Awake with Jason Isaacs – Sneak Peek

Awake is a fantasy crime series premiering on NBC in the States on 1 March. It stars Jason Isaacs as a detective stuck between two realities who ends up leading a double life, and who soon discovers links between the twin worlds he inhabits. Boringly, Jason Isaacs is well-known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, when he has notched up exciting performances in series such as Brotherhood and the Beeb’s Case Histories. Happily, Case Histories – based on Kate Atkinson’s offbeat crime novels – should return later this year. In the meantime, see what he’s been up to Stateside in what looks like an intriguing show…

Best Crime Dramas on British TV 2011

2011’s TV crimespree blew away the previous year’s good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)

Michael C Hall as Dexter

10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter’s best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter’s own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was ‘getting a real human being’ – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character’s deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall’s performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita’s family and kids the dreadful news that she’s been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin


9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we’ve had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie

8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms’s missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson’s scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).

Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site

7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach’s uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.

Will Sully be a Top Boy?

6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra’Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…


5 The Field of Blood BBC1
Based on a Denise Mina novel, this was a gem of a drama that the Beeb seemed almost embarrassed to put out for some reason (10.15pm, Monday night?). But it got a lot of things right. The characters, particularly young Jayd Johnson as Glasgow newspaper ‘copyboy’ Paddy Meehan, were believable and sympathetic, and the 1980s were as sexist and rocking musically as many would have remembered them. David Morrissey played the bullying editor with a heart, and Peter Capaldi was excellent as the old hack. And the story of a young woman with ambitions beyond marriage and a crap job who sets out to discover the truth behind a child murder that has implicated her 10-year-old cousin was captivating. Someone should commission more dramas based on Mina’s novels.
Highlight: Paddy’s character-defining punch-up in the ladies with glamour-puss reporter Heather.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky

4 Boardwalk Empire series 1 & 2 Sky Atlantic
Few dramas have the scope and ambition of this HBO epic. From the mega-budget opening episode, it’s been an engrossing attempt to revisit an extraordinary period in American history. Steve Buscemi has been mesmerising as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brazenly corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, whose policy is less Prohibition than anything goes. Melding real historical figures – politicians, government agents and gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – with the sweep of the jazz age backdrop has brought this age of political madness vividly to life. And it’s been extraordinary watching the performances of two Brits in the cast – Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, Nucky’s mistress, and Stephen Graham as Capone, who doesn’t look remotely Neapolitan but in every episode appears about to erupt like Vesuvius. It’s won a glut of awards, including eight Emmys, and will return for a third series.
Highlight: the whole of the opener directed by Martin Scorsese – a kaleidoscope of music, partying and corruption.

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan

3 Justified series 2 5USA
The second series may have had the edge over the terrific first series, with a strong story arc that saw gun-happy deputy US marshal Raylan Givens facing off with Dixie mafia boss Mags Bennett and her vile sons. The magic of the series, drawn from a character created by the crime writers’ crime writer, Elmore Leonard, is that the setting – a rural Kentucky mining town – is fresh and well depicted, with its clans and bonehead villains and good ol’ boys. However, while Mags (an Emmy-winning performance from Margo Martindale) may have been surrounded by boneheads in her clan, she was sadistic, menacing and well-mannered all at the same time. Timothy Olyphant was again laid-back and almost as cool as Paul Newman in the title role, while Natalie Zea as his on-off-on other half added glamour and attitude. Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss, Art Mullen, gave the show heart and a lot of laughs. Series three will be racked and ready in 2012…
Highlight: the deadly confrontation between Raylan and Mags’s son, Coover.

Watch your back – The Shadow Line

2 The Shadow Line BBC1
In a strong year for conspiracy thrillers – Hidden, Exile, Page Eight – Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line stands out. Great cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher – in a creepy and dark story featuring a trio of psychos to give you nightmares. Stephen Rea was unforgettable as the puppetmaster Gatehouse, Rafe Spall pulled off the best nut job since Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Freddie Fox simpered as the morally blank Ratallack. Kierston Wareing, who seemed to appear in just about every good crime show this year from The Runaway to Top Boy, was terrific as the sexy, acid-tongued detective sergeant Honey. Blick’s wordy scenes and extraordinary characters created a drama that was not realistic, but felt like a nightmare of foreboding. Midsomer Murders this was not.
Highlight: the moment when Gatehouse finally catches up with the mysterious Glickman, played by Antony Sher. What an amazing showdown.

