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Welcome to “Notes from the Last Drive-In,” Haunted MTL’s review and recap series of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. This is our second Joe Bob special in a month, but this time we cover the surprise special all about The Walking Dead. The Drive-In The Walking Dead special ran the first two episodes of the long-running zombie horror series. We not only were able to enjoy a visit from effects legend Greg Nicotero but had the distinct pleasure of seeing a raccoon buttplug (more on this later).

The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By”

Halloween night, 2010, over 5.35 million Americans tuned into a zombie television show on a cable network. Adapted from a comic by Robert Kirkman and directed and written by film legend Frank Darabont, the pilot was too big to fail. The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” featured British actors Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James, alongside future heavy-hitter Jon Bernthal to tell a gripping story about a man who awakes from a coma into a world where the dead have taken over.

The combination of Darabont and Kirkman here is wonderful. Where Kirkman’s writing is effective and the ideas are strong, Darabont took the material to another level. The comic itself is the equivalent of beautiful inked illustrations. The pilot was Darabont applying shading and color to create a deeper and fuller picture. Also helping in that regard, cinematographer David Tattersall gives the pilot a timeless 16mm treatment, like a glimpse into a lost late 1970s zombie film derived from Romero‘s Night of The Living Dead.

Lincoln is deft with his portrayal of Rick Grimes, a man on a mission, and Bernthal is charismatic even playing the worst guy you know. The episode belongs to Lennie James, though. His character’s story is the heart of the episode and creates an important narrative through-line that ultimately gets jettisoned until seasons later. And Lennie James acts the *hell* out of this. One wonders what would have happened had the show decided to stray from the source material and had the character of Morgan catch up to Rick in Atlanta.

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The Walking Dead‘s pilot episode, “Days Gone By,” to this day, is a monumental achievement and one of the finest zombie stories ever filmed. Is it without flaws? Not entirely, no. Characters make odd decisions, some elements, such as the “Don’t Open – Dead Inside” door are still very campy. As a singular story, up through Rick Grimes riding into Atlanta? There hasn’t been such fine, classic zombie storytelling since the 1990’s Night of The Living Dead remake. Had the episode ended with Rick riding into Atlanta via the highway on horseback you would have had a brutal, effective film. That is not to say the final moments of the episode are bad, though, it just takes what could be a singularly excellent product and makes it part of a larger series that ultimately would not live up to the standards set by the pilot.

The pilot, really, is lightning in a bottle and it could not last. The first season already had some significant issues as it wore on, but between “Days Gone By” and “Guts” the promise was there, and for a while, the show was the premiere zombie entertainment of the 2010s. I admit I felt off around season six, myself, but for a long time, this show was an obsession that hit almost everyone in the United States, even people not into horror. It was astounding, and so much of it is a result of the pilot episode.

I won’t spend too much more time on this episode, or “Guts,” the second episode, because I am planning to revisit the series as a whole once it ends, but for now, for the purposes of the review, The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” is near perfection.

Joe Bob-servations

Joe Bob’s assessment of the first feature? Four stars. While the special does smell a bit of a company mandate (maybe more of a firm suggestion), it also just genuinely felt like an acknowledgment that The Walking Dead has an important place in horror history and one that is quite deserved.

Listening to Joe Bob Briggs break down the rules of The Walking Dead universe was quite fun, especially his observations about how cynical and dark the world can be. Also of great fun was one of those infamous Joe Bob Briggs lectures, complete with map and pointer. For me, personally, this was entertaining because every time he named a movie I was able to say “been there, saw that.” It made me feel like a real zombie expert, likely along with a lot of the other hardcore zombie fans watching The Last Drive-In.

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Particularly great was having Greg Nicotero and series make-up artist Carey Jones at the drive-in. The heavy dive into the incredible effects work and crushing schedule of The Walking Dead was fascinating and slightly anxiety-inducing. The speed and scale of the work from season one are truly a marvel of production design. Of course, we also see the start of turning Darcy into a walker in the first half of the night as well. Being able to get schooled on zombies and the makeup process was quite a treat for a pre-Halloween show.

As far as new observations on the original season of the show and the masterful pilot episode, I didn’t learn much, but I also was a Walking Dead-head for quite a while, having read all the comics and been into the show for about 6 seasons or so. That being said, it was fun to be reminded of just why the pilot was so important to horror on TV.

Final Thoughts on The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By”

I could write a lot about The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By” because it is a cultural touchstone for zombie storytelling. That might be a topic best saved for another kind of article, however. As a feature for a Drive-In episode? It’s solid – maybe not quite doing things “The Drive-In Way” we are used to, but it is also just such a quality production. The Last Drive-In has been fortunate to deftly weave between the “trash” and “treasure” that makes up the horror scene – all of it wonderful, across three seasons and several specials. However, for some of the more hardcore mutants this episode might be a miss. Not for me, though. I would give “Days Gone By” the full five-Cthulhu treatment. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Best Line: “Yeah. They get more active after dark sometimes. Maybe it’s the cool air or… Hell, maybe it’s just me firing that gun today. But we’ll be fine, long as we stay quiet. Probably wander off by morning. But listen, one thing I do know… Don’t you get bit. I saw your bandage and that’s what we were afraid of. Bites kill you. The fever burns you out. But then after a while… You come back.” – Morgan Jones

Screencap of The Walking Dead from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) looking pensively away from a zombie
Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) steels himself to deal with a zombie.

