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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Narcos (Friday, Sept. 2, Netflix), season premiere: When last we left the semi-biographical Narcos, Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) had just escaped the Greybar Hotel, with errybody on both sides of the law out to take him down. Given, you know, history, the promo tagline of “Who killed Pablo Escobar?” is somewhat moot (hint—it wasn’t old age), but Narcos is even more terrifyingly tense in Season 2. (After seeing this, it’s even harder to believe that those Entourage twinks actually “made” an Escobar film once upon a time.) It’s also a bit more personal, with Moura revealing the man behind the monster on occasion—since we’re staring down the barrel of Escobar’s ultimate demise this season, it’s a nice, empathetic touch that sets Narcos apart from certain Drug Guy Downfall movies that don’t live up to their posters. (Yes, I’m talking about Scarface—admit it, it sucks.) It’s Labor Day Weekend; you know what to do.

Mary + Jane; Loosely Exactly Nicole (Monday, Sept. 5, MTV) series debuts: On the mellower end of the drug spectrum, here’s MTV’s Mary + Jane, a marijuana-delivery comedy arriving a week ahead of HBO’s similarly-themed High Maintenance. Scout Durwood and Jessica Rothe star as Jordan and Paige (not Mary and Jane—psych!), Los Angeles pals who start a medical-weed concierge service and are, natch, thrust into Whacky Misadventures. M+J sometimes comes across like Broad City recast with Instagram models, but Durwood and Rothe bring the funny when the material clicks. MTV’s other comedy premiere tonight, Loosely Exactly Nicole, likewise, is more hit than miss, and a waaay better showcase for comic Nicole Byer than Fox’s virtually unwatched trainwreck Party Over Here. (Don’t recall it? Lucky you.)

StartUp (Tuesday, Sept. 6, Crackle), series debut: The new drama from Sony streamer Crackle (it’s that orange app you never use on your various viewing devices), StartUp, is Crackle’s most ambitious grab for original-content cred yet: A Miami criminal splits town, leaving a pile of dirty money with his financier son, Nick (Adam Brody), unbeknownst to the FBI agent (Martin Freeman) on dad’s trail. Instead of turning the loot over, Nick hides it by investing it all into a digital currency startup, GenCoin; cat-and-mouse crime intrigue, Haitian mob ties and furious keyboard clacking ensue. Maybe it should have been a two-hour movie instead of a 10-episode series, but StartUp is just flashy enough draw some critical attention to Crackle, aka Jerry Seinfeld’s Rich Dudes in Pricey Cars channel.

Atlanta (Tuesday, Sept. 6, FX), series debut: Finally, a project that will allow me to forgive Donald Glover for abandoning Community for half-assed hip-hop (not a Childish Gambino fan, sorrynotsorry). Like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Glover’s Atlanta isn’t what anyone expected, but something more than a comedy (though there are hilarious moments) or a drama (ditto, heavy moments); those vague, dreamy FX promos were perfect, because whatever this is couldn’t possibly be summed up in a 30-second spot. The bones of the story are that Earn (Glover), his rapper cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) and Alfred’s bud Darius (LaKeith Lee Stanfield, the sure-to-be-breakout star of the series) are struggling to move up from abject poverty to slightly less-abject poverty, and the events … just happen. Atlanta unfolds like an indie flick in no hurry to get any Big Moments, which might make it an even harder sell on mainstream cable than Baskets was—but hey, that got a second season, so anything could happen.

From Dusk Till Dawn (Tuesday, Sept. 6, El Rey), season premiere: In other obscure channel news, ever heard of the El Rey Network? Had no idea there was TV series based on a classic Mexi-vampire flick? (Facepalm.) Anyway: From Dusk Till Dawn was Robert Rodriguez’s first original series to debut on El Rey (also his network) in 2014, a blown-out, 10-episode expansion of his 1997 movie, with new Gecko Brothers (D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz), a new-and-somehow-even-hotter Santánico (Eiza Gonzalez), a new scary-ass adversary (Wilmer Valderrama—yes, really), and a new ending that set up further seasons (like Rodriguez was going to cancel his own show). Where FDTD has gone from there is, well, loco; since this column’s increasingly apparent mission is to constantly promote Netflix, go there and catch on Seasons 1 and 2.

