Shatner Week: Se7en

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We thought we’d wrap up Shatner Week with as much Shatner as you can cram into 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Back in 1996, someone at the MTV Movie Awards had the stroke of genius to ask Shatner to parody Best Movie award nominee, Se7en. And in true Shatner fashion, he accepted and delivered this gem.

Hats off to you, Bill, and thanks for all the entertainment.

Shatner Week: The Transformed Man

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As mentioned in yesterday's post, William Shatner has parodied himself quite a bit and found some success with that in commercials and bit parts in movies going back to 1982 in Airplane II, but I've had mixed feelings about that. I was glad that he could find exposure and work of some kind (especially the Third Rock from the Sun appearances), but I felt like the man who gave us Captain Kirk deserved better.

But it was that role of Captain Kirk that appeared to be a major hurdle to him. After Star Trek, Shatner went from 1969 to 1975 doing primarily guest star roles on TV shows. It wasn't until Barbary Coast in 1975 when he got a full-time gig again, although it was very short-lived. Then he went another stint, from 1976 to 1982 (T.J. Hooker), without a regular gig. Kirk was clearly in the way and the only way to get non-Trek work was to play the parodies or find something that was Trek-like (the awful Tekwar movies and series). And in neither scenario did Shatner have the opportunity to really refine his craft.

Fortunately, David E. Kelly inserted Shatner into a role that would allow him to refine his craft. He was cast in The Practice and in the subsequent spin-off Boston Legal and played a character in Denny Crane that was unlike Captain Kirk in so many ways. Finally, Shatner had a chance to show off some acting chops and it even garnered him two Emmys and a Golden Globe.

By no means is Shatner necessarily at the end of his career, but he turned 78 on Sunday so one has to realize that we're not talking about the 35-year-old starship captain anymore. But no matter what he does from here on out, he proved with Denny Crane that he could do it...he could get past Captain Kirk and finally become...The Transformed Man.

Shatner Week: Has Been

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I'm not entirely sure what Shatner was trying to accomplish with The Transformed Man. What may have been an attempt to be truly artistic turned into a largely mocked and campy outcome. The album is Shatner unleashed and I think Shatner is at his best on a leash.

Shatner's performances of "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" offer a peculiar glimpse into this man's mind. Why these two songs and why this style of delivery? I can't answer those questions with any certainty. Perhaps he believes his voice to be so great that just speaking the lines of a song will entice fans to buy an album. But I don't think that's it. I truly think he's an artist trying to experiment with something, but no one quite gets what he's trying to do. Maybe not even him.

At least he had a good sense of humor about it. He parodied his own style in Priceline commercials and even more brilliantly in the movie Free Enterprise where he performs a monologue from Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar set to rap.



So, 38 years after The Transformed Man, someone named Ben Folds must have wanted to try the experiment again. And this time, it worked beautifully. Though not for everyone (i.e. my wife), Has Been is an excellent album and represents what every vanity project like this should be. The album is full of poignancy, heart, and substance that many albums today don't have.

This would not have worked without the modern-day musical genius brain that the body of Ben Folds houses. Only Ben Folds could find Shatner at the low point of self-mockery and reach out his hand and put together a piece of work like this.

The entire album is worth a listen, but my personal favorites are "Together," "Common People," "Real," and "That's Me Trying."

Sometimes I think about what if I had the chance to put together an album with a well-known musical artist. What topics would I want to hit? What message would I want to convey? What would my album be about? I could only hope that it would be as good as Has Been.

Shatner Week: T.J. Hooker

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Don't mess with TJ

Take a hard-bitten crime drama, pepper in some 80s TV action, and then add a whole lot of Shatner. The result is T.J. Hooker.

I don’t know if it was Rick Husky or somebody else who came up with the idea to blend those elements, but that person struck the right chord. The show debuted with top 30 ratings, lasted 5 seasons, and went on to be referenced/spoofed by the likes of Saturday Night Live, Robocop, the MTV Movie Awards, and The Sopranos.

