Week of Nov. 24-Nov. 30 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“The denial in Seattle gets so intense that they believe they’re not wet.” —Marc Maron, WTF With Marc Maron

“It’s by where that old pillow museum was before it was stolen.” —Zachary Brimstead Esq. (Jon Wurster) on the location of one of his chain restaurants, Best Show Gems

“Did I look annoying or annoyed? Fucking words, right?” —Paul F. Tompkins, Never Not Funny

“I don’t have any brain exercises aside from angrily untangling earbud cords in my car.” —Marc Maron, WTF With Marc Maron

NEW (TO US)

Low Times
People familiar with The Best Show On WFMU host Tom Scharpling know his passion for music—not to mention the work he does directing videos for bands like Wild Flag, Titus Andronicus, Ted Leo, and others—but he can’t necessarily indulge it on The Best Show. On his new Low Times podcast, which debuted November 13, he combines his broadcasting experience with his music fandom. Scharpling, musician/promoter Daniel Ralston, and journalist Maggie Serota go deep in their interviews, doing a nice job of leading their subjects without pressing too hard, and letting the conversation flow naturally without hurriedly moving from topic to topic. 

Episode 1 features a long Scharpling interview with Wild Flag drummer Janet Weiss, who charmingly recalls growing up in Hollywood; getting into music; the dissolution of her old band, Sleater-Kinney; and what it’s like to work with her S-K bandmate Carrie Brownstein in Wild Flag. The show shifts gears a bit when Ralston sits down with Advance Base’s Owen Ashworth, whom listeners may know from Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. He has a great story about Casiotone’s clumsy beginnings and an epic three-and-a-half-month solo European tour that left him 40 pounds lighter. Some of the best anecdotes of the episode come from Serota’s interview with Catherine Popper (bassist for Ryan Adams and Grace Potter), who has a couple great ones about being hit on by Willie Nelson and working with Chevy Chase. If this episode sets the tone for Low Times, there will be lots of interesting people from diverse musical backgrounds telling stories no one has heard outside of friends, family, and maybe message-board users. (Note: Serota contributes to Podmass, but this review was written by someone who doesn’t know her. —ed.) [AJ]

Stop Podcasting Yourself
Maximum Fun’s Stop Podcasting Yourself comes straight out of Vancouver at least once a week, averaging 90 minutes of freeform, mild-mannered comedic conversation. Co-host Dave Shumka is a DJ for CBC Radio 3, and co-host Graham Clark is a dungeonmaster and beard-painter (as in “paints pictures using his beard”). They’re both plugged into the Canadian comedy scene, so much so that they often have a case of the giggles by the time the podcast starts—and it’s infectious. 

Most Stop Podcasting Yourself episodes find the guests and hosts riffing on cultural references and lifestyle milemarkers familiar to Gen-Xers: pro wrestling, parenting, Circus magazine, and porn parodies, all sprinkled with references to Counting Crows and CompuServe, and garnished with occasional 10 (Canadian)-cent words like “onanistic.”  The episodes lack focus, but the topics shuffle quickly enough to keep even ADD-afflicted listeners engaged.

Non-Vancouver listeners will find the guests obscure but affable: Actor-improviser Brad MacNeil is best known for lip-syncing ’80s hits at Ottawa Senators hockey games. Warren Bates of improv group Pump Trolley Comedy joins in the hosts’ deconstructive streak, gingerly accepting his status as a triple-threat talent,  but wondering to whom he’s a threat. Comedian-author Charlie Demers gracefully drops dinner-party repartee like “I was feeling existentially bereft, and now I’m feeling existentially beright.”

