“Oh, What A Nice And Clever Girl You Are!”

[Contains an impromptu foam-party and SPOILERS!!!]

Wendy Padbury as ‘Zoe Heriot’ in “Doctor Who” (S6)As I’ve said before, I’m really not that keen on either the concept or execution of Doctor Who, despite having many friends who swear by the show, and admiring several writers who’ve contributed stories to the Who-niverse over the years (such as Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Moorcock). On the other hand, I do have a chronic weakness for extreme cuteness, so when Wendy Padbury was announced as a guest for this year’s Comic-Con, I was so struck by the photo they posted from her “Companion” days that I immediately started seeking out all her episodes… only to discover that many of them are “missing”, presumed lost forever! Her character, ‘Zoe Heriot’, a perky young maths-prodigy from the future, was first introduced in the final serial of season five, “The Wheel in Space” (eps #5.35-40) (1968), but only two of the six episodes are held in the BBC archives, meaning that the rest of the story had to be patched together with repeating stills, muffled audio clips (recorded from the TV by fans back when they originally aired), and on-screen captions to fill in the action for home viewing… which is just a pain in the arse to sit through, so I skipped that, and plunged on into seasons six.

An animated version of Wendy Padbury as ‘Zoe Heriot’ in a reconstructed episode of “Doctor Who” (ep #6.06)Five of the S6 serials, “The Dominators” (eps #6.01-05), “The Mind Robber” (eps #6.06-10), “The Krotons”* (eps #6.19-22), “The Seeds of Death” (eps #6.23-28), and “The War Games” (eps #6.35-44) are fully extant… “The Space Pirates” (eps #6.29-34), is another unwatchable, mostly missing mish-mash… while the third, “The Invasion” (eps #6.11-18), was only lacking two episodes, which were replaced with animated reconstructions, accompanied by a remastered audio track. I have to say, in many ways I preferred those animated episodes to the live-action ones, because they had more atmospheric cinematography, more reliable special effects, and more stable camerawork! They also spent less time lingering on Zoe’s (admittedly very eye-catching) bottom in her short skirts and skin-tight sparkly cat-suit, so I guess we can call that a “win” for Feminism… unless you’re the sort of feminist that endorses short skirts and skin-tight cat-suits as “empowering”?** Personally I found the way that Zoe was dressed, posed, and framed in the earlier episodes to be fairly exploitative… for example, the “cliff-hanger” ending of ep #6.06 had her laying across the TARDIS console like a chanteuse on a grand piano, with her posterior presented to the viewer, as the camera revolved around her in sweaty-palmed slow motion (this was then repeated at the start of the following episode, to help refresh our memories). Of course, in the interests of full disclosure (and absolution?), I have to confess I loved every second of it… and even re-watched it a couple times… but I know that doesn’t make it right! Gah!

Wendy Padbury as ‘Zoe Heriot’ in “Doctor Who” (S6)As for her actual character… well, she did do an awful lot of damsel-in-distressing, but then her male equivalent, ‘Jamie’ (Frazer Hines), also got injured and captured and frozen and face-swapped on various occasions, so they were probably quite evenly matched on that score. That is the role/fate of Companions in this series, regardless of gender… to ask ‘The Doctor’ (Patrick Troughton) (aka “The Second Doctor”) questions for the sake of exposition, and to put themselves in peril, so that he can heroically rescue them, and save the day/universe. Thankfully, she did get a couple of spotlight scenes, such as when she single-handedly defeated the “Karkus”, a muscle-bound comic-strip-villain-come-to-life, using a succession of Kung-Fu flips, in ep #6.09 … gleefully destroyed a computerised reception desk by spouting nonsensical programming language at it, in ep #6.12 … earned the admiration of a roomful of military types by quickly calculating the exact co-ordinates/trajectory necessary to ensure that their meagre supply of missiles set off a chain reaction of explosions to destroy an invading alien fleet, in ep #6.17 (note how one male extra is unable to resist sneaking a glance down at her backside as she bustles between them seeking data)… bravely volunteered to exploit her petite size to squeeze through a maintenance duct into the central control room of a moon-base, to turn up the thermostat and incapacitate the invasive Ice Warriors, in ep #6.26… and then (sort of) rescued The Doctor from a prison cell, and smashed a vase over the head of an unsuspecting baddie who was about to report them, in eps #6.35-6. Go Zoe!