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Documentary Now! (Thursday, Aug. 20, IFC), series debut: Relax, it’s not a real documentary series—IFC doesn’t do that anymore. The former Independent Film Channel is now in the Irregularly Funny Comedy business, and Documentary Now! (the exclamation point should’ve been a giveaway) is a faux-doc series from Portlandia and Saturday Night Live folks (Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers and Bill Hader), lent some seriously confusing cred by host Helen Mirren (!). As with Portlandia and SNL, the half-hour eps fluctuate between killer (a profile of a hapless ’70s rock band; being on-location with a Vice-like news program) and filler (Armisen and Hader in old-lady drag), but at least Documentary Now! is only six episodes long, unlike the fictional DN! series, all 50 seasons of which are available in a 294-disc box set—order yours today!

Blunt Talk (Saturday, Aug. 22, Starz), series debut: Starz used to be a premium-cable joke, but the network has been on a creative roll lately: Outlander, Black Sails, Power, the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead—hell, even Survivor’s Remorse (which returns for Season 2 tonight) is a better sports dramedy than HBO’s Ballers. The new Blunt Talk could be Starz’s most blatant grab for buzz yet: It’s a raunchy comedy starring Patrick Stewart (yes, that Patrick Stewart) as British newsman Walter Blunt, recently transplanted to Los Angeles to shake up cable news and set ’Merica straight—if his appetite for booze, drugs and women doesn’t kill him first. Stewart tears into this Newsroom-via-Californication role like he’s been waiting forever to play a reckless hedonist, and creator/producer Jonathan Ames (HBO’s late, great Bored to Death) gives him plenty of comic room to roam. If American Dad didn’t kill off Capt. Picard, Blunt Talk will.

The Unauthorized Full House Story (Saturday, Aug. 22, Lifetime), movie: I never understood the fascination with Full House, a half-assed sitcom from the Golden Age of the Half-Assed Sitcom (late ’80s-early ’90s). Every half-hour comedy of the time—and there were hundreds of them—was a loud, indistinguishable, laugh-tracked abomination made up of cheap sets, lazy punchlines and, blech, children. But somehow, Full House has always stood out from the rest—so much so that a Fuller House spinoff is coming to Netflix next year, which would give John Stamos two concurrent TV shows (the other being Fox’s new fall series Grandfathered). There is no universe in which John freakin’ Stamos should have two series. Just kidding: Grandfathered will be long-canceled by then. Oh, The Unauthorized Full House Story? It’s terrible, but you already knew that.

Fear the Walking Dead (Sunday, Aug. 23, AMC), series debut: It’s not like Fear the Walking Dead will have any trouble snagging The Walking Dead’s audience—all 16 million of members of it. The series is undoubtedly going to debut big, but before we get Run the Hell Away From the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: Miami, the Los Angeles-set Fear the Walking Dead has to, well, not suck. Which it doesn’t, but FTWD only has six episodes in this first season to introduce new characters and set up a pre-“walker” world (in the early stages of the Z-apocalypse, they’re few, still fresh and referred to as “the infected”). We know what’s ahead, but these Angelinos are delusionally optimistic that the outbreak will be contained and don’t know to not let the infected get right up in their faces (far scarier here than in the well-aware environs of The Walking Dead). Fear the Walking Dead has all the potential of the original … as long as there are no farms in the area.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (Tuesday, Aug. 25, El Rey), season premiere: Never heard of the El Rey Network? Had no idea there was TV series based on the classic Mexi-vampire flick? Facepalm. Anyway. From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series was Robert Rodriguez’s first original series to debut on El Rey (also his network) in 2014, a blown-out, 10-episode expansion of his 1997 movie, with new Gecko Brothers (D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz), a new Satanico (Eiza González), a new scary-ass adversary (Wilmer Valderrama—yes, really), and an ending that set up a whole new chapter for Season 2 (like Rodriguez was going to cancel his own show on his own network). Check out Season 1 on the on-demand platform of your choice, then come back for Season 2—trust me, it’s worth it.