One of the few regular bits is the always-amusing “Overheard” segment, in which listeners report jaw-dropping scenes of ineptitude, obliviousness, or general jerkery, like a caller who relates half of a phone call: “I’m not saying you’re overweight. All I’m saying is, we’re going to Cabo in six weeks, and maybe you didn’t need to eat half a pizza.” There’s far worse company to keep during your regular commute. [DXF]


OUTLIERS

Fighting Anorexia
Host Anne-Sophie Reinhardt has been suffering from anorexia for 14 years and is only beginning her path to recovery—her bio mentions that as recently as this summer, she was “taking up to 60 laxatives.” This podcast—with its striking logo of a tiara-ed skull and crossbones with a fork and spoon—is her attempt to share the lessons she’s learned with other people who suffer from eating disorders and body-image issues. Episode 18 gives helpful tips on controlling your eating during the holidays, like telling the family to shut up about gaining weight because it makes anorexics feel horrible. Reinhardt lives in Switzerland, and though she speaks English well, she often fumbles for a word. She also needs a pop screen for her microphone, and the show has some technical glitches that will annoy some listeners. However, for those people who suffer from body issues or are just interested in learning more about eating disorders, this podcast could be a helpful addition to regular therapy. [AJ]


THE BEST

Best Show Gems: A Visit From Zachary Brimstead, Esq.
One of Gems’ best, broadest in-studio appearances (and maybe one of the best Scharpling and Wurster bits ever) comes from dark-horse contender Zachary Brimstead, the corpulent barbershop crooner. After call-screener Mike (Dell?) finishes his unconvincing “squeezing Z.B. through a door frame” routine, Tom Scharpling and guest dig into some hugely satisfying bits, like a trip through the musical genre of “horror-shop,” and a synopsis of Trent L. Strauss’ bloodthirsty new Quaker flick. The nigh-unbreakable Scharpling and Wurster are usually such pros that it’s a treat hearing them crack each other up. When they slow a bit down for some improvised silliness, or the requisite callbacks, all the better: This Gem could’ve run for an hour and still been a winner, but at 35 minutes it’s dense, deliriously funny stuff. [CW]

Comedy Bang Bang #133: Fortunately Unfortunately: Patton Oswalt, Chris Tallman
Scott Aukerman vowed in Patton Oswalt’s August CBB appearance to do an in-depth, life-and-career-spanning interview that dug deep into the comedian and actor’s life. Alas, Eddie Pepitone derailed that one, and this time a creepy wannabe substitute teacher named Leslie Enters (Chris Tallman), a.k.a. “Mr. Stop It,” does the same. Regular listeners can be forgiven for confusing Tallman with Andy Daly, as their voices sound similar here, and their characters love darker comedy. Tallman’s description of the child-fighting ring he ran in Mexico really sounds like a Daly bit, but that’s a compliment. Aukerman hasn’t revived this episode’s namesake game in some time, and #133 makes a good case for keeping it on the bench. It only really shows life when Tallman sabotages it by misunderstanding how it works. (Fans should go to earwolf.com to vote on favorite moments from this year for 2011’s “best of” episode.) [KR]

Hang Up And Listen: The Roundball’s Return Edition
Even by the consistently high standards of Hang Up And Listen, this week’s episode is a standout, full of thoughtful, illuminating analysis on the current sex-abuse scandals and labor issues in sports, but with playful moments, too. The hosts discuss the hubbub over the newly struck NBA labor deal, which everyone agrees was a lopsided victory for the owners over the players, but they also note that Major League Baseball quietly inked an agreement of its own, which was comparatively underreported, yet significant in adding a Wild Card team and shifting the Houston Astros to the American League. They also bring on Greg Wyshynski, of Yahoo!’s “Puck Daddy” NHL blog, for a spirited discussion of how fighting in the league is complicated by competing impulses: the need for publicity and red-meat entertainment on one end, and safety concerns on the other. Best of all, however, are the “Afterball” segments, particularly Stefan Fatsis’ rundown of how athletes relieve themselves on the field of play. (Warning: often like infants.) 

