.

Which is why the dumb, we-can't-think-of-an-ending-so-we'll-make-one-using-this-paint-by-numbers-kit finale is sooo disappointing. I agree with everything you're saying here: "Haunting of Hill House" is a terrific series about death, families and grieving. Until it's not. It's 9/10ths great and 1/10th insipid.

I know you weren't a fan, but I gave it shot anyway. And, it's not bad? It's also not very good, but that never stopped me before. I kept watching Zoo for way too long, so I'm not exactly the most discerning critic. :)

Agreed.

You mentioned your better half. Do you have a method for finding shows that appeal to both of you? My husband and I really struggle to find things we both enjoy. Last night we ended up flipping channels and scrolling Netflix/Prime/Hulu for a half an hour, each vetoing the other's suggestion, until we landed on an Office rerun we'd both seen. Which felt...wrong.

I feel like this could be an entire specialty practice for marriage counselors. (And I've written about it, several times, including as a way to talk about "The Americans.") Like anything involving marriage, you'd have to work at it. Start with lists of one another's needs/desires (and favorite shows) and see what matches up. Also, when it comes to vetoing, a lot of that is about mood of the moment, and not necessarily about genre, right? Sometimes I say no to a show because it seems too daunting to start now.

My own household/relationship is probably not a great case study for this problem because watching TV at home is already such a hard decision for me -- should I be watching at all, being the first question, since I've been watching TV all day. Frankly, I'm so far ahead of him on the really good shows, which sometimes I'll rewatch because I do think he'll enjoy them. Generally, TV is not a huge part of his life. Left to his own devices, he would watch the entire nightly MSNBC cycle and, because he's more interested in his phone, would let it cycle again (repeating Hayes, Maddow, O'Donnell, Williams) until he zonks out for the night. There's a lot of stuff I like to watch at home ("Below Deck," "This Is Us," that he will just get up and leave, retreating to his study or to our bedroom, where Rachel Maddow awaits). There's plenty that we watch together, though -- including a shit-ton of HGTV, which I think is where most couples end up.

Anyone else got marital-watching advice? Experience in rediscovering mutually enjoyable shows?

Those of us who are Grimm fans are glad David Giuntoli has a new show. My daughter, who loved Psych, is happy to see James Roday. And Grace Park, who was ill-treated by Hawaii Five-0 deserves a new show too.

A reminder that some viewers watch TV by actors.

No, she is getting grief for being much taller and blonder than her predecessor. Both of them are very slim.

Grief from where? Other characters?

The problem with McCook is she's too tall and blond. She may actually be skinnier. She just doesn't fit the character as developed over the years.

There is nothing so complex about that show that someone else can't step in and play any other character. This seems like a lack of imagination on the part of the viewers, which is not surprising.

I know Riverdale isn't your thing, but can I just say, the show is truly the Passions of primetime television and I am here for it.

I loved it in the beginning, though. Let the record show!

When is the new season of Big Little Lies coming Meryl Streep is on it?

February is my guess, but no firm date yet from HBO.

If the other half of your run-on sentence is asking if Meryl Streep is on it, the answer is yes.

Hank: "There's a lot of stuff I like to watch at home ("Below Deck," "This Is Us," that he will just get up and leave, retreating to his study or to our bedroom, where Rachel Maddow awaits)." WHY IS RACHEL MADDOW IN YOUR BEDROOM?? DID YOU KIDNAP HER???

She's a friend.

Um, Spoiler Alert? Or is the statue of limitations up? Anyway, I finally finished The Americans and immediately read your review and the chat from the day after. Am I the only one who is worried about Paige's future? I don't think she expected to find Claudia at the safe house, she probably knew Claudia was also on the run (from both the FBI and the pro-Gorby KGB faction that knows she was in on the coup attempt). So Paige is on her own but not very experienced at living in disguise. I doubt, even if they are loyal to Elizabeth, the KGB is happy knowing Paige is loose in the US knowing what she knows. And we've seen that they are very good at tracking people down and taking care of them. I think her best chance to survive is to turn herself in to Stan and give up what she knows in exchange for protection/amnesty. After all, afawk Stan only knows that Paige knew about her parents, not that she'd been in training for the last couple years. So she still has some pretext of being an semi-innocent bystander. I appreciate the way we are left to mull over what happens next, I know I'm going to be thinking about this show for a long time.

This is like time travel, for anybody who wants to go back five months.