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True Detective (HBO): Creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto probably screwed himself by launching this mesmerizing crime anthology with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson at the top of their respective games. Good luck following up these eight near-perfect episodes.

Banshee (Cinemax): This left-field, visceral mashup of Justified, Twin Peaks and Fight Club went pulp-gonzo harder in Season 2, expanding the world of Banshee, Penn., just enough to introduce even more Amish mobster/Ukrainian thug mayhem. It’s that weird, and that cool.

Shameless (Showtime): Things somehow got worse as they got better for the Gallagher clan in Season 4, with William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum delivering alternately heartbreaking and hilarious performances. This is America’s family.

Justified (FX): Star Timothy Olyphant put his boot down and rescued Justified from becoming entirely the show of Boyd (Walton Goggins) in its fifth and penultimate season, and brought some new colorful characters along for the ride.

Broad City (Comedy Central): Few comedies arrive as fully-realized as Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Broad City (though it did have a head-start as a Web series); their broke Brooklynites are the female flipside of Workaholics, only smarter, funnier and occasionally grosser.

Helix (Syfy): This Arctic Andromeda Strain/Walking Dead hybrid from Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) crept up with no big splash, but it did earn a second season for 2015—catch up on Netflix now.

The Americans (FX): Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys continued to out-spy Homeland while still stuck in Cold War 1981, facing down more danger (and wigs) than Carrie and Brody could ever imagine.

Archer (FX): Meanwhile, Archer (code-named Archer Vice) blew up its spy premise and dove face-first into cocaine and country music. Literally.

House of Cards (Netflix): Vice president Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) delivered a shocking twist in the first episode of Season 2, and the train didn’t stop a-rollin’ from there. As with actual D.C. politics, it’s best not to think too hard about the machinations en route to the presidency

Fargo (FX): Lorne (Billy Bob Thornton), Lester (Martin Freeman) and Deputy Molly (Allison Tolman) shut down the “You can’t touch that movie” doubters from frame one with this dark, funny adaptation that faltered fewer times than True Detective. Oh, you bet’cha.

From Dusk Till Dawn (El Rey): Another film-to-TV transition that defied the haters, From Dusk Till Dawn expanded the 1996 cult classic into an even crazier, racier 10-episode ride where the definition of “the good guys” is subjective.

Game of Thrones (HBO): Like anyone’s going to make a list without Game of Thrones. Get real.

Silicon Valley (HBO): Mike Judge finally, if not intentionally, created the sequel to Office Space with Silicon Valley, a hysterically profane (and tech-jargoned, at least at first) saga about programmers in waaay over their heads. If only Halt and Catch Fire had been half this much fun.

Veep (HBO): Speaking of profane: VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team continued to fail upward in Season 3, from WTF? to the brink of POTUS. Pray for your country.

Bates Motel (A&E): Murder, drugs, love triangles, commercial zoning disputes—Bates Motel has it all! Norman (Freddie Highmore) became as intriguing as mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) in Season 2, no small feat, as did some of the supporting players. Why wait for Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival? It’s already here.

Mad Men (AMC): Splitting the final season in half was a lousy idea (the Mad Men buzz is pretty much nil at this point), but those first seven episodes provided a course-correcting jolt that should make for a hell of a 2015 finale, whenever that happens (hopefully, not in the ’70s).

Orphan Black (BBC America): See Game of Thrones.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO): Sure, it’s a Daily Show knock-off with F-bombs—but those rants! Corporations, media, condiments—suck it! Everything the overblown Newsroom attempted over three seasons, Oliver nailed in 30 minutes.