Bloody business for Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl)

1 The Killing series 1 BBC4

It has to be. There had been subtitled crime series around – the Swedish Wallander, for instance – but The Killing, tucked away on BBC4, took everyone by surprise, including the Beeb. It notched up more viewers than Mad Men, set blog comment boxes buzzing (CrimeTimePreview was inundated with feedback from adoring viewers), and showed that mainstream US and UK formats – murder, neat resolution by detective – often lacked any emotional impact at all. This 20-parter did not use the disappearance and murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen as a plot device to kick off a voyeuristic mystery, but explored the horrendous emotional shock of the crime on her family and on detective Sarah Lund. The show wasn’t perfect, being over-stretched with red-herrings, but its dark intrigue and whole-hearted performances from the unknown cast (in Britain, at least) – Sofie Gråbøl, Søren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – made viewers fascinated with all things Danish and guaranteed a bunch of awards, including a Bafta and several CWA Crime Thiller Daggers.
Highlight: the way Sarah Lund’s initially frosty relationship with her blunt instrument of a colleague, Jan Meyer, evolves silently and without histrionics, so that when Meyer is murdered the moment is  shocking and sad.

Near misses
Single-Handed, Braquo, Spiral, Romanzo Criminale, Garrow’s Law, Exile, Mad Dogs, Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sons of Anarchy
Way off-target
Ringers – dafter than a very daft thing. Silent Witness – gratuitous and voyeuristic.
Damp-squib send-off
Spooks – wiped out by ill-judged decision to schedule it against Downton Abbey. Deserved better.
Letdown of the year
Hidden – started really well, but final episode was such a disappointment.

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CWA Crime Thriller Award winners 2011

Sofie Gråbøl collects her best actress award for The Killing. Pics: ITV

And the winners were…

Idris Elba

TV Dagger CASE HISTORIES
(also nominated: Luther, The Shadow Line, Vera, Zen)

Film Dagger TRUE GRIT
(also nominated: Brighton Rock, Source Code, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

Best supporting actress ANN ELEONORA JORGENSEN The Killing
(also nominated: Amanda Abbington, Case Histories; Tara Fitzgerald, Waking the Dead; Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire; Ruth Wilson, Luther)

Best supporting actor RAFE SPALL The Shadow Line
(also nominated: Aiden Gillen, Thorne; Bjarne Henriksen, The Killing; John Lithgow, Dexter; Soren Malling, The Killing)

International TV THE KILLING
(also nominated: Boardwalk Empire, Castle, Dexter, Spiral)

Best actor IDRIS ELBA Luther
(also nominated: Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire; Jason Isaacs, Case Histories; Lars Mikkelsen, The KIlling; Rufus Sewell, Zen)

Best actress SOFIE GRABOL The Killing
(also nominated: Brenda Blethyn, Vera; Sue Johnston, Waking the Dead; Maxine Peake, Silk; Kelly Reilly, Above Suspicion; Olivia Williams, Case Sensitive)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger SJ WATSON Before I Go to Sleep
(also nominated: Sam Hawken, The Dead Women of Juarez; Danny Miller, Kiss Me Quick; Conor Fitzgerald, The Dogs of Rome)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger STEVE HAMILTON The Lock Artist
(also nominated: Craig Smith, Cold Rain; SJ Watson, Before I Go to Sleep; Michael Gruber, The Good Son)

CWA Gold Dagger TOM FRANKLIN Crooked Letter
(also nominated: AD Miller, Snow Drops; Denise Mina, The End of the Wasp Season; Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist)

ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger PETER JAMES
Peter James was also inducted in the Hall of Fame along with David Baldacci, Mark Billingham, Lee Child and Peter Robinson

Law & Order: UK’s Bradley Walsh and host Marcus Brigstocke

The Killing (Forbrydelsen) triumphed at the CWA Crime Thriller Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London last night, picking up the awards for best international crime drama, best actress and best supporting actress.

The Danish cast were there in force and were popular winners. Sofie Gråbøl – looking very elegant without her Shetland jumper – even received a standing ovation in parts of the room.

As a member of the Academy of British Crime Writing, I voted for that magnificent 20-part drama, which stunned viewers and was a runaway surprise hit for the Beeb when it went out on BBC4 at the start of this year. It was up against terrific nominees in the international category such as Boardwalk Empire, Dexter and Spiral, but fully deserved to win.