How Was Your Week? #38: “Steampunk Goodfellas”: Mike Daisey, Gil Ozeri
Things people normally wouldn’t expect from How Was Your Week?: Julie Klausner being the only person to express ambivalence toward Whitney Cummings instead of trashing her; and some of the best critical analysis of Inglourious Basterds from Klausner and guest Gil Ozeri. Past that, this episode offered another prime example that Klausner can pontificate on any random subject for a few moments, then likely wrap it into another, equally random subject. For instance, who else would link movie screeners to an anecdote about the time a monkey stole Michael Caine’s glasses? Nobody. That’s a move that we’re now going to call “Klausnerfication.” [JD]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #36: Doug Benson
Paul Gilmartin can draw out something interesting from even his centered, less-wounded guests. Perhaps it’s harder, in a way, than talking with someone who’s got a lot of scar tissue. Comedian Doug Benson doesn’t seem to think there’s anything deeply wrong with him, but he isn’t aloof or difficult, either, as he opens up about his family background and the evolving role of marijuana in his life. Even if it never feels as shockingly revealing as your ideal Mental Illness episode, Benson makes plenty of helpful contributions to the show’s quest for openness, especially when he sheds some light on the difficulties of comic-on-comic dating. [SG]

The Moth: Chicago GrandSLAM: Part 1: Into The Wild
The Moth’s podcast is always so conveniently, succinctly just what it needs to be, so an hourlong episode might seem unwelcome at first. But once Peter Sagal (host of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!) takes care of the formalities from this competition, it’s an entirely welcome package of extra Moth. The storytelling proper begins with Matt Miller’s account of having a sketchy, Sasquatch-hunting driving instructor. Taken a few at a time, these storytellers provide a reminder of how many different tones and personalities The Moth can encapsulate: the teenager feverishly dealing with his body issues in preparation for a group trip to the sauna, the mother facing down the harsh challenges of family life,  young people processing strange encounters with raccoons and lemurs. [SG]

Sklarbro Country #70: The Sklarbro Rippers: Patton Oswalt, Jason Nash
Patton Oswalt is the Tony Randall of Sklarbro Country: the perfect guest in a pinch, and a raconteur who elevates the level of discourse wherever he goes. Oswalt hasn’t just appeared on Sklarbro Country three times as often as any other guest (not including impressionists like Jason Nash and Chris Cox); the show has also informed the way Oswalt sees sports and their relationship to the world. For him, the world of sports functions as a funhouse mirror to the equally larger-than-life realm of his beloved comic books, complete with outsized heroes and villains, some of whom even wear elaborate costumes and commit crimes (off the field, generally). The Sklars and Oswalt are united in their exuberant, unabashed passion for what they love, and that fanboy enthusiasm is infectious and endearing. It’s also a welcome antidote to the surplus of snark and negativity afflicting the podcast world. A typically strong episode closes with a visit from Jason Nash as a James Taylor, who intends to change his image from laid-back folk troubadour to badass coke dealer. It’s a silly but amusing bit, worth it just for hearing Nash’s pronunciation of “Childish Gambino.” [NR]

Sound Opinions: #313 Rock Doctors with Paul Krugman
Every now and then, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis act as “rock doctors” for listeners in need of new music. This time, they focus on one patient: New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. A self-described “aging baby boomer,” Krugman has been on the hunt lately for new bands who are melodic, yet imbued with a certain rawness. His responses to the doctors’ recommendations are surprisingly thoughtful; on Wye Oak’s great Civilian, he says he prefers the band in concert to the more produced sound of the record. (He says he generally prefers live clips on YouTube to studio versions.) Overall, Krugman sounds smart when talking about what he looks for in a song—as if this guy needed another venue for sounding smart. [SH]