Legit (FXX): Poor Jim Jefferies. His Louie-like Legit finally got good by the end of its first season, then FX exiled it to the untested FXX for Season 2: no promotion, no viewers, just yelling into a vast, empty room. See what you missed on Netflix (along with Jeffries’ stand-up specials).

Playing House (USA): Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham as almost-uncomfortably close BFFs failed on network TV, but found a niche on cable with Playing House, which could be the first series ever to make pregnancy play funny and inclusive.

Parks and Recreation (NBC): While as excellent as ever, Season 6 probably should have been the last (maybe even halfway through), but at least we’ll get a proper sendoff for NBC’s last great Must-See comedy in 2015.

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim): Few “get” Community, but Dan Harmon’s other TV project, the animated, and simultaneously brainy and crude Rick and Morty—imagine Back to the Future with more universes, booze and malicious aliens—clicked immediately on Adult Swim.

Louie (FX): Louis C.K. made us wait two years for a new season, then delivered 14 arty-if-not-always-funny installments of Louie, which were rightfully hailed as “brave,” “experimental” and “mostly free of black T-shirts.”

Maron (IFC): Marc Maron didn’t stray too far from the formula of his debut season in his second go-round—regarding how difficult it is to be Marc Maron, specifically, and a middle-aged white dude with a podcast in general. Still brilliant.

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix): Season 2 leaned more dramatic than comedic, and pulled killer performances from everyone in (and out) of Litchfield Penitentiary. Creator Jenji Kohan is well on her way to achieving the heretofore-thought impossible: Topping her previous series, Weeds.

The Leftovers (HBO): Life sucks when you’re not Raptured, and The Leftovers was the ultimate summer-bummer wallow, not to mention the vehicle that finally made Justin Theroux matter.

Rectify (Sundance): And while we’re on the topic of dramas filmed in Depress-o-Vision … damn.

Longmire (A&E): In its third season, Longmire fully broke away from its Justified Out West trappings and became a gripping, dusty crime drama in its own right. A&E rewarded this creative triumph—and high ratings—with a cancellation notice in order to make way for more Duck Dynasty. Fortunately, Netflix came to the rescue, and Season 4 will be streaming by late 2015. I’m beginning to understand you cable-cutters …

Coming next week: Part 2—even more shows!

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Z Nation (Friday, Sept. 12, Syfy), series debut: The Only TV Column That Matters™ had high hopes for Z Nation, Syfy’s would-be answer to The Walking Dead—not officially, but at this point in the game, any new zombie-based series will automatically be labeled as such. Too bad it’s a terribly written, cheaply shot (seriously, it looks like it was filmed on an iPhone—an iPhone4, at best) and spottily cast (don’t get attached to lone A-lister Harold Perrineau, just sayin’) crapshoot with only a handful of “Damn!” moments worth a look. (Two words: zombie baby.) Three years after a zombie apocalypse has ravaged the country, a ragtag band of survivors (led by Tom Everett Scott) have to get an ex-military test patient from New York to California for the possible formulation of an anti-Z vaccine. Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, a left-behind soldier (DJ Qualls) performs a stilted Pump Up the Volume/Good Morning Vietnam radio-voiceover shtick from a remote Arctic communications base, because …? The kills are passable, but The Walking Dead has made it impossible to just skate by on gore anymore. Where did all that money you didn’t spend on Sharknado 2 go, Syfy?

Utopia (Fridays and Tuesdays, Fox), new series: It’s a reality show with no prize, a “social experiment” … ugh … wherein a disparate group of people are dropped in the middle of nowhere for a year (!) and forced to create their own society and infrastructure. This “daring” “new” reality-show concept (swiped from a Dutch series, of course) at least sounds like a departure from the norm, but Utopia is really just another exploitative freak showcase, like Big Brother without a hot tub, or Survivor with no potential survivors. But at least Fox isn’t overdoing it: The Dutch version of Utopia airs five nights a week; we’re only subjected to two.

