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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After cutting down on episodic bloat with the eight-installment The Defenders, Netflix is back in the overload business with The Punisher (series debut Friday, Nov. 17, Netflix), the latest 13-episode Marvel delivery from Hell’s Kitchen. Vicious vigilante Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is more antihero than superhero, and The Punisher doesn’t dabble in the supernatural like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist before it—there are no superpowers, just brute force, big guns and PTSD. The Punisher plays more like an ’80s action-revenge flick than a superhero series, and the only other familiar Marvel/Netflix face is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll); proceed with caution (and a strong stomach).

It's the end of the road for Sheriff Walt (Robert Taylor) as modern-day Western Longmire (Season 6 premiere Friday, Nov. 17, Netflix) heads into its final chapter—damn, this show has been canceled twice. After Longmire was put down by A&E after three seasons for skewing “too old,” Netflix picked up production for three more, and the series is now going out with some serious D-R-A-M-A: Walt wants to give up his badge! Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips) is a death’s door in the desert! Deputy Vic (Katee Sackhoff) is hiding her pregnancy from Walt! Jacob (A Martinez) still has the most ridiculous chin-beard in Wyoming! Anyone who misses Justified might want to take Longmire for a binge.

Apparently, 2003’s terrible The Elizabeth Smart Story TV movie wasn’t enough, so here’s I Am Elizabeth Smart (movie, Saturday, Nov. 18, Lifetime), co-produced and narrated by Smart herself. I Am Elizabeth Smart purports to be a far more real and detailed account of Smart’s 2002 Salt Lake City kidnapping and subsequent nine months of starvation, rape, torture and religious indoctrination, so … yay? At least real actors were hired this time around: Alana Boden (Ride, Mr. Selfridge) as Elizabeth, Deirdre Lovejoy (The Blacklist, The Wire) as co-kidnapper Wanda Barzee, and, best of all, Skeet Ulrich (Riverdale!) as batshit “prophet” Brian David Mitchell. Also good: No sign of Ed Smart.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the debut season of Search Party (Season 2 premiere Sunday, Nov. 19, TBS), but everybody else was (100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Da fuck?), so obviously I was wrong. The meandering story of a group of self-possessed 20-somethings (led by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) trying to solve the mystery of a missing college roommate felt more like a 90-minute indie flick that should have been buried on Netflix, not a five-hour cable series, but Season 2 appears to be onto something: Instead of resetting with a new mystery, the gang is dealing with the consequences of Season 1, including a “semi-accidental murder.” OK, I’ll try again.

The Christmas movies can’t be stopped—hail Santa! In A Gift to Remember (movie, Sunday, Nov. 19, Hallmark), bookstore owner Darcy (Ali Liebert) crashes her bike into handsome professional man Aiden (Peter Porte), sending him into a coma. When he’s rushed to the hospital, the dog he was walking gets left behind, so Darcy sorta-stalks Aiden in order to return him. Her detective work finds him to be the erudite world-traveler of her dreams—but when Aiden finally wakes up, she learns that he’s just the dog-walker for her fantasy man (and certainly not rich). Will she stick with him? Will Sandra Bullock and the producers of While You Were Sleeping sue? What does all of this have to do with Christmas?

After the excellent Legion and The Gifted (and the gawdawful Marvel’s Inhumans), do we really need another X-Men-adjacent superhero series? Marvel’s Runaways (series debut Tuesday, Nov. 21, Hulu) makes a case for itself, even more so than The Gifted, in filling the teen-angst void: Six superpowered friends learn that their parents might be part of a super-villain society; existential crises and exposition ensue. Runaways, the series, was created and produced by the minds behind The O.C., and takes its sweet time building both its teen and parental characters—but if you want splashy mutant-abilities displays, you’re going to have to wait. Did I mention that’s better than Inhumans?

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Longmire (Thursday, Sept. 10, Netflix), season premiere: Cable net A&E canceled modern-day western Longmire after its third and strongest-yet season in 2014, because the viewership demo was too old. While A&E forged ahead with shrewd new programming like Neighbors With Benefits (canceled after two episodes), Netflix picked up Longmire for a 10-episode Season 4 that continues right where it left off: Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is finally on to the man who had his wife killed, and Deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) is once again on the wrong end of a gun. Think of Longmire as a grizzled cousin to Justified, but with more pathos than clever quips, and binge all four seasons post-haste.