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Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Death Of Stonewall Jackson
The Civil War subtopic returns, this time jumping into the Confederacy. Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty are wise not to focus on Stonewall Jackson himself, but on Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, the Confederate army physician who attended to Jackson upon the events of his death. While passionately studying medicine in Philadelphia as a young man, he got into confrontations with Northern medical students. Roughly 150 years later, McGuire remains a compelling figure who became loyal to his home state because the events of his life could not place him anywhere else. Early in his service to Jackson, McGuire saved his finger when another doctor wanted to amputate, and it led to a personal bond that lasted until McGuire served as his pallbearer. The bottom line is that McGuire was a good doctor—he remained respected even though the Confederacy lost the war, and he inspired several children to become doctors—which is why this isn’t a rote Civil War tale. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Mug Shot! Alphonse Bertillon And Criminal Identification
It stands to reason that however corrupt and outdated the prison system, there is a long academic history of criminal identification that keeps us all from jaywalking onto death row. The 19th century is when things went from completely archaic to semi-modern, and the History Class hosts do enthusiastic community service, starting with a tale of two men with the same name, measurements, and prison assignment, and diving deep into the ritual of being strapped down for mug shots. The titular gentleman, Alphonse Bertillon, developed a system of measuring unchanging human features that spread so deeply into the world’ s justice systems that Arthur Conan Doyle gave him the authentic Sherlock Holmes seal of approval. It’s also rather amazing that the system prevailed, considering that it entailed so much actual physical criminal wrestling and pre-computer data-entry. One of Charles Darwin’s cousins finally made fingerprints the staple of identification, eventually surpassing Bertillon’s efforts. But Bertillon’s rituals gave forensic science a great many tools that CSI types still use today. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Crossbows: They Look Cool
Crossbows might be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, which is a hell of a lot older than more popular weapons. How did something so bizarre stick around so long? Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant take a deep breath and plow through the history and anatomy of the weapon early on, which makes this episode’ s musings a lot more articulate than they might be otherwise (though their missed opportunity to riff on the crossbow part called a “twisted nut” is nigh unforgivable). The only real downside is that once talk turns to physics, Clark and Bryant spend so much time wrangling a conversational tone that they don’t really stop and enjoy what started as a silly, free-wheeling conversation about the coolest ways to take out a zombie in The Walking Dead. And relax, nerds: Chewbacca is not only mentioned but his weapon is correctly identified as a “bowcaster” and not a true crossbow. [DT]

Thrilling Adventure Hour #49: Captain Laserbeam! “Poetic Injustice!”
Even in a relatively short episode, you can’t fault Thrilling Adventure Hour when it comes to re-configuring old-timey character types and stereotypes. This week, the John DiMaggio-voiced superhero Captain Laserbeam takes on Lady Haiku, a villainess who conducts her evil deeds through jazz-backed poetry that would’ve once been considered “beatnik.” But the little grace notes make a difference too: If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the Captain Laserbeam segment is aimed at children and sponsored by Patriot Brand Cigarettes. [SG]

The Tobolowsky Files #52: The Rubicon 
Stephen Tobolowsky has seemingly been working his way to a thorough recounting of the triple bypass he underwent earlier in the year for several months now, and after his podcast took a break of more than a month, it might have seemed as if any new installment would have difficulty living up to the wait. But “The Rubicon”—part one of two—is one of Tobolowsky’s finest installments yet, taking listeners right up to the precipice of the man’s surgery, then leaving them there on a sort of cliffhanger. (It can’t be much of one, because he’s still here to tell the story.) Along the way, Tobolowsky hits all of the expected highlights: wry humor, unexpectedly heart-tugging moments, dream sequences, symbolism that plays out on multiple planes of existence. It’s all here, and if the second part is as good as the first, this might end up being The Tobolowsky Files’ magnum opus. [TV]

Uhh Yeah Dude #299
Uhh Yeah Dude hosts Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette sound extra-punchy and enthusiastic this week as they riff on such minutiae as National Write A Friend Month and Florida’s apparent excess of unlicensed drivers. While the pair’s readings of random celeb-magazine articles are not usually the highlights of UYD episodes, this time they’re particularly inspired as they fuss over an account of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ wedding. (And observant: How, indeed, could the writer just blithely skip over what exactly “traditional” Scientology wedding vows entail?) Besides, it takes gusto to get an engaging segment out of Romatelli’s recent injuries and surgeries. [SG]

