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Evil (2019) s01e06 – Let x = 9

So in addition to Christine Lahti becoming bride to the unclean one through some really good third grade poetry imagery because “Evil” is really condescending to its target audience, the Christians who vote blue, the episode also confronts the whole “child rape” thing with the Catholic Church. Confronts as in lapsed Muslim skeptical charming aloof guy Aasif Mandvi makes a crack about it; a serious crack about it sure but a crack. “Evil” really wants to pretend people haven’t figured out the Catholic Church basically functions the way it does to protect child rapists. Like, when did it start. Was it before the Borgias? After? Because it started hundreds of years ago.

And “Evil” wants you to forget about it because Mandvi is the most successful character on the show and because it’s like “American Horror Story” for your grandma or something. It’s a CBS-ed horror story. With conspiracies and symbolism and blah blah blah.

But it’s also one of the most successful episodes in a while because Katja Herbers gets a bunch to do and she’s awesome at it. The scenes themselves vary, but she’s always good. Until the second half twist—surprise, sexy grandma Lahti’s new stud is none other than decently not sexy grandpa Michael Emerson, who also has kind of been stalking Herbers since the beginning of the show in order to further his life goal of promoting evil in the world. Can Lahti give him up for Herbers and the four adorable granddaughters, who Emerson has drawing secret symbols and singing creepy religious songs? Oops, I spoiled it in the first sentence. But whatever, doesn’t matter. “Evil”’s very deliberately plotted. To the point it supersedes everything else going on in the show; in some ways it feels like a very standard eighties nighttime mystery drama—Herbers and Mike Colter’s workplace romance—and very edgy for the USA Network in 2005. Like if they’d done a “Da Vinci Code: The Series” and it was surprisingly mean-spirited. But with some patronizing exploitation.

Still, the acting can be great. Herbers is great here. Colter is not. But he’s okay, it’s the script. And Mandvi’s awesome. Of course he’s awesome, he gets tapped selling the “eh, it can’t be all priests, right?”

I mean, icky. But also… CBS tame for 2019. Both sides but we’re pretending politics don’t exist.

Also… Emerson basically just seems like he’s doing a Kevin Spacey impression.

All Rise (2019) s01e06 – Fool for Liv

Something about this episode feels like it ran into the show’s budget. Though there’s some location shooting. Kind of a lot of it, but there’s no action at the locations. There’s standing or sitting. And it’s never on the A plot, always B or even C. On the A plot, outside Jere Burns as a terribly written slick defense attorney, everything feels like it’s under serious constraint. Burns is defending a social media star’s assistant, accused of murdering the social media star. All of the assistant’s fans are in the courtroom disrupting the proceedings, making judge Simone Missick look unable to control her courtroom so her job is ostensibly in jeopardy and Burns is being slick instead of actually lawyering and on and on.

But it’s all done cheap. It’s supposed to be lighting up social media only the show never shows how that lighting up affects anything. It’s like the show knows having social media fans dox jurors is bad, but it doesn’t know why it’s bad. Does “All Rise” even employ any legal consultants? It doesn’t seem like it does.

There’s some good stuff with Missick and court clerk Ruthie Ann Miles hanging out, but in a very humorous way not in actual character development way. I’m also not sure but it seems like Missick is having trouble not laughing at some of Miles’s best deliveries. And the stuff with Missick and Burns gets to an all right point, so it’s a shame to episode doesn’t end with it but instead subjects us to more of Jessica Camacho and J. Alex Brinson’s courtship.

So Camacho’s got a case where she’s defending a guy against Wilson Bethel, who’s got nothing to do this episode because he’s not allowed to try cases in front of Missick and instead his boss, Reggie Lee (who’s a regular?), tries it. Bethel and Camacho are trying to work out a plea deal for her client, whatever. The episode makes Bethel seem potentially shady, which he isn’t. “All Rise” is aspirational. Bethel’s a white knight. But Camacho doesn’t seem to trust him, but then she does once Bethel reminds her he’s a white knight. Their plot feels like writer Conway Preston was just trying to pad out the episode. It’s not good. It’s lazy.

Camacho and Brinson’s cutesy courtship is worse though. It’s annoying. They’re now officially obnoxious together, which is too bad because they’re both likable apart. And their relationship used to be cute versus cutesy.

I think this episode’s the equivalent of a bunt, if I’m getting my baseball metaphors right.