New Girl, The Mindy Project (Tuesday, Sept. 16, Fox), season premieres: Unfortunately, one of those nights is Tuesday, so Utopia will be providing a weak (going by the show’s ratings thus far) lead-in for New Girl this season, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been relocated to Sundays with cartoons and the comedic black hole that is the new Mulaney. Zooey Deschanel and the gang will absorb the hit, but The Mindy Project can’t afford to lose any more viewers—especially not with the potentially show-killing Season 3 storyline of coupling Mindy (Mindy Kaling) with Danny (Chris Messina). Better idea: Send Mindy to Utopia; they’ll need an OB/GYN eventually.

Red Band Society (Wednesday, Sept. 17, Fox), series debut: A dramedy with the snarky teen attitude of Glee and none of the musical numbers, Red Band Society (a title that beat out Sadder Childrens Hospital and Kancer Kidz!) is the only real chance Fox is taking this season beyond Gotham. Like early Glee, the young cancer-ward residents are all fresh-faced newbies spouting rapid-fire pop-cultural zingers, leavened with gallows humor and grounded by older actors of note (Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable as hospital staff). Hopefully, RBS can avoid the Glee death spiral. (Yes, I’m aware of the phrasing.)

The Mysteries of Laura (Wednesday, Sept. 17, NBC), series debut: There are two shows here: One’s a cop show in which a surprisingly effective Debra Messing plays a wisecracking, been-there-done-that NYPD detective who wouldn’t be out of place on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or even Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; in the other, she’s a harried single-ish mom to awful, awful twins. Call me when they dump the brats.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR SEPT. 16!

Alpha House: Season 1

Four Republican senators (John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos) share a rental house in Washington, D.C., and political wackiness ensues. Based on real-life events, if not actual Republican wackiness. (Anderson Amazon Direct)

Burning Love: Seasons 2 and 3

In Season 2, hot-mess Julie (June Diane Raphael) must choose between 12 dumb hunks (dunks?); in Season 3, previous contestants compete for cash instead of love. The only Bachelor/Bachelorette parody you’ll ever need. (Paramount)

The Fault in Our Stars

Two teens (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort … are these real names?) meet and fall in love in a cancer-support group in the tear-jerking film that sounds nothing at all like the new Fox TV series Red Band Society. Nope, not at all. (Fox)

From Dusk Till Dawn: Season 1

Robert Rodriguez’s 10-episode remake of his movie, starring D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz as the Gecko Bros, as well as Eiza Gonzalez as hot-as-hell Santanico and Wilmer Valderrama as evil-as-hell Carlos. It aired on El Rey, so you missed it. (EOne)

Godzilla

This is the re-re-re-reboot of Godzilla, in which the big (really big this time) lizard-thing and a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, duh) are converging upon the Pacific Rim, er, San Francisco. (Warner Bros.)

More New DVD/VOD Releases (Sept. 16)

About a Boy: Season 1, Arrow: Season 2, Awkward: Season 3, The Big Bang Theory: Season 7, Bones: Season 9, Castle: Season 6, Grimm: Season 3, Hannibal: Season 2, Jesus People, Petals on the Wind, Sleepy Hollow: Season 1, South Park: Season 17, Spartacus: The Complete Series.

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Review With Forrest MacNeil (Thursdays, Comedy Central), new series: Anyone can be a critic (seriously, anyone), but few have the conviction of Forrest MacNeil, the tenacious “life critic” of Comedy Central’s left-field new hit Review. As MacNeil, Andy Daly takes requests from viewers as to which random life experience he should try out; in Episode 1, MacNeil gave addiction a spin and wound up awarding cocaine “a million stars!” out of five. (Post-rehab, a half star, because no real journalist would hand out zero stars.) In the March 20 episode, he takes on the equally dangerous task of consuming 15 pancakes in one sitting—if that sounds easy to you, MacNeil suggests that your life must be “an unendurable hellscape of excruciating sadness.” (Didn’t I use that line in a review of George Lopez’s new sitcom?) Review review: one green button.