Who Charted? #52: One Year Anniversary!: Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman helps Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack celebrate the podcast’s one-year anniversary. Instead of music clips for the opening chart discussion, the hosts play the top five guest clips as voted by listeners. Considering the segment includes Ben Schwartz, Eddie Pepitone, Harris Wittels, and Paul F. Tompkins’ improvised song about math rock, it’s safe to say Who Charted? has had a strong first year. Math rock has come up a number of times this year, and it’s always fun to hear the guests and the hosts stumble to make sense of the genre. Sarah Silverman tries to apply the term to R.E.M. and They Might Be Giants, before an engineer steps in with a cohesive definition of the genre. It’s not that anyone is expecting a bunch of comedians to be music nerds, but it’s always unintentionally hilarious by how flustered the hosts and guests while trying to make sense of indie rock. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron #230: Dr. Stephen Dansiger
Fans of WTF could be forgiven for mistaking #230 for The Mental Illness Happy Hour: It features a relatively unknown guest with a doctorate attached to his name who’s singularly focused on a troubled man’s quest for peace and tranquility. The latest installment of WTF follows guest Dr. Stephen Dansiger’s spiritual journey from the spoken-word/alt-rock scene of the ’80s and ’90s (he used to drum for King Missile and Maggie Estep) to sobriety and a series of devastating mental breakdowns. Those took him to a series of mental hospitals and then to a Buddhist monastery, where he was able to heal his fractured psyche and prepare for his new calling as a teacher. This installment of WTF isn’t nearly as loud, raunchy, or funny as others, but it’s compelling in an understated way that both demands and rewards patience. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #231: Penn Jillette
Marc Maron nails it when he says that Penn Jillette seems like he could be a difficult person (thanks to his vocal atheism and libertarianism), but he turns out to be a sweet guy. In a fast-moving conversation that is surprisingly light on magic-talk, Jillette discusses the origins of his life as a magician and entertainer with an interesting sidebar on his friendship with Screw publisher Al Goldstein. Maron and Jillette do talk politics, but the most intriguing part is how Jillette provides some of the most touching, heartwarming reasons why people shouldn’t believe in God. Prior to the interview, Maron goes on an entertaining ramble about his love-hate relationship with Seattle: He sort of wants to join those damp, earnest, bearded men, if only he could stop making fun of them. [CZ]


THE REST

The Best Show On WFMU
Just when you think Tom Scharpling’s constant playing of Led Zeppelin is wearing a little thin, R.J. from Philadelphia calls in and says that it literally saved his marriage. There’s that, and there’s the 12-year-old Glenn Beck who seems to intimidate Scharpling. Does he take so long give the pre-teen the heave-ho because he’s worried that he’d be responsible for messing up the kid’s life? Or maybe children genuinely scare Scharpling? Whatever the case, this episode probably could have used 100 percent more Vance the Puppet. [JD]

The Bugle #173a: Turkey Offal
Composed of outtakes from the past few episodes that should’ve stayed on the cutting-room floor, this is a filler episode while John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman take off for the holidays. Some of the source segments weren’t that great in the first place, but the one joke that works is about how the decrease in Greek debt is like a mullet. That’s hardly worth 30 minutes of anyone's time, so skip The Bugle until it returns in two weeks. [AJ]

Culture Gabfest: Don We Now Our Gay Apparel Edition
With Slate film critic and Gabfest regular Dana Stevens taking the week off, John Swansburg takes over her spot capably—and endorses the superb biopic Carlos, to boot—but the episode lacks energy and friction, even when Julia Turner shrugs off The Muppets, a film both Swansburg and Stephen Metcalf love with few reservations. A guest appearance by Deborah Needleman, author of the new decorating guide The Perfectly Imperfect Home, evokes the driving philosophy more than the content of Needleman’s book, and a discussion of Nathan Heller’s Slate piece on Christmas carols is conspicuously lacking Heller himself. 

Doug Loves Movies: Scott Kennedy, Jason Dick, Matt Bearden, and Charlie Hodge/Shane Mauss, Dale Dudley, Bob Fonseca, and Deb O’Keefe
Road-tripping episodes of Doug Loves Movies don’t usually come for free, so it’s commendable that Doug Benson made his Thanksgiving vacation to Austin a gratis treat for the fans. It’s hard to say what those fans who live outside a 30-mile radius of the Capitol City Comedy Club will get out of the experience, however—the panels for the episodes consist of morning-radio personalities, podcasters, and stand-ups whom only Austinites will recognize. And despite the similarities between radio and podcasting, neither episode gels. Four-person DLM panels rarely do, and when the majority of their members have spent years hosting their own shows, Benson’s slippery grasp on the reins of the ’cast makes these episodes go from “endearingly scruffy” to “interminably sloppy” in no time. The first episode manages some chuckles (drawling Austin fixture and podcasting novice Charlie Hodge slouches nicely into the Jeff Garlin role as the episode’s puckish saboteur), but the follow-up—featuring a panel Benson eventually dubs “The Make Something Out Of Everything Crew”—is an endurance test. One particularly telling Benson riff from that installment’s nearly hour-long Leonard Maltin Game: “I don’t want to say the podcast was going poorly, but at one point the entire audience screamed out ‘Go!’” [EA]