All Rise (2019) s01e03 – Sweet Bird of Truth

I’m very curious how this episode went through standards and practices. Was there a version of it where Black bailiff J. Alex Brinson doesn’t give a heartwarming speech about how the sheriff’s department needs to work within the system to fix the system. It’s just after Brinson has approached the fellow deputy (Christopher Amitrano) pulled him over and cuffed him the day before for jogging while Black. Amitrano gets a shot to himself during Brinson’s speech, so we know if we just wait long enough and explain it to the white supremacists the right way, we can all get along. It’s toothless, just when “All Rise” seemed like it might have some actual teeth.

It’s particularly bad because there aren’t actually many Black people in the cast. Two. Sure, it’s judge Simone Missick (she’s not exactly the lead but it’s about her courtroom and experiences in it), but the show goes out of its way to imply how out of place Missick (and Brinson) feel. And this episode seems like they’re taking it really seriously. They don’t want to offend anyone, but they’re taking the institutionalized racism thing seriously. Only it’s a passive thing, people can’t really control it. But if you get too out of hand—like evil violent white supremacist Ryan Brady. I mean, hey, the show’s saying assault with a vehicle is real assault and does real damage—it’s like the show thinks it can play woke in one column but not the other. Especially since the whole episode you’re just waiting for Brinson to have some awesome speech or confrontation and instead it’s… civility. Eye-roll.

But, I suppose, much more what I was expecting from “All Rise.”

Missick and Wilson Bethel don’t hang out much this episode. It’s one of the subplots. But Bethel’s busy with the Brady case, being an earnest white savior. It only works—as far as it works—because it’s Bethel and his tense energy. We also meet Bethel’s girlfriend, Nadia Gray, and Missick’s husband, Todd Williams. The show doesn’t even pretend it cares Gray and Bethel or Missick and Williams have any chemistry together.

There’s also a cringe-y part where Bethel argues well in court so the judge rewards him by recognizing brown person have rights and the show presents it as a win. See, all the racist old white men judges want is some creative courtroom antics before they’ll recognize non-white people as people.

And you can tell “Rise” thinks that Brinson speech is pushing the envelope, even though it’s as fake as when Bethel and Williams chest bump or something because they’ve clearly never hung out in their lives and it’s unimaginable they would. But anyway.

Evil (2019) s01e05 – October 31

There’s something up with the racial optics on “Evil.” The all-Black Catholic parishioners is a thing. The show kind of dares you to notice it, but it’s a thing. Black Catholics are not a familiar TV trope; I can’t think of one besides Frank Pembleton and they made a big deal out of the Catholic thing. Irish folks, Latinx folks, they’re mass media Catholics. Not Black people. Or maybe “Evil”’s just doing a godawful job introducing the general audience to the realities of Black Catholic life. Like the possessions and the ominously mentioned “Sixty,” which the head Catholic guy (who’s white, see, optics) told Mike Colter not to worry about.

Clearly it’s a building storyline because this episode leaves Colter and Katja Herbers on the outs. Even more than on the outs, Colter didn’t help her save her kids from a possibly dangerous Halloween prankster. We don't really know if she's dangerous because deus ex machina; even if she's not it's some really exploitative manipulation. The grandkids are in danger because grandma fell for a psychopath because she's a drunk. And easy.

See, grandma Christine Lahti starts the episode getting picked up by the guy who’s stalking and threatening her daughter, Michael Emerson. Emerson and Lahti are a lot closer in age than I thought—she’s only four years older—but one assumes, even if Emerson is playing his actual age of sixty-five, Lahti isn’t playing her age of sixty-nine. She certainly seems like she’s playing at least ten years younger. Though, I guess both Emerson and Lahti look great for their ages (I seriously thought he was like forty-nine)… so maybe it’s some CBS boomer thing. I don’t know.

Regardless, I don’t buy Lahti would fall for slick, slimy, and not hot Emerson. I also don’t buy that Herbers is keeping her mom in the dark to the degree of not mentioning the psychopath-creating clinical psychologist she met. Emerson gives her his real name. She checks his LinkedIn. Or whatever the “Evil” variant.

It just doesn’t seem likely. Even if you assume the characters are real dumb… it doesn’t seem likely.

Anyway, Aasif Mandvi has an okay (comparatively) plot about meeting YouTube ghost-hunter Nicole Shalhoub and getting flirty while appearing on her dumb show, but comparatively is the key word. Mandvi doesn’t get anything to do where you’re left wondering how he can function when the show isn’t happening. Colter and Herbers are all of a sudden dangerously near that point. This episode does them no favors. Not them, not the show.

And the Exorcist homages were stupid.

(Also, I checked the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)—Black Catholics aren’t a statistically significant thing according to them).