Wendy Padbury as ‘Zoe Heriot’ in “Doctor Who” (S6)Although some characters were quite condescending to her, The Doctor was always praising Zoe for her intelligence, and hyping her computer-beating brain to others. True, he did get exasperated with her at times, and a little petty competition crept in from every now and again, but he clearly recognised and treated her as an intellectual peer, despite her immaturity. Trivia sites suggest that the three main cast members got along very well off-screen, and grew very close over the course of the season, and I think that warmth and familiarity comes across quite clearly on-screen as well. I couldn’t really give a fig for the stories, which were often rather samey and drawn-out, but what kept me watching was my fondness for the characters, and my enjoyment of their interactions. Unusually, all three actors decided to jump ship at the same time, meaning that the grand finale featured a very sweet group goodbye, wiping the slate completely clean for the following (full-colour!) season, in which Jon Pertwee was introduced as “The Third Doctor”. The trio was briefly reunited in The Five Doctors (1983), but Zoe and Jamie only got a couple minutes of screentime, deep into the second hour of the feature-length episode, and were really only fibbing phantom versions of themselves, so it’s barely worth the bother… although the Raston-Warrior-Robot vs. Cybermen fight scene was pretty awesome, I admit.

Wendy Padbury as ‘Zoe Heriot’ in “Doctor Who” (S6)Fun fact: Padbury is now retired (aside from convention appearances, obviously), but for a while she worked as a theatrical agent, representing several Who actors, including Colin Baker (aka “The Sixth Doctor”), and she’s also credited with discovering a young fella named Matt Smith (aka “The Eleventh Doctor”) at the National Youth Theatre… though whether she used some sort of stolen alien brainwashing device to “process” him into wanting to join the series, I can’t say.

———–

* In my head, I can’t stop saying “croutons”… and I’m sure some of the actors mispronounced it that way as well! I was also amused by the varying pronunciation of “Cybermen”, which reminded me of that bit from Friends where Chandler and Phoebe discuss “Spider-Man”: It’s not his last name. It’s not like “Phil Spidermun”. He’s a spider-MAN!

** Only this morning, I saw a pro-women-in-sports advert, bearing the “This Girl Can” slogan, that included a prolonged close-up of a young lycra-clad bottom gyrating into the camera, so… I really don’t know how I’m supposed to react as a wannabe-male-feminist. Gah, again!

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Harley-volution (Pt. 6)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains banana-flavoured betrayal and SPOILERS!!!]

Harley Quinn in "Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League - Gotham City Breakout" (2016)Back in the world of toy-bricks, ‘Harley’ (Tara Strong) had another minor-supporting-villain role in Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League – Gotham City Breakout (2016), a straight-to-video animated “action comedy” flick, which bore more than a few similarities, plot-wise, to the League’s first block-footed  adventure (Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite)… especially when it comes to our beloved clown-girl, and her criminal cohorts. Once again, she and a couple other Bat-villains attempt a big heist in the first act, only to get caught and sent to Arkham Asylum, which they then escape thanks to a destructive beam of energy blasting through a wall, leaving them free to rampage across the city once more. Although she gets some good gags in her first couple scenes, and a funny moment with ‘The Joker’ (Jason Spisak) after her arrest, the “Clown Prince of Crime” again chooses to lavish his fickle affection on a new assistant (“Spoony”, a spoon he’s drawn a face on, and makes “talk” via shoddy ventriloquism), leaving Harley effectively side-lined, and only contributing the occasional non-verbal reaction for the rest of the movie (giggling, cheering, etc.). Boo to that!