Z Nation (Friday, Sept. 11, Syfy), season premiere: In its debut season a year ago, lo-fi zombie romp Z Nation enjoyed the luxury of airing in a Walking Dead-free zone for a few weeks. This time around, however, spin-off Fear the Walking Dead is eating up all of the viewers and buzz—is there enough demand for all of this chomp drama? It helps that Z Nation doesn’t take itself too seriously in tone (less Dawn of the Dead, more Shawn of the Dead) or budget (an episode of Z Nation probably costs less than Norman Reedus’ hairstylist), but it’s still an iffy affair. The ragtag group of zombie-apocalypse survivors (now led by Kellita Smith, assuming the Rick Grimes badass role nicely) are still en route to California to find a Z-cure, but don’t expect them to cross paths with the Fear the Walking Dead gang in L.A.

Continuum (Friday, Sept. 11, Syfy), season premiere: The creator of Canadian time-travel actioner Continuum had up to 10 seasons in mind to tell his story; the originating network up north said, “Yeah, you’re gonna have to wrap it in four—and you only get six episodes, eh.” Will 2077 cop Kiera (Rachel Nichols) finally be able to stop “terrorist” group Liber8 from altering the future here in the present? And should she? The future Liber8 is attempting to thwart is an ironfisted, if outwardly tolerable, corporate dictatorship and zero-privacy police state. Oh, wait—we’re already there. (Sorry, been listening to that whacky Alex Jones again.)

Dancing With the Stars (Monday, Sept. 14, ABC), season premiere: Sigh. This time around, it’s Nick Carter (ex-Backstreet Boy), Victor Espinoza (jockey), Andy Grammer (mid-level pop singer), Hayes Grier (“social-media celebrity”), Bindi Irwin (daughter of the Crocodile Hunter), Alexa PenaVega (the Spy Kids movies), Carlos PenaVega (married to Alexa), Gary Busey (noted lunatic), etc., etc. Is there a legal threshold for use of the term “Star”?

The Mindy Project (Tuesday, Sept. 15, Hulu), season premiere: Even though streaming service Hulu is sticking with the old-school, week-by-week network TV model for The Mindy Project instead of dropping all of Season 4 at once (was nothing learned from Yahoo!’s fatal mishandling of Community?), at least Mindy Kaling’s Fox-canceled sitcom lives on. I would tell you that the new season opens with an alternate-lives/paths-not-taken tribute to some Gwyneth Paltrow flick called Sliding Doors, but I’ve never seen it and neither have you, so … Welcome back, Mindy!

The Bastard Executioner (Tuesday, Sept. 15, FX), series debut: As he did with Sons of Anarchy, writer/producer Kurt Sutter has cast himself and wife Katey Sagal in his 14th-century period series The Bastard Executioner; whether or not every episode runs more than 90 minutes long remains to be seen. Game of Thrones, Vikings and other dramas have tread this heightened historical ground already—but, unsurprisingly, Sutter’s take is uniquely his own: a bloody, violent, viscerally real world devoid of Thrones’ mystical hoodoo and Vikings’ low-budget cheese. The titular bastard is Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a war-scarred ex-knight of King Edward I’s army who’s called back to serve, but now as an executioner who takes the lives/heads of the highest royalty and the lowest commoners. It’s a sprawling, dense epic Sutter’s trying to pull off here—but they once said “Hamlet on Harleys” couldn’t be done, and look how Sons of Anarchy turned out. The merchandising angles, though, are somewhat more limited; don’t expect Bastard Executioner sword keychain bottle-openers at Hot Topic by Christmas.

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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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Cinema Insomnia (Roku’s Zom-Bee TV): “Your host” Mr. Lobo has presented late-night horror-cheese showcase Cinema Insomnia for 13 years through a smattering of regional cable outlets and, probably, subliminal mind control. Last year, Zom-Bee TV (available through streaming service Roku) picked up Cinema Insomnia, exposing the campy creature-feature to a slightly wider audience that needs to know: “They’re not bad movies … just misunderstood.” The suave-ish Mr. Lobo tees up classics like The Horror of Party Beach and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die with the snarky intros and interstitials you’d expect, but what sets Cinema Insomnia apart is its mind-bending, cocktail-kitsch menagerie of vintage commercials and film trailers, as well as the occasional recipe (Santo vs. the Vampire Women’s detailed snack instructional for chips and salsa: a bag of chips, a bowl, and a bottle of salsa).