You're overthinking it by gaming it out to this degree. The message the creators intended was only this: Paige goes her own way. Maybe she thrives under an alias. Maybe she's caught. In a few short months there won't even be a U.S.S.R. and the world has other problems to focus on. Maybe (though I still consider this highly unlikely and a disappointingly sentimental direction to imagine) she takes care of her little brother at some future date.

But don't do this to yourself. You're coming off the experience of having just seen the finale, and we've all been there. Repeat after me: Paige goes her own way.

No, Hank, the viewers who post on Facebook and Twitter and other media. Last Man Still Standing on Facebook went crazy with so many not liking her as the new Mandy. We just loved Molly Ephraim so much (maybe that's hard for you to understand). I really don't like your snideness with regard to LMS. It's a show my husband & I watch together.

It's a terrible show. You and your husband deserve better.

Laurie Metcalf was spectacular in the opening episode. I think having Roseanne die through overdose was very believable given that the last scene of the final ep last year showed her taking pills out of her ice pack. Did think the scene with the woman whose gave the pills to Roseanne was a bit too neat and convenient but overall the story worked well.

Agreed. The Roseanne camp is livid, saying an opioid overdose is a stereotypical way that Hollywood lefties think of flyover America -- all drugged up and despairing.

So back when my spouse and I were in marital counseling (it worked, we "graduated") we would often talk about themes that emerged from shows we were watching and how they mirrored issues in our relationship. Our counselor encouraged this kind of "therapy by watching stuff together." There were lots of shows ripe for these types of discussions...The Americans, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights come to mind. It was important for us to have a show we watched together...a common thing after a day busy with work, kids, etc. It isn't always easy to find one we can both get on board with, but I am much happier when we do have one.

There's a doozy of one coming out on Netflix Friday called "Wanderlust," a six-episode British drama starring Toni Collette. She and her husband sort of stumble into a place where they decide to try an open marriage. It's funny and painful and then, around episode four, just sort of wobbles and becomes a lot less interesting. I almost reviewed the show, but realized I didn't have much to add at this moment. Maybe later.

Meanwhile, I love that you already have a therapist who gets the power of watching TV together.

There's a lot I watch by myself that he's not interested in (This Is Us, The Good Place) I usually find one show that we watch together, like Fargo. Most recently I got him into The Sinner S2. I plan on watching Ozark with him which means my re-watching S1. We watch lots of sports & MSNBC in the evenings otherwise. Speaking of which, I read the new seaso of Fargo is going to have ChrismRock and be based in St,Louis, not Minnesota. Do you know when it's going to air?

Thanks for further data about couples-watching.

As for "Fargo," it's still too far off to have a firm premiere date. I'm not sure if they've started shooting or not.

Like 98% of couples, this is also a challenge for us. I've banned the mutual scrolling for hours and implemented a system where one person makes dinner while the other person has to spend that time finding a show that is likely to be reasonable to the other person (and yes, sometimes it takes the same amount of time). We do also try to keep lists going of things people have recommended to us, we try to meter out (rather than binge) shows that we both really like, and worked our way through lists recommended by professionals (thanks for Killing Eve!!). So I guess yay for peak TV and the decision fatigue crisis it has given all of us?

I have had dinners go cold in front of me during the endless-scrolling period. Which is how we wind up watching so much "House Hunters." I like the idea of the non-cooking person doing the searching, even if the control-freak in me does not like that idea.

Now I'm angry. We both enjoy LMS a lot. So do millions of other people. I don't like being put down for enjoying a comedy with an actor like Hector Elizondo. I like a lot of other shows you don't. And I'm a Carnegie Mellon graduate who has been on Jeopardy 30 years ago and came in 2nd.

[backspaces over reply]

About time! Don't let the cell door hit you in the tushie on the way out.

But don't forget how much of it was so, so good -- and how many characters/actors we never would have known otherwise. Masterful, most of it.

Thanks for the laugh, and the reality check. I always am behind on shows and by the time I see them I've missed the window to discuss them with other people and am stuck in my own head. Oh, and in no way does Henry want Paige to take care of him. I don't understand that line of thinking at all.

And yet, many, many viewers (and chatters here) insisted (insisted!) that the first thing Paige did was go see her brother. No way.

My husband and I have very different tastes in TV. He likes dramas and I tend to like complete and utter fluff. If he is watching something I don't like but can tolerate (no violence/death to kids/animals, not super gory) then I will be in the room with him but be on my ipad or read. The one thing we always watch together every week though is Below Deck. :)

I so hope this new bosun gets what he deserves.