On the other hand, this flick did improve on its predecessors in several respects: Firstly, it’s a lot prettier to look at… it’s also a lot funnier/stranger… and, crucially, it also allows a female character (specifically ‘Batgirl’, voiced by Sarah Hyland) to take a turn in the spotlight, and play a pivotal role in how events play out, by inspiring a potentially powerful ally to conquer his fears and come to their aid at a crucial juncture. Hurrah! This DVD seems to be in all the shops right now, and I’d seriously consider buying it, if I hadn’t just watched it for free…

Harley Quinn in "DC Super Hero Girls"Sigh… Then it was back to Super Hero High, to slog through DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year (2016), another straight-to-video animated feature, without any of the humour, charm, or replay-value of the above. All of my gripes about the DC-SHG web-series and previous spin-off still stand… especially the one about them wasting ‘Big Barda’ (Misty Lee), and Jack Kirby spinning in his grave. I’d also double-down on my sneering at the school’s stupidly lax security measures… besides the continued lack of trouble-spotting cameras on campus, they now have an “intruder alarm” that sounds when an authorised new pupil arrives early to catch up on her reading, but doesn’t sound when a super-villain rocks up to attack a student atop their main building, or when his shadowy minions start breaking into the dorm-rooms to steal powerful weapons from the girls’ night-stands! WTF!? Even after the first attack, ‘Principal Waller’s (Yvette Nicole Brown) idea of “upping security” is to just have more students patrolling the grounds during the day, and then just shrugging and letting everyone go back to sleep again at night (when, as it turns out, the light-fearing baddies are most likely to be active!). GAH!!

Bumblebee, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn a la "DC Super Hero Girls"Of course, I understand that this series is aimed at kids, but again I’d refer you back to the Lego movies as proof that it’s perfectly possible to make cute, colourful, family-friendly entertainment that doesn’t make grown adults want to punch themselves in the brain. It’s also a little depressing that the DC cartoons with male leads seem to be a lot smarter than the ones aimed at a female demographic. On the upside, they seem to have made Harley and ‘Poison Ivy’ (both voiced by Strong) into besties again… and it is kinda cool that they’ve reimagined our heroine as a pseudo-“super” who can fight alongside heavy-hitters like ‘Wonder Woman’ (Grey Griffin)… but I still find the voice that Strong puts on here incredibly grating, and hate how shy and simpering Ivy is. So, I’m now officially excusing/recusing myself from having to watch any more of this dreck. [Bangs gavel] So be it!

Now, if I were going strictly by the credits order listed on her IMDb page, my next entry should be The Lego Batman Movie (2017)… but that’s only just been released at the cinemas here, and won’t be out on DVD until June, so… I’ll have to defer comment until then (though I will say that the character design they’ve gone for looks great, and I am really looking forward to hearing the voice of one of my fave comedy actresses (Jenny Slate) coming out of my fave cartoon crush!).

Harley Quinn in "Justice League Action" (ep #1.13 or #1.14, depending on who you believe)And so, we turn our eyes back to the small-screen, and Harley’s latest TV appearance as a cackling villain in the “cold open” of episode #1.13 (or #1.14, depending on who you believe… either way, it’s called “Speed Demon”) of Justice League Action (2017), a series of animated shorts starring the eponymous superhero team. In this episode, Harley (voiced by Ms. Strong, again, again!) has somehow managed to acquire a magickal Joker-headed sceptre, and is threatening to unleash her inexplicable wrath on the city of Gotham… but she’s quickly/easily neutralised by the snappily-dressed sorceress ‘Zatanna’ (Lacey Chabert), before she and ‘Batman’ (Kevin Conroy) head off to investigate the source of this uncharacteristic power-up. The show itself is only ten minutes long, and Harley’s cameo is literally 30-seconds long, so not much to say about that… though I do kinda dig the spiky little mace-balls on her motley in this version.