Evil (2019) s01e04 – Rose390

The show goes a little overboard with the scary tech angle. Even more than last time. This time it’s pedophiles hacking AR games and grooming kids when they’re playing on their headsets. The kids in question are lead Katja Herbers’, as it’s not clear the problem child at the center of the episode (Luke Judy) is even using the headset. It’s also not clear if the hacker is a pedophile or if they’re Michael Emerson, who doesn’t appear in the episode, but maybe because he’s hacking AR games to encourage kids to kill.

“Evil” appears to work a lot better either with Emerson and without Herbers’ kids or without Herbers’ kids and with Emerson. Maybe because with Emerson around you can’t believe Herbers wouldn’t have her family locked in a safe room, clutching a shotgun. The show hasn’t really done anything with Emerson threatening her family. It’s just an “of course he did, he’s the bad guy,” which seems narratively and dramatically suspect.

Mike Colter gets something to do except mope about not getting as good of God visions when he trips anymore. Funny how he played Luke Cage but now he’s the one chasing the dragon. Wokka wokka. This episode is all about him bonding with annoying little Judy and even trying to give him psychiatric advice even though Colter’s just guessing what he ought to say. One would assume, despite him shrooming to see God, Colter at least knows not to mess with burgeoning serial killers’ minds. Surely the Catholic Church wouldn’t let him act so irresponsibly. For a different kind of wokka wokka.

Speaking of the Catholic Church, Clark Johnson’s back as Colter’s exorcist priest buddy. It’s nice to see Johnson but it’s a kind of crap part. He’s around to add some dramatic heft and he doesn’t even get to add much.

But it’s a more solid episode. The stuff with the family is actually good and disturbing instead of being annoying. Sure, the show’s take on hacked AR games probably ought to be a little more grounded in reality if they’re going to terrify parents. It’s all so creepy they could’ve gotten away with Herbers reading a number aloud to call to report the game or something.

Night Call (1964, Jacques Tourneur)

Night Call’s pre-Rod Serling tag has lead Gladys Cooper having trouble sleeping through a thunderstorm. She then gets two phone calls at 2 a.m., with just static on the line. The next day, after the Serling intro promising Cooper’s in for a momentous event, Cooper tries reporting the phone calls to the phone company but they’ve been having lots of trouble on account of the storm. The operator kind of dismisses her, as does her day-time caretaker, Nora Marlowe. See, Cooper’s kind of a mean old lady–her family doesn’t want anything to do with her–so she gets zero sympathy from Marlowe and, really, Night Call.

The phone calls continue, with the buzz eventually becoming moaning (a man moaning) and then the moaning just becomes the guy saying “Hello” over and over again. Cooper in a full panic, Marlowe is just as unsympathetic (the utter lack of chemistry between Cooper and Marlowe probably hurts Night Call but it’s hard to even imagine they could have any rapport), the phone company is investigating. All Cooper can do is wait. While the calls keep coming.

And somehow Marlowe’s never around to hear them–she’s convinced Cooper’s lying for the attention or something. Turns out, of course, she’s not. Instead there’s some highly contrived explanation along with some pointless comeuppance–watching Marlowe berate Cooper in one scene seems like elder abuse but also with some sexism thrown in–and a pat, predictable ending.

Cooper’s performance is… mediocre. Better than Marlowe, though Marlowe’s got no character to even hint at playing, but still quite mediocre. Tourneur’s direction is similarly middling. The interior stuff is boring, the exterior stuff is not. Except when Tourneur’s got to hammer in the point for the big finale. Rather nice photography from Robert Pittack (especially outside) and solid editing from Richard V. Heermance.

Night Call doesn’t particularly have anything going for it–acting, directing, writing–it’s kind of fine, but so what.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, Robert Pittack; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by the Central Broadcasting System.

Starring Gladys Cooper (Elva Keene), Nora Marlowe (Margaret Phillips), and Martine Bartlett (Miss Finch).


Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown (1985, Bill Melendez)

Right after Snoopy decides to get married–appropriate since the special’s titled Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown–Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) worries about how Snoopy will handle the responsibilities of marriage. Now, Charlie Brown finds out Snoopy is getting married because Snoopy has given him a letter to send to his sort of ne’er-do-well brother, Spike. So Snoopy can write a letter in English but Charlie Brown is worried about him handling marriage. Charlie Brown’s got a lot to say for an eight year-old.

Later on, after Spike has traveled from the California desert to stand up for his brother, Lucy (Heather Stoneman) harshly comments on Spike’s ragged appearance. Because she’s a crappy little kid.

Getting Married is never charming enough to make up for the absurdity of the premise and never absurd enough to be charming. The beginning–when Snoopy meets his bride-to-be–has Peppermint Patty (Gini Holtzman) calling up Charlie Brown to ask for Snoopy to watch her house. Her dad has left her alone to go on a business trip.