The Walking Dead – “Guts”

“Guts” is the second episode of The Walking Dead‘s mostly-excellent first season and is what served as the transition point of what felt like the first episode’s “movie” style to the larger episodic nature of the series. Directed by the brilliant Michelle MacLaren, one of the most accomplished television directors out there with some incredible series under her belt, the episode is strong. The second episode has a lot to do, introducing a very large array of new characters, and MacLaren’s directorial sense, combined with Darabont’s writing handles it pretty well. For example, the episode is big on the idea of show, don’t tell. We’ll cover that in a moment.

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The episode fleshes out some of the figures introduced at the tail end of episode one. Notably, Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), Rick’s wife, is having an affair with Shane (Jon Bernthal). We also have Rick’s son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). We also get to spend more time with survivors Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) while also introducing a whole group of survivors in a besieged department store, including Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Merle (Michael Rooker). Everyone is solid here. Lincoln comes out a little stronger as a moral compass while not being overshadowed by Lennie James. Steven Yeun quickly establishes himself as the heart of the show through Glenn. Michael Rooker is Michael Rooker – pretty much the perfect deplorable bastard. I was surprised he didn’t just chew his way through the handcuffs as he did with the scenery.

The cast swells dramatically in this episode and there is a lot to establish in the world, too. One brilliant way in which that is handled is through the set design. Between Alex Hajdu and Lisa Alkofer, the world of The Walking Dead feels so much bigger and well-worn that most other horror shows would have managed to pull off, prior. Meanwhile, this episode’s cinematography from David Boyd gives the entire episode a gritty, sweaty, and grimey (pun-intended) layer, made even more horrible by the addition of dripping blood and guts from Nicotero’s team.

The second episode is largely great but does have some rather odd moments. Two examples: the lack of barricades used by the survivors for one, and the somewhat narratively pointless sewer jaunt to show us what we already know for two. None of that matters though because the survivors are dumbasses. It’s too early for them to be smart about any of this and they are still putting pieces together. This is exemplified from the best scene in the episode, where Rick and the survivors dismember a zombie to disguise their scents with guts and offal. It features a speech by Rick about the new world and a dark joke about organ donors by Glenn. It’s one of the most perfect scenes of the show that tells you everything important that you need to know.

The show absolutely had a difficult task ahead of it following the pilot, but it largely succeeds.

Joe Bob-servations

Our venerable host awarded the second episode four stars. There was a lot of great discussion with Greg Nicotero about the production of the show, following up on points established in the first half of the night. Joe Bob also made some quite salient points of The Walking Dead being a western, particularly given the frontier-like nature of the zombie apocalypse. Lastly, I appreciate the discussion on the lasting impact of the series. Despite the very vocal community of The Walking Dead haters, the show is still absolutely a top performer in horror television and spawned an entire, massive franchise, all derived from the comic book.

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Of course, the highlight of these host segments was the journey of Darcy becoming the living dead through the efforts of make-up effect artist Carey Jones. Zombie Darcy sluggishly chewing the scene as a zombie was quite adorable. Plus… one fan sent in a raccoon-heat buttplug. What a great introduction to the show from curious fans of The Walking Dead.

Final Thoughts on The Walking Dead – “Guts”

“Guts” has some heavy lifting to do regarding the task of turning a film-like pilot into part of a longer television narrative and largely succeeds. Though there are some cracks that show in logic in order position characters in certain situations, the episode is strong. Much of the strength comes from the episode’s primary setpiece involving those titular “guts.” Overall, the episode is a four-Cthulhu effort. Not as sterling as the pilot, but certainly no slouch, either. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Best Line: “If bad ideas were an Olympic event, this would take the gold.” – Glenn

Screencap of The Walking Dead from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs featuring Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) covered in zombie gore in an alley
Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) attempt to fool the undead by smelling like them.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

We have our official Drive-In totals from Shudder, of course.

As for our own totals, we have –

  • 1 undead mail girl
  • 2 special effects makeup experts
  • 3 rules of The Walking Dead
  • 5 rules of the Romero zombie
  • a bajillion car alarms
  • Zombie BBQ
  • Zombie schooling
  • Gratuitious zombie history lecture
  • gratuitous prop collection reveal
  • Raccoon head buttplug
  • Corporate synergy fu
  • Walker makeup fu
  • Cannibal jokes
  • Lawyer jokes
Screencap of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs with Darcy in walker makeup
Vegetarian Darcy finally makes the carnivorous switch.

Episode Score

I will never complain about new specials for The Last Drive-In and as far as I am concerned, The Walking Dead is right in the wheelhouse of the show. I know some fans were a bit negative about the focus being on The Walking Dead, but they let their perspective be clouded by what the show had become, and not what it was. This special also had the bonus of deep, insightful discussion about what the appeal of the zombie is, what makes a zombie look good, and even a few nods to how tight the show’s cast and crew had become. This show was a great reminder about what was so revolutionary about The Walking Dead, and Joe Bob Briggs is just the right voice to convey that to the audience.

This installment of The Last Drive-In was also quite a good introduction to what fans love about Joe Bob Briggs and the crew of the show, raccoon-buttplug and all. it is goofy, affectionate, but also knowledgeable and insightful. Where else can you get a glimpse of Greg Nicotero’s process and props without breaking into his home, really? Plus, the fun of turning Darcy into a walker is not something you see on most horror-hosting shows. Likely, for many viewers of The Walking Dead, this may be their first encounter with Joe Bob, and horror hosting outside of Elvira. Just be thankful we can show more people how things are done the Drive-In way.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

We’ll see you again with a new review and recap in December when The Last Drive-In returns with a Christmas Special. I confirmed this directly with Darcy on Saturday at the Victorville Scarefaire. So until then, mutants, please let us know what you thought of the night or the review for that matter. And please browse Haunted MTL for even more horror news, reviews, and fiction.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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