This is the stuff that keeps me coming back to this chat.

I mean.

I don't know why you're always trashing McDonald's! My wife and I enjoy their food quite a bit and eat there all the time! I was livid when they actually closed the one nearby and am very happy that there's another one in another location close to me now. Why would you put me down and insult me for liking their food? And I'm someone who cooks meals all the time and 30 years ago was in a cooking class in some woman's apartment!!

Commenter of the Year.

Jeopardy! We never miss it. We also never tire of watch reruns of Seinfeld and The Office. My problem is he dominates the remote and flips the channels to avoid ads, which can be very irritating and cause us to miss stuff like Final Jeopardy questions.

DTMFA!

I have a roommate (platonic) that I watch TV with on occasion, and she talks throughout the show. Like, a running narration. "What's happening there?! Did he just...? WHAAAT?!?" I haven't experienced this since watching TV with my grandmother as a teen. Is there any way to nicely ask her to please shush? This is during Handmaid's Tale, even, when I do NOT wish to be chattering.

Have you used your words? Words like SHADDDDUPPPP ALREADY!!

Remains my favorite show on TV. It's the perfect outlet for Jim Carrey's talents. I almost wish it would be one season and done because I've enjoyed it so much.

Wasn't it beautiful when he and all the puppets sang the song to the dying girlfriend?

Great show, agreed -- and perfectly happy to let the creator and his writers figure out where to take it next.

What the heck has happened to Modern Family? The writing is just flat, predictable and unfunny. Is it ready to retire?

I have not yet watched any of it this season. There are four or five episodes on the DVR -- it's another one where I suggest it to my better half and he shakes his head. So he's out, if ABC is keeping track.

My wife and I watch all the superhero shows together (CW and Netflix). Is she a catch, or what?

Are you?

I hope this approach isn't perceived as taking the romance out of watching show with a spouse or partner. With the multitude of options available, my wife and I actually maintain and regularly update a spreadsheet to help us keep track of what shows are on, when they run, which network, and status. Whenever one of us notices what appears to be an interesting recommendation (often from your reviews and chats), we add to the spreadsheet. Helps us remember shows that might otherwise fall by the wayside. The spreadsheet helps us to prioritize watching preferences as well.

It's a little businesslike, but I fully endorse this approach, because how else can anyone keep up? It also sounds like an excellent to not waste time on TV, watching a "Beachfront House Hunters" you've already seen. (Guilty.)

The tweet works even better if you substitute Beverly Hills Cop III for LMS. Regardless, big Hector Elizondo fan.

I just googled this. Thanks, Hank, for teaching us new words. That's why I come to this chat -- the learning!

Full credit to my pal Dan Savage.

How is that a "put down?"

Right? I sincerely mean it.

Do you have a goto place to check for upcoming free previews? For example, NFL Red Zone has free preview on Sunday Nov 4. Available on Cox in Virginia but should be available in DC and MD too.

You're asking a guy who currently shells out about $4,000 a year for various TV and streaming accounts -- unreimbursed by my employer and now, thanks to GOP tax reform, no longer something I can partially write off on taxes. Free is not really part of my worldview. I also don't stand in line for free food samples at the fair.

But maybe a chatter will know -- is there some enterprising web site that likes to list free trial periods for cable networks, etc?

The show is best when it focuses on Mike and Gus Fring, so much so that I think it would have been better if they were the main characters. As much as I like Bob Odenkirk, Jimmy's back story is starting to wear thin; during his story line I am impatient to get back to building the below ground meth lab.

Wait, it's over now right? For the season? Didn't the finale air?

I'm really enjoying this new Netflix show. Just scary enough for me and without the gore. I did have a hard time keeping track of who is who for the first couple of episodes (the sisters and mom look a lot alike to me and there's a lot of popping back and forth in time) but have finally figured it out. Glad to see you're "digging" it, too.

So I can't believe how engrossing Hill House is! I really like the fresh take on the story and the acting and atmosphere is FAB. The 5th episode about the Bent Neck Lady was my favorite. I blazed through the first seven episodes and am really dreading the last one because of your review (which has been totally spot on!). Is it really all that bad? It's tough to maintain the suspense and surprises as long as they have... but I'm still cautiously optimistic...!?