On the surface it probably seemed ludicrous to cast Shatner as a grizzled veteran who sacrificed nearly everything to be a cop. However, Shatner just seemed comfortable in the role of middle aged mentor who still has some heroics in him. The parallels with the aging Admiral Kirk in Wrath of Khan no doubt worked in his favor.

To be fair, the show did feature some incredibly over the top dialogue and action sequences where “the overactor” Shatner could run wild. While those elements probably contributed most to the show’s pop-culture cachet, they were also the things that glued CT and me to the tube to catch T.J Hooker reruns during college. And if you get past the cheese, you’ll find a crime drama which is surprisingly gritty by 1980s broadcast standards.

The pinnacle of T.J. Hooker episodes, Target Hooker, isn’t available online or DVD at the moment, but watch a little of what’s available at Hulu and tell me it’s not fun.

Shatner Week: Star Trek

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Captain James T. Kirk, the role that William Shatner is best known for, would very likely be on the "Nerd Mount Rushmore." (Who else makes it on the "NMR"? That's another post.) In watching Classic Trek, there are three different William Shatner's:

1) The overactor. This is the William Shatner that everyone makes fun of. The ham. He's the one that places odd pregnant pauses into his speech patterns, emphasizes words in slightly odd ways, and makes exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. Sometimes this William Shatner is jarring, but he has quite a bit of flair that can't help but be admired. If nothing else, he brings energy to the character and infuses it with quite a bit of fun. This helps to sell the "funny" episodes of Classic Trek like "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "A Piece of the Action."

2) The operator. I call this Shatner "the operator" because all he does is phone his performance in. There are some bad episodes of Classic Trek and they are not made any better by a Shatner who knows it's a stinker. And Shatner also really works well with DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy because they tend to balance him out. So when he's forced to work with characters he doesn't have good chemistry with, say Koenig and Nichols in "The Gamesters of Triskelion," he just sort of takes control and doesn't have anyone to reign him in.

3) The officer. Sadly, this is a Shatner we probably didn't see enough of. This Shatner was pretty exclusive to the early first season. He was a serious career captain who obviously cared about his crew. But he was actually pretty strict and would cut anyone of his crew down to size if they didn't perform to a level he expected. He loved the Enterprise and would do anything to protect her. He was human and made mistakes, but he owned up to them and made things right. Still, he had a reserved, calculating side that came out in "The Balance of Terror" or "The Corbomite Manuever" that showed why despite his faults, he was in charge. It's a shame that this Shatner didn't show up for more episodes.

When it came to the movies, Shatner showed his acting chops the best in Star Trek II. On the director's commentary for II and VI, Nicholas Meyer reveals that the way he got what he wanted out of Shatner was by doing scenes over and over again so that all of "the overactor" stuff got out of the way. And the scripts were strong enough that "the operator" doesn't make an appearance in either of those two movies.

I think Shatner is some sort of genius and doesn't get the credit that he deserves for the success of Star Trek. Imagine a Star Trek as popular as it is today if Jeffrey Hunter had stayed in the captain's chair.

Yeah, I can't either.

Shatner Week: Happy Birthday to William Shatner

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Recently, while in a rare social gathering, someone within the group started talking smack about William Shatner. Basically called him over-rated, a bad actor, and general other put-downs. People who say stuff like that just don't get William Shatner.

I am by no means saying that I do get him. However, I certainly appreciate him and what he brings to the Nerd Lunch table and would even call myself a fan. Enough of a fan that I wanted to explore some of what I like so much about him. So, I thought it fitting that Nerd Lunch would look at the legendary William Shatner over the next few days in honor of his birthday.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shatner!

March Madness

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For years, I saw sports as the sworn enemy of all things nerd. My disdain for sports matched my passion for my nerd interests. Playing them, watching them, it didn't matter. I hated sports. I think it was more than just not being good at them. It was even more than a general disdain for the high school sports stars who acted like they ran the school. It was the sports fans themselves for whom I really developed an animosity.