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KathBum: The Troubling

Katherine Ryan in "Katherine Ryan: In Trouble"It’s been just over a year now since I went to see “TV’s Katherine Ryan” performing at our local fleapit theatre, as part of her nationwide stand-up tour… and someone (specifically Netflix) has finally had the good sense to film her hilarious show for a one-hour special, titled “Katherine Ryan: In Trouble”. Of course, many of the jokes are familiar to me now, but the audience interaction adds an unpredictable variable, so there were plenty new laughs to be had, alongside those sparked by the scripted material. Although I don’t have the most reliable of memories, her set seemed to be a little shorter and less sweary here (as they often are when broadcast on television), and it doesn’t quite capture the thrill of being there in person with Ryan telling her jokes directly to you (or, at least, to the general patch of darkness where you’re sitting), but if you haven’t been lucky enough to see her live yet, then I highly recommend seeking this special out, so that you too can appreciate the awesomeness of one of this country’s bestest stand-ups. Fun fact: According to the Decider‘s review, Ryan is only the second U.K.-based comedian to be granted an official Netflix special (after Jimmy Carr)! Go girl!

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Doubt-less

Dreama Walker as ‘Tiffany Simon’ in “Doubt” (S1)Aw… I was scouring the download sites for the latest episode of defence-attorney dramedy (?) Doubt this morning, only to discover that it had been cancelled, less than three weeks into its first season! To be honest, I can’t say I’m all that surprised… the central “mystery” surrounding the potential innocence/evilness of ‘Sadie’s (Katherine Heigl) high-profile-client/forbidden-love-interest was already starting to drag, and despite being the lead character in the show, I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about her beyond the fact she rides a bicycle to work… oh, and that her estranged mother is in prison for killing a cop, back in the 70’s… or something. Frankly I’m trying to blot that whole sub-plot out, because it just seemed so totally at-odds with the trying-to-be-jaunty-tone of the office and courtroom scenes. This show tried a lot of different tones on for size, and I’m not sure any of them really fit…

That said, I’m a little disappointed to see the series go bye-bye, because it deprives me of my weekly Dreama Walker fix… even if she was just typecast as another incarnation of June-from-Apt.-23 (when she disingenuously lamented her small-town origins in last week’s episode, I half-expected her to brag that her family were known as “The Honest [Simons]”!)… and I was also enjoying Lauren Blumenfeld’s performance as Sadie’s sparky assistant ‘Lucy’, although my fave supporting actress from the pilot, Clea Lewis, had already jumped ship before the series proper went into production. I swear, if there was an Emmy for throwing stink-eyes, she would’ve won it for her scenes in that episode alone!

Apparently the rest of the season might seep out at some unspecified date in the future… but I’m not holding my breath. Hopefully Walker will have booked another gig by then, and we can all put this misbegotten misfire behind us…

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Goth-Watch: Enchantress

[Contains grassy bath-tubs and SPOILERS!!!]

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)I was trying to keep my previous rant about Suicide Squad (2016) as Harley-centric as possible, so I didn’t get around to discussing any of the other female characters… which is a shame because for the first 30-minutes or so, right up until she went rogue, I was really digging ‘Enchantress’ (Cara Delevingne). I wasn’t familiar with the character from any of her comic book outings*, so this was my first exposure… and I was immediately bewitched by her super-spooky/sexy appearance here. Like Harley herself, Enchantress has a genuinely intriguing and tragic back-story, which deserved far more screentime than it actually got in this flick: She’s essentially two separate entities, reluctantly inhabiting the same body… one is the unfortunately-named adventurer/explorer ‘June Moone’, and the other is a parasitic succubus that’s possessed her body. Although we got a tantalising taste of the Jekyll-and-Hyde conflict here, as well as the physical/mental/spiritual toll that it takes on June, we never spent enough time with her human-side to develop any real feelings for her, before the demon-side impulsively decided to piss all of that tension and intrigue up against a subway wall, and just go full-tilt super-villain.