Da Vinci’s Demons (Saturday, March 22, Starz), season premiere: Starz has yet to recapture that Spartacus buzz of a few years ago; the just-completed first season of Black Sails came close, even though the network made the mistake of positioning it as a “serious” period drama when it was really just a CW soap with more blood, nudity, grownups and the bad touch of Michael Bay. Between the hype of those two series, Starz in 2013 quietly launched Da Vinci’s Demons, about the historical-ish Renaissance adventures of a young, sexy Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) as he navigates conspiracies, cults and Catholics, as well as his own genius and bi-curious tendencies. Sure, it sounds ridiculous—ridiculously fun! (See? Anyone can be a critic.) The Only TV Column That Matters™ would usually say “Catch up on Season 1” before recommending jumping into the second, but Da Vinci’s Demons isn’t going to make any more or less sense with the background info.

My Five Wives (Sundays. TLC), new series: Maybe this is where I used “unendurable hellscape of excruciating sadness.” My Five Wives premiered weeks ago, and you’ve probably seen the ads with Utah polygamist Brady Williams, his five “spouses” and their combined 24 kids over and over—and yet you still didn’t reject it as vehemently as you did Chrisley Knows Best. (Thanks for that, ’Merica; I owe you one.) It helps that Williams is more likable than that assclown Kody Brown of TLC’s other polygamy show—yes, we now have to differentiate between polygamy shows—Sister Wives, but, as with 95 percent of all reality-TV series, there’s no reason for My Five Wives to exist. It’s just another contrived, scripted suckfest attempting to make a “real” family seem entertaining. Even multiplied by five, they ain’t entertaining.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (Tuesdays, El Rey), new series: Prior to the premiere of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series last week, Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network (“Spanish TV for Gringos”—not the official tagline, but I’m willing to sell) mostly showed X-Files and Dark Angel reruns, and obscure kung-fu and horror flicks. In other words, it was the perfect cable channel—and then came From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, which was instantly darker and weirder than Rodriguez’s 1996 cult movie. Psycho Gecko brothers Seth (D.J. Cotrona, a passable George Clooney sub) and Richie (Zane Holtz, leagues more intense than Quentin Tarantino) are fresh out of jail and on a body-stacking crime spree to the Mexican border; however, vampires and twisted Aztec mythologies are about to get in their way. Anyone remotely “good” or “not insane” gets real dead real quick in FDTD, but the real mystery is how Rodriguez can stretch this story over 10 (or more) episodes. So far, I’m in—way in. (By the way, El Rey can be found on Channel 234 and Channel 584 on Time Warner ’round these parts.)


DVD ROUNDUP FOR MARCH 25!

Californication: Season 6

Hank (David Duchovny) attempts to adapt his book into a Broadway musical with the help of an eff’dup British rock star (Tim Minchin) and rehab—naturally, both lead to more sex, booze, drugs and sex. It’s hard to feel sorry for Hank. (Showtime/Paramount)

The Punk Singer

Bikini Kill singer/riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna gets the full documentary treatment, with classic BK and Le Tigre concert footage, interviews and the real reason she retired in 2005. (IFC/MPI)

Veep: Season 2

Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) deals with midterm elections, an asshole political strategist (Gary Cole), rural ’Merica, the military, the government shutdown and the worst staff in D.C. Probably all (shudder) true. (HBO)

The Wolf of Wall Street

A stockbroker (Leonardo DiCaprio) rises to power on 1990s Wall Street in Martin Scorsese’s epic tale of drugs, debauchery and Jonah Hill’s prosthetic penis. Also starring Matthew McConaughey, because everything does now. (Paramount)

More New DVD Releases (March 25)

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher, Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa: Live in Amsterdam, California Scheming, Continuum: Season 2, Delivery Man, Here’s Lucy: The Complete Series, Key & Peele: Seasons 1 & 2, Machine Head, Welcome to the Jungle.

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