It wasn't that I begrudged the sports fan for liking sports. It was the double standard that existed, and still exists for the sports fan. Being able to name all 32 NFL football fields is "acceptable" by society's standards. Being able to name ever actor who portrayed The Doctor is not. Wearing a football jersey? That's fine. Is that a Green Lantern shirt you have on? That's not cool. Gotta get home to check my fantasy football results! Great! Can't do anything with you Saturday, my D&D group is getting together. Dork! Wear nothing but body paint and shorts to a freezing cold football game...AWESOME! Wear a Klingon outfit to a convention...LOSER!

Not that I really care what society thinks about me and what I like. (Well, that's not exactly true. I actually relish being somewhat scorned to the point that I find that when my nerd interests become too mainstream, I'm not all that interested anymore...but that's another post.) What bugged me was that there was no difference in attitude between sports fanatics and sci-fi/comics fanatics, it was just a different thing to follow.

So, if society wasn't going to look down on sports fans, I'd match that and look down on them all myself. Sports was my arch-enemy and I treated it as such. This dynamic probably played itself out the most vehemently during one RPG session we had in March a few years back. During a break, Michael wanted to check the scores of the NCAA Tourney games going on that day. "If you want to watch basketball, you should have stayed home. Don't turn on the TV in the middle of D&D!!"

However, just a year or two later, I completely changed my tune. I got some freelance work with a book publisher who did sports books. In an effort to learn more about what I was working on, I began reading up a bit about the games, listened to some sports talk radio, and then started watching the games. And before I knew it, I was hooked into a whole new field of interest. It was all so very new and fresh. I had learned all I could about Star Trek and Superman. There was nothing new. I was getting bored. My tastes had become a little more obscure just to try to find something new to learn about. But there it was, all the trivia I could ever want to devour in sports stats and scores.

And I find that I like sports for some of the same reasons I like comic book and sci-fi heroes. To see, or just even to know that people have done some amazing things is very neat. To watch teams come back from behind and win a hard fought game or to see a team go undefeated can be amazing. And even more than that, when a team or player is truly a good person, from helping an opponent up off the floor to going overseas in the off-season to make the world a better place, it's easy to root for them.

Even in this age where nerd stuff is more generally accepted, I guess I still kind of resent the sports fan. I had the opportunity to go to a Florida State football game this past season. These fans don't know how good they have it. There they and 80,000 of their fellow fans sit together singing the same songs and chanting the same words. They do this in spite of cold weather. Hundreds of people are involved in putting on this weekly show. Thousands of dollars are spent to ensure it happens. Never do the fans have to worry about their show getting canceled.

If only Joss Whedon's Firefly had had that kind of support, maybe my show would still be on.

The Tournament of Bad

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That big basketball tournament thing is starting tonight and it may be bad, I don’t really know. As a traditional nerd I have minimal interest in sports, though I do take in quite a bit of sports media just to give me a distraction and something unimportant to discuss around the water cooler (instead politics, religion, the economy, or foreign affairs). I find that real world events which actually matter often get me or others too agitated for everyone’s good. Sports are a great antidote for that situation, since they are of absolutely no consequence.

Anyhow, my favorite sports media outlet is an afternoon drive sportstalk show in Chicago, the Boers & Bernstein Show. The show is intelligent, irreverent, and light years beyond the meatheads and sycophants normally found on sportstalk radio. Fully in the vein of irreverence, the 2nd Annual B&B Tournament of Bad was rolled out on Monday. What a play-in gameIt’s a 65 entity tournament of some of the worst things around as chosen by the Boers, Bernstein, and the show’s two producers, Jason Goff and Matt Abbatacola. There are some entries that may not resonate outside of the Chicago sphere of influence, but there were some hilarious first round matchups.  I particularly enjoyed:

The first round is over and I’m sad to say my sleeper pick, Oversized Sunglasses, has already been ousted. I guess my bracket will now have to ride the surefire bet, Jim Belushi.