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)The sorceress’s motivations are suggested in pretty broad strokes, but I didn’t really understood why she went from bemoaning the fact that people used to worship her as a goddess (and now worshipped their machines instead), to deciding she should just destroy all life on Earth, without at least trying to get them to worship her again first! Turning all the pesky humans into faceless foot-soldiers, and burning their cities to ash via a generic CGI tornado-of-destruction is really the stupidest and boringest thing any baddie can do… especially when you consider how slowly it was actually happening. I mean, was she seriously planning to spend the next couple years travelling from city to city, just to stand in one spot and turn all the locals into blob-creatures one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one…? Despite all her flashy magick, and vengeful anger, she’d essentially demoted herself from a wannabe-divinity to a production-line factory-worker, griping to her incubus brother about “the good old days” during their occasional sandwich-and-ciggy-breaks. Meh!

Sorry, I’m ranting again… I didn’t want to do that… but this movie wasted so much damn potential, it’s hard not to feel a little nerd-rage welling up… [slaps wrist]

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)All that aside, I have to give Delevingne a shout-out for her performance here, and also applaud the makeup and hairstyling teams for their well-deserved Oscar win t’other night! Whatever else us haters might say, there’s no question that the Squaddies all looked fantastic, and wall-poster-worthy. In fact, I’m seriously tempted to buy the Enchantress T-shirt and action figure, despite their association with a movie I have no intention of ever watching a second time.

———–

* Fun fact: When Enchantress debuted in Strange Adventures #187 (April 1966), she was a wholesome heroine-next-door type, adorably dubbed “The Switcheroo-Witcheroo”, who used her powers to help a group of terrified party-goers escape a curse’d castle. Since then she’s passed through the hands of various writers, who’ve made her increasingly dark and diabolical over the decades.

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Harley-volution (Pt. 5)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains good-night-sticks and SPOILERS!!!]

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)Sigh… when I embarked on this fool’s errand, almost a year ago now, I naively assumed that the big shiny Suicide Squad (2016) movie would be the grand finale of this series… little suspecting what a disappointing damp squib her live-action debut as a headliner would turn out to be… representing little more than a dirty-rain-water-filled pothole along the road… a road that continues to stretch on towards an unreachable horizon. While researching the straight-to-video animation Batman: Assault on Arkham for a previous post, I noticed numerous reviews/comments suggesting that it was vastly superior to its silver-screen sibling, and I have to agree… not only is it a better Suicide Squad movie, and a better Harley Quinn movie, it’s also just a better movie full-stop. And I’ll tell you for why…

Although I specifically chose the “Extended Cut” so that I could get the maximum amount of Harley, this version got off to a very slow start with too many long-winded character introductions, and re-introductions, before the story abruptly skipped ahead like a scratched record to a big supernatural evil tearing some random city apart, and faceless squishy-headed foot-soldiers running around attacking everything in sight, with only the vaguest nominal motivations… so it seemed like the movie spent way too long establishing the protagonists, and too little time establishing the antagonists. I mean, I get why the boring-ass army guy might want to keep his unpredictable charges in the dark about who/what they were fighting, and where they were heading, but keeping the viewer in the dark along with them just leads to unnecessary confusion and annoyance. As I said before, the storyline of AA had a lot of holes in it, but at least it flowed fairly smoothly, and was easy enough to follow, as long as you suspended your disbelief a little.

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)I also thought it was a big mistake (and writer/director David Ayer has admitted as much himself) to pit the freshly-formed squad of dysfunctional (meta)humans against an apocalyptic supernatural foe, straight out of the gate, while the ‘Joker’ (Jared Leto) was just sorta buzzing around on the periphery, like a pesky fly at a picnic. The most ridiculous aspect of this ill-considered mismatch was that the more powerful squad members’ flashy magickal attacks were shown to be largely ineffective against the “Incubus” monster and the city-block-levelling doomsday “machine” that he was defending, but they’re both easily destroyed by a couple bog-standard, shoe-box-sized bombs! WTF!?

Sadly, both movies suffer from slightly disconnected exchanges of dialogue, but that’s more excusable with AA, because voice-actors are often recorded in separate rooms, on separate days, so their conversations might not sound as natural as they would if everyone was actually talking to each other in real-time… whereas the SS actors were stood face-to-face while exchanging their atonal non-sequiturs.