Firewall & Iceberg #104: I Hate My Teenage Daughter, The Exes, The Walking Dead & More
Thanks to cable, the world now has a sequel to Presumed Innocent (TNT’s Innocent) and a prequel to Peter Pan (SyFy’s Neverland)—both of which are optional viewing at best, say Hitfix critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall. In fact, they find everything some degree of unnecessary this week, including new sitcoms I Hate My Teenage Daughter and The Exes, the returning Arrested Development, and the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead. (The hosts’ haters will enjoy their grudging admission that they “technically” didn’t foresee its conversation-generating climax.) So the ’cast itself is an optional listen, unless you enjoy descriptions like Teenage Daughter’s Kevin Rahm as “the poor man’s Eric Stoltz.” [DXF]

Judge John Hodgman: #42 Driving Miss Drowsy
A warning to future Judge John Hodgman complainants: If you’re bringing a case to fake court, please make sure your dispute is real and not some flimsy excuse to appear on a podcast. Judge Hodgman has rarely come to a decision faster than in the disputed claim of a guy who complained of “car lag” after a road trip from Santa Cruz, California, to Brooklyn. That at least leaves Hodgman and bailiff Jesse Thorn time for some amusing docket-clearing judgments, like whether “planful” is a word. (Unfortunately, it is.) 

Never Not Funny #926: Paul F. Tompkins
While it’s possible #926 simply suffers from overly high expectations—NNF is closing up season nine on a winning streak, with podcast all-star Paul F. Tompkins as the finale’s guest—there’s something substantially missing from the episode. As Tompkins is a long-time friend of the show, maybe it’s the extra-casual slacking that causes the ephemeral topics to be jumbled together into confusion, and misaligned riffs to wind down a dead-end path. Or maybe it’s the (admittedly) too much space Jimmy Pardo gives Tompkins, and Matt Belknap’s (again, admitted) disconnect from the riffing. Regardless, it’s often a fun, giddy episode with Tompkins’ signature blustery theatrics on full display, plus lots of singing. But with all the pieces for a crack-up, #926 merely shrugs. [SM]

RadioLab: Shorts: Death Mask  
A brief but fascinating installment of RadioLab looks into the story of a drowned Parisian woman who became a sort of sensation and who lives on in an unusual and unexpected way in modern society. (In fact, you’ve probably seen her and don’t even know it.) [TV]

The Sound Of Young America: Nile Rodgers
Although listeners may not know Nile Rodgers by name, they’ve heard his work: He either wrote or produced many of the biggest dance songs from the ’70s and ’80s, such as Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” The discussion of the music and politics of disco is interesting and entertaining—Rodgers, a cancer survivor, is amiable in that “just happy to be alive” way—but it would’ve been more compelling to start with the hits and then delve into his biography, as opposed to making listeners wait to hear the stories of the funky music. [CZ]

Stuff You Should Know: How Thoroughbred Horses Work
Thoroughbreds are identified early in this episode as a topic very familiar to many and completely mysterious to just as many. Unfortunately the beginning of this episode is incredibly dense with terminology, and it takes a while for the hosts to engage listeners on an accessible level. There is a brief stretch in the middle third where breeding and physical features are addressed, but talk soon reverts to the Weatherby accountants who historically control the most boring aspects of the topic. There’s a decent explanation of why the culture is so obsessive, but it probably won’t convert any listeners. [DT]

Walking The Room #79: Leaky Cat And ’70s Showdown  
While not lacking in gleefully screwed-up conversation—including an argument about how much people’s genitals stank in the ’70s—this week’s regular Walking The Room episode certainly doesn’t top the live podcast Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony released through their webstore last week. It’s not even beneath expectations, just not quite so memorable as some other recent installments. [SG]

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