The match ups continue on March 23rd. Details on how to text in votes will be given on the show and you can follow the along at the Tournament of Bad page.

McDonald’s Has Given Up Sanity for Lent

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This one’s for you, PLee.

I live in an area where the predominant religions are Catholicism and conspicuous consumption, so right now the airwaves are jammed with Lenten themed commercials. None are weirder than this one.

Lists of Lists: Comic Book Movies

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One of those big time comic book movies just came out and since we here at Nerd Lunch pride ourselves on being too busy to check out new things, none of us have seen it yet. But, in celebration of The Watchmen's release, we post for you a series of lists. Behold, each of our Top Ten Favorite Comic Book Movies (up through 2008).

CT
1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. Iron Man (2008)
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Hellboy (2004)
8. X2 (2003)
9. Blade II (2002)
10. The Rocketeer (1991)


Jeeg
1. Iron Man (2008)
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
3. Spider-Man (2002)
4. Batman Begins (2005)
5. Hellboy (2004)
6. Blade II (2002)
7. X2 (2003)
8. The Dark Knight (2008)
9. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
10. Blade (1998)



(At the time of this being published, PLee had not submitted a list. So, I'm going to submit his list for him.--CT)

PLee
1. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
2. Blade Trinity (2004)
3. Steel (1997)
4. Batman & Robin (1997)
5. Superman IV (1987)
6. Ghost Rider(2007)
7. Tank Girl (1995)
8. Judge Dredd (1995)
9. Supergirl (1984)
10. Catwoman (2004)


Want to mock us for our lists? Or, want to leave your own top ten list? Leave a comment!

(Nerd) Lunch Special: The Double-Meat Sandwich Follow-Up

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I was shocked that someone tried the Double-Meat Sandwich so soon after the post went up, but Wiisty did and said good things about it.


It also appears Wiisty tried the Fry Sandwich.



Send me your pics of your Double-Meat Sandwich experience and I'll add them to this post.

(Nerd) Lunch Special: The Double-Meat Sandwich

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In these tough economic times, we're all looking for good deals. A lot of restaurants have been promoting their value menus. You can't go to a McDonald's without seeing their advertising for their McDouble and McChicken, each for only a dollar. Neither are all that great on their own, but together, it's something pretty good.

I like this Special because it really combines the "nerd" and the "lunch" parts beautifully. I got the idea for the double-meat from an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer when Buffy was forced to work at the Doublemeat Palace for some income. In the show, the restaurant combined hamburgers and chicken sandwiches for a tasty signature item that I just had to try.

The first place I tried it was Sonic. It was tasty, but I've landed on McDonald's being the best choice to concoct this special.

Start by ordering a McDouble and a McChicken. I recommend these cheaper items and I'll tell you why in a bit.


You open the wrappers. By default, the sandwiches come the following ways:
McDouble
top bun
condiments (ketchup, mustard, pickle, onions)
cheese
two hamburger patties
bottom bun

McChicken
top bun
condiments (mayonnaise and lettuce)
chicken patty
bottom bun



So it's really quite simple. Flip those sandwiches over and remove the bottom bun from each.


Then combine the top bun, fixins, and meat remaining and you have the Double-Meat Sandwich.



This does leave two bottom buns. What to do with those? You could simply eat them or toss them.



Me, I like to get the small fry and make a "Fry Sandwich." Slap some fries between those buns and load them up with ketchup or your choice of condiment and gorge yourself in a starchfest.



If you like the McDonald's version, you might be tempted to try this elsewhere, right? Makes sense. If McDonald's is good, then a Wendy's or Burger King version should rock! I'd recommend against that. I have a Double-Meat Theory. My theory is that you're aiming for a score of ten total. A McDonald's McDouble isn't so bad...maybe a 6 out of 10. The McChicken isn't all that great, but palatable...say, a 4 out of 10. Together, they make a 10.