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)As for the squad dynamics… while some members may have pair-bonded in AA, they never got as mushy en masse as they do here, swapping tedious sob-stories, and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their “esprit de corps” superbuddies, as if somewhere around the midway point, they (or Ayer?) simply forgot they were supposed to be straight-up sociopaths, and their cruel grey hearts inexplicably turned all pink and fluffy, like the sappy kids from Super Hero High! Blerg. AA was very effective in setting up all the squaddies on an equal footing, and showing that any of them could be eliminated at any moment… they were all considered disposable by the powers-that-be, and I was genuinely shocked when the heads of recognisable name villains were blown clean off their bodies. In contrast, the only squaddy to get beheaded for desertion/disobedience here was a johnny-come-lately introduced solely for that perfunctory purpose… and his death was shown in a fleeting wide-shot, to minimise the actual impact, and mute any “shock” value it might have had… unlike in AA, where you’re up-close-and-personal with the guy when he gets decapitated. And, of course, SS simply didn’t have the spine to ‘splode any of their main characters, who either survived to (metaphorically) hug it out in the finale, or heroically sacrificed themselves for the good of the mission and/or personal redemption. Meh. The fact that they spent most of the movie fighting featureless/bloodless blob-men (who silently shatter when they’re bashed in, like the baddies in a childish computer game) also undercut the violence and supposed villainy of their characters. Despite this movie having the same (UK) age-rating as AA and Kick-Ass, it seemed so much tamer and lamer by comparison… pure pop-punk, rather than hardcore…

Margot Robbie as 'Harleen Quinzel' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)Which leads us back to Harley, portrayed here by the Australian actress Margot Robbie… who, it has to be said, looked fantastic, and delivered a very dynamic performance… it’s just a shame that she’s playing such a poorly-written version of the character, who comes across as a dickish bully, deliberately pressing other people’s buttons out of boredom, without any of the humour and “kooky” underdog charm that made her such a fan-favourite in the first place. Now, to be fair, I haven’t read any of the post-New-52 comics, so this may well be a super-faithful representation of how she behaves in the books these days… but, given a choice, I much prefer her original “Looney Tunes” vaudeville act, over this snarky alt-burlesque routine… and AA has proven that she can still be plenty sexy and scary, without sacrificing her old-timey clown-girl slap-schtick. While I appreciate their efforts to boost Harley’s profile as a bona fide bad-ass in her own right, I think AA did a much better job of portraying her as a dangerous-but-endearing “adult” anti-heroine… and AA also scores bonus points for keeping her in-costume, rather than just stripping her down to her skimpies. Meanwhile, it’s a little hard to understand (let alone sympathise with) her obsessive, self-negating attraction to “Mistah J”, considering how utterly bland and benign he is here… despite all the hype about Leto going full-tilt “method” to immerse himself in the character’s twisted pathology, he barely registers as more than a generic gangster with green-hair and a grille, soppily chasing his girlfriend’s shadow… and the way they tried to dash-off Harley’s origin story in a handful of flashbacks sprinkled incongruously throughout the movie was painfully ineffectual. Meh2.

In conclusion: Suicide Squad is kinda like the Donald Trump of “comic-book movies”… loud, brash, bloated, inept, offensive, incoherent, illiterate, with an over-inflated sense of its own assumed awesomeness, ridiculed by the media, yet still wildly successful and inexplicably popular with the public. Dammit!

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Big Steps For Small Children

No Small Children (circa 2015)Although I’m enjoying Drew Barrymore’s new zom-com Santa Clarita Diet, I’m trying to eke it out and only watch one episode a week… and I haven’t gotten around to the new all-female Ghostbusters reboot yet, because frankly I was never that big a fan of the original… which means I’m rather tardy in discovering a band called No Small Children, whose music has played out over the end credits of both those productions. Formed in 2012 by three moonlighting school teachers, this toothsome trio write funny/thoughtful lyrics, play multiple instruments, and rock harder than Klingon calculus. As ever, I’m terrible at writing about music that I really like, so all I can say is that they’ve become one of my new favourite bands, practically overnight… and I have a fictional flesh-eating realtor to thank for it!

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