She’s eight.

Charles M. Schulz really stretches the suspension of disbelief here. Because every time he spreads it thinner, it’s because it’s lazy writing, not a terrible concept. The Peanuts kids throwing Snoopy a wedding could be charming. But they’re all awful when they’re preparing for it. And most of the special is just Spike traveling cross country, which would be fine if Schulz had anything for him to do once he arrives, but he becomes background. He’s kind of amusing when he just stands around because he’s funny looking, but not enough.

There’s a cute scene or two involving Woodstock and the animation is all fine. Melendez’s direction isn’t great, but the animation is fine. Judy Munsen’s music is fine.

The acting is rough. Only Johnson gets a lot of lines–he’s got to read Snoopy and Spike’s letters after all–and you can almost see the actor sitting there reading them flat off the page. Lousy expository dialogue too.

Sure, Getting Married could be a lot worse, but it couldn’t be much more pointless.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann and Julie Maryon; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), Heather Stoneman (Lucy van Pelt), Fergie (Sally Brown), Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984, Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes)

It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown has to be seen to be believed… but also doesn’t need to be seen at all. The special is a Peanuts-riff on… Flashdance. Like, Snoopy saw Flashdance and has become inspired to go out dancing until dawn every night. Meanwhile the Peanuts kids are into dancing now too. Though their dancing is themed–i.e. Peppermint Patty leads an aerobics dance, which makes sense, Charlie Brown leads a hoedown, which doesn’t, Lucy does a “Lucy Says” directional song… set to Hey Ricky. It’s all very, very, very weird.

But also not particularly good. There are a few funny bits–but there’s not a lot of story; the kids have a dance party and Snoopy and Woodstock are messing around with the punch. Only Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) sees what’s happening. It’s funny. It’s also nowhere near enough to make Flashbeagle anything more than an oddity.

Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes’s direction is fine. On the non-musical number parts, it’s downright good. And while the musical numbers are extravagantly produced and well-animated, they don’t dazzle. The original songs are synth-poppy, which gets annoying fast. I suppose the special’s also of interest because it shows a lot of adults (out clubbing, before they step aside so Snoopy can get down to his theme song… which kids listen to on boomboxes at one point).

It’s weird. Flashbeagle is very weird.

Not weird enough to be worth a look though. The acting is fine. Johnson’s not particularly impressive as Charlie Brown, but Fergie’s good as Sally. Gini Holtzman is an all right Peppermint Patty, even if her song is astoundingly obnoxious.

Somehow Fleshbeagle itself isn’t obnoxious. Just… strange.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley, Chuck McCann, and Richard C. Allen; music by Desirée Goyette and Ed Bogas; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Fergie (Sally Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983, Bill Melendez)

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is exceedingly intense. It doesn’t start intense, though it does start a little different. There’s this gradual shot–with Judy Munsen’s lovely score accompanying–moving through all the toys in Charlie Brown’s house before it gets to his bookshelf. The books with visible spines are heady classic novels; but Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten) is getting down his picture album. He’s got to put in some snapshots from his trip to France–Learned is direct sequel, time-wise not tone-wise, to the theatrical Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown–and Sally comes over to ask what he’s doing. So he tells her about the events of his trip after the movie.

His recounting starts as comedy. It’s Charlie Brown, Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg), Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas), Marcie (Michael Dockery), and Snoopy and Woodstock. Snoopy is driving because when it’s a bunch of eight year-olds without adult supervision, it’s best to let the beagle drive. Even if he does get into multiple accidents throughout the special. After Snoopy wrecks the car and gets into a fight with a flock of ducks, the kids have to rent another one. Good thing Marcie speaks French (she’s the only one who does).

Up to this point, Learned is well-produced–great animation, excellent direction from Melendez, that Munsen music, and a strong script from Charles M. Schulz–but nothing particularly special. Then the kids camp out for the night and Linus realizes they’re on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. He goes down to the beach and, through rotoscoping, “sees” the D-Day invasion. The rotoscoping colorizes the black and white footage with bold, bright colors, creating a wonderful tonal contrast between the Peanuts kids’ adventure and the history they’re encountering.

Once the other kids wake up, Linus tells them where they are and all about D-Day. They explore the area, culminating in a walk through the American cemetery, with an Eisenhower speech accompanying them. Learned got intense starting with Linus’s beach visions. The cemetery tour, which is visually magnificent, just ratchets it up even further.