Try that with Whopper, Jr. and the oddly tasty chicken sandwich at BK and you're overshooting the 10 by quite a bit. Same with Wendy's. And for whatever reason, the taste of two great things that are great on their own, conflict with one another. Still, experiment away. I'd love to hear where you think this works best.

Test of Time: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

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Thanks to my friend over at 0takusphere, I was able to see quite a handful of G.I. Joe cartoons recently. Now I'm surprised I have the mental faculties enough to type. These shows were of varying qualities, but I could feel myself getting dumber with each passing minute of watching some of these shows.

I started off with the five part "Pyramid of Darkness" mini. This kicked off the first full season, but was the third story. It kicks off with the Joes launching a space shuttle carrying payload to their space station. I guess I can buy that. This episode predated the release of the space shuttle toy, by a couple years, but that's no excuse for Dusty, the Joes dessert specialist, to be the one who was flying the shuttle. So Cobra attacks, of course, but their plan is actually to just sneak the Dreadnoks on board with another special surprise. Zartan is already on board posing as a Joe character that doesn't exist. And no other Joe stops him and asks him who he is. Once the Joes hit the weightlessness of space, they realize their ship is a little heavy so they must have something on there they're not supposed to. They quickly determine which box it is and they discover little Gizmo-like characters in the box. Zartan changes out of his Joe outfit and blows a special whistle that turns the little creatures into FIRE-BREATHING MINOTAURS!!!

I wanted to stop right there. I didn't. It got worse. Shipwreck and Snake Eyes go on a mini-adventure together that calls for them to dress up (Snake Eyes in a dress), dance, and ride cows. Lady Jaye shows that she has magical arrows that can create air bubbles that prevent her and Flint from having their skin burned off by lava. Alpine shows that he can stop Cobra with magical yodeling powers. Quick Kick is introduced in, where else, the arctic wearing nothing but pants and a sash. Absolutely absurd.

We watched a few more single episodes including one nonsensical episode where Tomax and Xamot were buying up fast food joints for a Cobra plot. One fast food place was owned by Roadblock's uncle. Craziness ensued.

If that wasn't enough, I continued to torture myself by watching the second mini-series, G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra. While not great, it was nowhere near as awful as "Pyramid of Darkness."

Does it withstand the test of time? No, the G.I. Joe cartoon does not hold up to the test of time. Even my four-year-old daughter would call out points in the show where things didn't make sense. Although, she enjoyed it a great deal in spite of that.

Figure Reviews: G.I. Joe Five Packs

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After a very long wait, some G.I. Joe figures I ordered came in. Two new five packs are hitting the stores now. One has five Joes and the other, five Cobras.



These are overall nice sets. Some quick thoughts:

Hawk -- Not as nice as the single-carded version. His jacket is lighter and he's missing some of the finer details that makes him look cool. My new Hawk is already on eBay.

Flint -- GREAT version of this character. In the promo shots I was worried about the new face sculpt, but in person, it looks great. This is the definitive version. At least until the Hall of Heroes version comes out with appears to be slightly better.

Lady Jaye -- I was unimpressed with this figure. I prefer the version in the DVD Battle Pack #2. My new Lady Jaye is already on eBay.

Shipwreck -- I've never been a huge fan of this character. He's alright. The Village People approach to G.I. Joe sometimes annoys me. That said, this figure is a good interpretation of him. Better than the other two.

Snake Eyes -- I now have three Snake Eyes figures and I love all three of them. This new one is faithful to the cartoon appearance. He's solid black with gray accents. Love the sword and the angry wolf. Great figure.

Cobra Commander (Hooded) -- Decent figure. I like the hood sculpt. He comes with a cape which I have essentially tossed. I don't plan on selling him on eBay, but if I run across the single-carded version of Hooded Cobra Commander, I might make a switch.

Baroness -- Best Baroness figure ever. It's worth the cost of the set to get this figure alone.

Storm Shadow -- Another where the single-carded version is better. They paint his feet coverings gray instead of white. Had they been white, I might have kept him. As is, I'm listing him on eBay soon.