Transparent (Amazon Prime): The 10 episodes of Transparent have been—rightfully so—talked up as a vehicle for TV vet Jeffrey Tambor’s out-of-the-park performance as retired professor Mort, who’s finally let it be known to his family that he’s transgender, and has always indentified as Maura. (Good call not going with Morticia.) But Transparent’s killer ensemble (which includes Judith Light, Rob Huebel, Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Carrie Brownstein and many other familiar faces) is the show, like a less-whiney Parenthood shot through an LGBT prism. Gather the family ’round after Thanksgiving dinner … well, maybe not all of them.

Hand of God (Amazon Prime): Only a single pilot episode (which was up-voted to a full series for 2015 by Amazon Prime viewers—welcome to the future) is available at the moment, but it’s a promising hour: Ron Perlman (late of Sons of Anarchy) stars as a hard-living, morally gray judge who suffers a mental break and suddenly believes God (who talks to him through his comatose son) wants him to become a vigilante for a higher law. Along for the ride are Dana Delaney (as his skeptical wife) and Garret Dillahunt (as a sketchy, Jesus-y criminal the judge enlists to help dispense his “righteous” justice). Yet he’s still more sympathetic than Sons of Anarchy’s Clay Morrow.

The Wrong Mans (Hulu): Grammatically off but otherwise very British, the six-episode The Wrong Mans follows a pair of everyday, none-too-bright city workers (Mathew Baynton and James Corden, both of Brit comedy Gavin and Stacey, the latter being next year’s Late Late Show replacement for Craig Ferguson) who inadvertently become embroiled in an intricate, dangerous conspiracy that escalates by the minute—it’s 24 and Homeland meets The Office and Parks and Recreation, with the dramatic and comedic sides played up equally. Not to sound like That Guy, but Americans can rarely pull this mix off (though The Wrong Mans was partially inspired by the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading).

Bojack Horseman (Netflix): Lame sitcom The Millers was a complete waste of Will Arnett—thankfully, CBS has canceled it so he can concentrate on a second season of BoJack Horseman. The first dropped in August—12 animated episodes about irrelevant TV star BoJack Horseman (a man-horse voiced by Arnett) who was never able to follow up his craptastic (but still better than The Millers) hit ’90s comedy, Horsin’ Around. Now he spends his days and nights boozing, whoring, lapping up what little recognition he still receives and attempting to write a comeback biography, with little help from his freeloading mansion roommate Todd (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). Like Californication remade for Adult Swim, BoJack Horseman is a sick-and-wrong slap at Hollywood, but with the random sweet, poignant aside … which inevitably turns sicker and wrong-er.

Longmire (Netflix): The first two seasons that originally aired on A&E (Assclowns & Evildoers) are available now; Season 3 will follow eventually; Netflix has rescued Longmire from A&E’s recent cancellation by agreeing to produce a fourth. So catch up, already.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR DEC. 2!

Broad City: Season 1

The hilarious New York City misadventures of broke 20-somethings Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, with assists from Amy Poehler, Hannibal Buress, Janeane Garofalo and others. Come for the female empowerment; stay for the pussy jokes. (Comedy Central)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A decade after mankind’s collapse (as you may recall from Rise of the Planet of the Apes), apes and humans are on at war to determine who will rule the planet. To be continued in Breakfast of the Planet of the Apes. (Fox)

Friended to Death

After the worst day of his life, a depressed dude (Ryan Hansen) fakes his own death on Facebook to see if anybody will “like” it; a fake funeral and ham-handed commentary on social media ensue. (Gravitas Ventures)

Gutshot Straight

A gambler who likes to live on the edge (CSI’s George Eads) makes his most dangerous bet ever, involving sex, mobsters, murder and a five-minute appearance by a morbidly obese crime boss (Steven Seagal). (Lionsgate)

Jingle All the Way 2

Divorcee dad Larry (conveniently, Larry the Cable Guy) wants to get his 8-year-old daughter the hottest gift of the season—but her new stepdad is out to foil his plans! Will Larry … make it happen? Catchphrase psych! (Fox)

More New DVD/VOD Releases (Dec. 2)

The Congress, The Dark Place, The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Idiot, Justified: Season 5, Kite, Rhymes With Banana, The Simpsons: Season 17, Sliders: The Complete Series, Speak No Evil, The Strain: Season 1

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Undateable (Thursday, May 29, NBC), series debut: When Whitney debuted in 2011, The Only TV Column That Matters™ asked, “Who’s this funny Chris D’Elia guy?” and “Why the hell are networks still producing laugh-tracked comedies in the 21st Century?” Three years later, I’m asking the same questions with Undateable. The idea of D’Elia as a delusional “player” who sets out to teach his romantically challenged buds how to play the love game is a solid one—his stand-up is loaded with hysterical relationship disasters—but Undateable’s lazy writing and cheap staging is straight outta the late ’90s, when NBC was cranking out “Must See TV” filler like it was going out of style (which it was). I’ll leave the “Unwatchable” puns to lesser TV critics.