Yes, the ending is really that bad. Once you've seen it, come back and tell me what you thought -- I welcome a dissenting opinion!

I like dark television in general. I love Handmaid's Tale. I hate The Man in the High Castle. My partner is interested, so we are watching the latest season, but it's so bleak. There is no light. I also find some of the characters hard to distinguish from one another. I have to watch Brooklyn 99 afterward so I'm not too depressed to sleep.

I lost all interest in "The Man in the High Castle," but it's been out a couple weeks now with nary a peep. Anyone out there who'd like to break down the season for us and offer a mini-review? Is there anything left here worth watching?

This was a show that ran last year but I've always wanted to ask. Did you see the second season of Maria Bamford where she married a guy. Was it notable or jarring to anyone in the TV community that Bamford's husband was plus-size? Mismatched marraiges where the husband is not as good looking as the wife are not new but those are shows written by men. But this is a female writer choosing to give herself a plus-sized husband. Plus-sized additions to casts like Aidy Bryant on SNL are generally talked about in some form (not necessarily negatively, maybe people say it's progress), but it was odd that no one talked about it

All I would say to this is that comparing "Lady Dynamite" (which Netflix has cancelled, btw) to shows like, say, "King of Queens" simply because the husband is overweight and the wife isn't, is like comparing apples to staplers. "Lady Dynamite" is just a wildly different show, in now way comparable to network sitcoms. No one talked about it because 1.) the conversations about "Lady Dynamite" were not exactly dominating pop culture, since it wasn't a huge hit and 2.) There is SO MUCH ELSE to talk about in that show, for those who were talking about it. Your question is very specific and probably best addressed to Bamford herself. Have you thought of asking her? (I'm not being funny here -- creators have been known to reply to DMs, etc.)

LMS viewers may graduate from top colleges, but they sure don't have a very good sense of humor about themselves. Lighten up. Who takes criticism of a show they like personally? I'm proud of the critical pans I enjoy. Differents strokes for different folks and all that.

Maturity award ^^

Oh, good... a new round of people insisting that the show is really brilliant! No, it is! IT IS! "IT'S ABOUT A MAN WHO LOVES HIS FAMILY, D_MN IT!!"

forgot to post this last week- am soo happy its back, even though this season is the end.

Did you go see the live stage show?

Oh, man, did I miss my calling. I should have started this business years ago. I imagine that the problem of what to watch has taken on new dimensions in our everything-on-demand era. As we've discussed before, people aren't willing to risk watching something that won't reward their time. I think this is linked to the problem of spending a half hour negotiating what you're going to watch. In the three-network era, if you liked Cheers, you knew exactly when you were going to watch it: Thursdays at 9:00, when NBC said you were going to watch it. Your mood didn't matter. On the other hand, if you and your spouse agreed on Cheers, then that was at least 26 weeks where your decision was already made.

Hi Hank! I'm making my way through The Americans, and I'm in season 5 now. From these chats, I was worried that the slower pace would be boring, but I'm really enjoying it. There's more time to internalize and process (and agonize) over what's happening. I love how the show makes me flip-flop in my sympathy toward Elizabeth and Phil. Right now they're still letting Paige believe the US is trying to sabotage the Soviet food supply despite their knowledge of the truth. Ugh, it makes my stomach turn! But in a good way? And when Gabriel tells Phil he was right to want to keep Paige out. Dagger to the heart. Also I'm so nervous about what's going to happen to Oleg (mostly because I think he's cute). Thanks for the chats!

I wonder if the earlier poster who just finished season 6 and the series finale can talk to this person, in sort of a time-loop?

I kid, I kid -- if you've never watched "The Americans," there's no time like the present.

It's like The Village? Pretty good, but the ending falls flat?

Oh, way worse. (I love "The Village." All of it.)

Makes me irate that you have to pay this out of pocket TO DO YOUR JOB. We appreciate you Hank!

cc Jeff.

Okay, before I make any more highly educated non-winners of "Jeopardy!" angry, let's call it a chat and agree to meet back here next Thursday, Oct. 25, at noon. Thanks for a fun one, gang.

I had been trying to decipher it, it didn't occur to me to Google it. We've been married for 38 years, so I've learned to be tolerant.

And we salute you!

In This Chat
Hank Stuever
Hank Stuever, The Washington Post's TV critic since 2009, joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. Stuever was born and raised in Oklahoma and previously worked at newspapers in Albuquerque and Austin. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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