Zartan (pink chestplate) -- Couldn't decide if I was going to like him in looking at the promo shots before these sets came out. In person, he's great. Better face than the single-carded version. The pink chestplate is cartoon-accurate at times. The best thing to do though is get the black chestplate and put it on this figure. That makes the definitive Zartan.

Cobra Viper -- While I prefer the Cobra Troopers to Vipers, this Viper is really nice. The chrome app on the mask really seals the deal on this figure. Keeper.

Additional note: I have got to very strongly recommend not purchasing these, nor anything else, at EntertainmentEarth. The shipping rates are outlandish and it takes forever. When I brought this up with them, I was less than enthused with the customer service.

If this wasn't enough G.I. Joe for you (and I'm guessing it's been too much already), on Monday, there will be a "Test of Time" post where I look at the old G.I. Joe cartoons.

Late Night

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Even though I haven't been able to enjoy late night talk shows as much in recent years, I still have a fondness for the genre. Entertaining an audience on a nightly basis for years is a huge challenge and not something that just anyone can do. Although network execs seem to think anyone can do it.

I loved the old Late Night with David Letterman shows. I started catching his show when I was in high school and I loved the offbeat, irreverent humor of Letterman. Carson was funny, but his show was more polished and mainstream. I liked the show that not as many people cared for. I loved the idea of finding things that should not be funny and making them funny. Very little was as funny as when Letterman would go out in public. Still under the radar, he could evoke responses from people that were priceless because no one was all that starstruck to meet someone they didn't even know.

When Carson left The Tonight Show, that set into motion the domino effect still in place today. Jay Leno, a regular guest host of The Tonight Show, took over and Letterman moved to CBS. With all the drama and an earlier time slot, Letterman could no longer fly under the radar. And as his move from a tiny studio to a big theater shifted his humor from snarky to more accepted. No longer could Letterman interact with the public in the same way he used to. He had to use Mujibur and Sirajul, Rupert Gee or Biff Henderson and even then, all those guys became instantly recognized. I still liked Letterman, but I missed (and still do miss) what he had been.

There was another to come along and fill the void. Conan O'Brien, a nobody, replaced Letterman on "Late Night" and instantly impressed me. Yeah, he was rough and quite green, but I saw potential there from the first few minutes of his show. And he stuck through the criticism and created a show that was a worthy successor to Letterman's Late Night and yet stands alone as something different.

Coming in June, O'Brien will have achieved what Letterman was not able to and he will graduate to The Tonight Show. And it blows my mind to think about this guy and his rise to fame and what it means for him to get the big show. And like with Letterman's move to the more mainstream audience, I have to wonder what will happen to O'Brien when he gets on The Tonight Show. Will his humor change? Will his recognizability hurt his show? Will the move to LA affect him at all? It will be interesting to see.

Sadly, my little glimpses of Jimmy Fallon do not evoke the same response I had about early Conan O'Brien. I see a guy who is perceivably nervous and shouldn't be. He laughs at his jokes before he tells them and he slurs his speech to a point that the rhythm of his delivery is off and he's hard to understand. Maybe he'll get better, but I don't have a lot of optimism about his future.

Although, it really doesn't matter anymore. Between all the other viable choices out there (Stephen Colbert chief among them) and the sheer lack of ability to stay up that late anymore, I don't see Jimmy Fallon ever really affecting me all that much.

Welcome to the future of television

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Rabbit ears

Those are Radio Shack 15-1874 rabbit ears that I picked up over the weekend. Not quite the 21st century vision of Philip K. Dick, but, unbelievably, it’s the best way I can get TV. Not counting the duplicate channels from the multiple TV markets in range, I can pick up about 35 digital channels on these. And unlike my cable, the picture is actually crystal clear.

If I could just figure out how to spring for an HDTV and find a way to get high acceptable speed Internet that doesn’t involve a deal with the devil, I’d be completely set.

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