Crossbones (Friday, May 30, NBC), series debut: During the two years (!) since Crossbones was ordered to series, Starz pissed in the pirate punchbowl with Black Sails, a hella-promoted Michael Bay joint that, while terrible, was at least glossy and buzz-y enough to snag a second season. Now, NBC finally drops Crossbones in the pre-summer dead zone on Friday nights, which essentially says, “Well, it’s paid for—let’s get this over with.” Too bad, because with a star like John freaking Malkovich and a showrunner like Neil Cross (BBC’s Luther), this could have been huge (or at least huge-adjacent) on a cable network that actually cared to launch it right. Check out Crossbones now before it gets dumped on corporate cousin Syfy, or Hulu or (ack) Esquire.

2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Saturday, May 31, HBO), special: I know something happened besides the fantastically uncomfortable spectacle of long-overdue Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss (Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, plus estranged original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley) sharing a stage and pretending not to hate each others’ guts with the burning intensity of a thousand smoking guitars … but damned if I can think of it.

Halt and Catch Fire (Sunday, June 1, AMC), series debut: The clunky title sounds like a sequel to AMC’s snoozy Revolutionary War drama Turn (which is still on, BTW), but Halt and Catch Fire is actually a piece from a different period: The early 1980s, ground zero of the personal-computer revolution—it’s The Americans meets Silicon Valley meets MS-DOS! But the setup is timeless: An ex-IBM exec (Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace) enlists a ragtag team of engineers and programmers (including Scoot McNairy as the obligatory Has-Been With a Dream genius and MacKenzie Davis as the obligatory-er Hot Girl With Punky Hair proto-hacker) to re-imagine his old boss’ gear and become a player on the still-forming computer field. Like The Americans, Halt and Catch Fire nails the look, the tech, the music and the claustrophobic, earth-toned feel of the era—and, even though we all know where this is headed, there’s a real sense of urgency and discovery to the proceedings. Barring an all-too-possible marketing misfire on AMC’s part (R.I.P., Low Winter Sun), this should explode like an old CRT monitor.

Longmire (Monday, June 2, A&E), season premiere: As Season 3 opens, Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) not only has to exonerate BFF Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) of murder charges; he also has to figure out who shot his deputy (Bailey Chase) and deal with that nagging Who Murdered My Wife mystery. Meanwhile, his other deputy, Vic (Katee Sackhoff), may or may not still have a vengeful stalker problem—and you thought Wyoming was boring. It’s a little slower and less quippy than Justified, but Longmire is the contemporary Western you should be watching in Raylan’s current absence.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR JUNE 3!

Blackout

The day before his wedding, a retired criminal finds himself on the hook for 20 kilos of stolen-mob cocaine. No sooner than you can say “one last job,” he has 24 hours to save his fiancée. Or not—there’s plenty of coke-loving fish in the sea. (Music Box)

In the Blood

When her husband is kidnapped on their Caribbean honeymoon, a woman with mad MMA skills (Gina Carano) investigates the conspiracy and then beats the living hell out of those responsible (which inevitably includes Danny Trejo). (Anchor Bay)

Robocop

In the remake of the ’80s classic, a future Detroit policeman (Joel Kinnaman) gets shot up on the job and then reassembled by OmniCorp as the half-man/half-machine Robocop. Likewise, the dark humor has been replaced with better effects. (MGM)

Super Duper Alice Cooper

The combination documentary/rock opera (doc opera?) tells the true-ish story of Alice Cooper through archival footage, animation, general depravity and chaos—like there’s any other way to tell an Alice Cooper story. (Eagle Vision)

True Blood: Season 6

Louisiana declares war on vampires; Billith (Stephen Moyer) rises; and Sookie (Anna Paquin) faces off against her parents’ killer as Tru Blood and our patience with this nonsense begin to run low. Only one more season, and it’s over! (HBO)

More New DVD Releases (June 3)

Christina Perri: The Journey, Copper: The Complete Series, Falling Skies: Season 3, Graceland: Season 1, Lone Survivor, Luther: The Complete Series, The Motel Life, Pretty Little Liars: Season 4, Workaholics: Season 4.

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