There’s some more humor–really good physical gags–to calm things down. Then they get to Ypres, a World War I site, and Linus tells the other kids about it. The WWI sequence is much shorter–no rotoscoped footage–and initially seems like it won’t be as affecting as the D-Day sequences. Then Linus starts reciting John McCrae’s poem, *In Flanders Field*, with accompanying visuals, and it devastates. Munsen’s music plays a big part, effectiveness-wise.

Schulz wraps it up–before a gently comedic bookend–with some succinct profundity. It’s all very intense.

Great script, animation, direction, and music. Schoenberg is excellent with the lengthy expository monologues. The rest of the cast is good, they just don’t have the heavy lifting Schoenberg gets.

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), Brad Kesten (Charlie Brown), Victoria Vargas (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), and Stacy Heather Tolkin (Sally Brown).


It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1983, Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez)

Despite being an anthology of eight different stories, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown does not have many adventures. Well, not in the adventurous sense. They’re still good, they’re just not… adventures. The special runs forty-seven minutes, with the eight stories having differing lengths.

The first three stories are the most substantial. There are two Charlie Brown (Michael Catalano) stories and then a Peppermint Patty (Brent Hauer) and Marcie (Michael Dockery) one.

The stories all have titles, which nicely delineates them. The first is “Sack,” in which Charlie Brown becomes so obsessed with baseball he develops a rash on his head. The rash looks like baseball stitches. His solution is to wear a paper shopping bag over his head; his doctor’s solution is for him to get away from it all and go to camp. There he becomes incredibly popular… because he’s got a bag over his head.

It’s a good start to Adventure, with a nice performance from Catalano, and some great moments. Charles M. Schulz adapted all of the stories from the Peanuts comic strip, so the proverbial tires are in good shape throughout, regardless of story length. There’s also a wonderfully absurdist punchline to the whole thing.

The next story is “Caddies,” which has Peppermint Patty and Marcie working as caddies for a couple bickering golfers. Hauer and Dockery are both good, there are some strong jokes, and some rather nice animation. Again, not really an adventure, but a good bit. It too has a strong punchline, while the rest of the stories have far more unassuming ones.

Like “Kite,” the last of the three longer stories. Charlie Brown finally cracks and attacks the Kite Eating Tree, resulting in a threatening letter from the EPA. Like any sensible eight year-old, upon receipt of the letter, he runs away. He doesn’t get too far before he finds himself coaching a bunch of younger kids’ baseball team. It’s a really sweet story, as Charlie Brown bonds with the kids, particularly little Milo (Jason Mendelson) who’s so young he can’t hold a bat.

Then there are two much shorter stories, one with Schroeder (Brad Schacter) and Lucy (Angela Lee Sloan) fighting as he tries to play his piano, the other with Sally (Cindi Reilly) having school problems. Both are visually simple, but the one with Schroeder and Lucy is so spared down the focus is all on the characters’ interaction. It’s rather effective thanks to Schacter and Lee Sloan’s performances.

The next two stories–”Butterfly” and “Blanket” are longer, but not as long as the opening three. And “Butterfly” is almost stellar, it just ends too soon. A butterfly lands on Peppermint Patty’s nose. After she falls asleep, Marcie takes the butterfly off and coaxes it to fly away. Only then Marcie tells Peppermint Patty the butterfly turned into an angel before flying away, convincing Patty she’s a practical prophet. She goes from telling the various Peanuts kids about the miracle before deciding to take her message to houses of worship. It’s good and funny and all, but for a moment it seems like Schulz is getting downright ambitious with Peppermint Patty’s (still very Peppermint Patty-like) evangelicalism.

“Blanket” has Lucy getting fed up with Linus’s blanket–to be fair, the blanket does attack her multiple times–and trying to dispose of it in various ways. Obviously these attempts cause Linus (Rocky Reilly) considerable consternation–and panic–as he tries to save the blanket. It’s a good story, with a lot of excellent animation (Adventure goes all out animation-wise); Reilly’s decent and Lee Sloan is good, even if she’s exceeding unlikable. Lucy gets cruel.

Then the Adventure ends with a short “Woodstock” and Snoopy bit. It’s adorable and, like most of the special, reserved and subtle.

While It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown lacks in frenzied imagination, the good performances, good direction, good animation, and strong writing more than compensate. It’s never particularly exciting, it’s always assured and well-executed. The longer, ten or twelve minute stories are a rather good length for the segments. The anthology format works out well. It’s too bad the directors don’t get credit for their individual segments; it’d be interesting to know who did what.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Catalano (Charlie Brown), Angela Lee Sloan (Lucy van Pelt), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Brad Schacter (Schroeder), Jenny Lewis (Ruby), Johnny Graves (Austin), and Jason Mendelson (Milo).


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