Idris Elba was another popular winner for Luther, picking up what he said was his first award in the UK. A nod went to the year’s best conspiracy thriller, The Shadow Line, as Rafe Spall collected the best supporting actor Dagger for his role as the disturbing killer.

Sofie Gråbøl and CrimeTimePreview’s dumbstruck correspondent. Pic courtesy of Ali Karim

Sofie Gråbøl made a huge impression on one member of the audience – me. Sadly, I was too starstruck to congratulate her (apologies, Sofie).

I did manage to get some words out when I met author Peter James, and he got round to talking about his love of racing motor cars. He was beaming after beating Lee Child, David Baldacci and the other bestselling Hall of Famers to to ITV3 People’s Dagger.

ITV3 is showing the whole event on Tuesday at 9pm.

Case Histories starring Jason Isaacs PREVIEW

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. Pic: BBC/Ruby Films/Steffan Hill

Rating ★★★★

BBC1, from Sunday, 5 June, 9pm

This six-parter about private eye Jackson Brodie is an out-of-the-ordinary crime series. It’s based on the acclaimed novels of Kate Atkinson (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News), which are not usually found on the crime shelf, being more straight fiction.

And so the story is less a whodunit than a emotional, sometimes funny drama about a world-weary man who just can’t say no to cases he should avoid – and some women he should avoid, too – while failing to come to terms with his own damaged life.

From gangster to good guy – Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs, familiar in baddie roles as Harry Potter’s adversary Lucius Malfoy and the gangster in Brotherhood, ensures this series works by showing a tough-guy vulnerability that makes Jackson an  appealing hero.
 
Especially for female viewers, because the clients he helps are mostly women and the case histories he attempts to resolve are about women who are missing, been murdered, or who have lost their cat. In fact, Jackson’s world is all women – estranged wife, young daughter, former police colleague, lovers.

The missing moggy belongs to Sylvia Syms’ Binky Rain, Jackson’s non-paying client who calls him in to track down the feline. While at her house, he hears a woman crying next door, asks if everything’s all right and is dragged into the world of the Land sisters, Julia and Amelia. They want Jackson to investigate the mystery of their sister, Olivia, who vanished without trace 30 years before.

Sex with a client
Later, at his office he is asked by Theo Wyre to find his daughter’s killer, who has eluded the police. And finally, in the opening episode, a woman approaches him in a bar, has sex with him, and then asks him to find the daughter of her imprisoned sister.

It’s an overloaded case book, but the reluctant Jackson winds up saying yes once he hears the troubled pleas of his would-be clients. He’s sensitive and wants to help, but as a former soldier and policeman Jackson’s also a man of action, often having to show off his pectorals and tattoos.

He investigates the pasts of others, probably as a way to understand the upsets in his own background, particularly the murder of his sister when he was young and his abrupt exit from the police. In the present, he is estranged from his wife, who is about to take his eight-year-old daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes), to New Zealand. The scenes with Marlee accompanying Jackson on his sometimes violent investigations are affecting and funny.

Mystery novel of the decade
When the novel of Case Histories was published, Stephen King said it was the best mystery book of the decade. The switch to the small screen has worked pretty well, preserving some of the richness of character – not just of Jackson, but also figures such as his police contact DC Monroe (Amanda Abbington) – along with the books’ sharp, dark humour, and intricate plotting.

It’s good to see the fictional serial killers and pathology close-ups being given a rest for a fresh detective character. With Edinburgh as the wonderful setting and with heartfelt, sometimes nicely eccentric performances, Case Histories is intriguing and enjoyable.

2011’s brand new TV crime dramas and thrillers

Vera starring Brenda Blethyn (pic: ITV)

Powerful new series are lined up to make 2011 a memorable year for TV crime drama. The breadth and variety of programmes, from the UK and the US, looks terrific. Most of these programmes are in production or finished but not scheduled yet.

The Body Farm
BBC1 has just announced The Body Farm, a spin-off from Waking the Dead, with Tara Fitzgerald reprising her character from the series, Eve Lockhart. This six-parter, made for the Beeb by Waking the Dead actor Trevor Eve’s company, Projector Productions, kicks off with a 90-minute episode. Eve will be working at a private forensics facility that receives human remains for experiment, and assist police forces around the world. Filming starts in the spring.

Page Eight
A powerhouse cast has been signed up by BBC2 for Page Eight, David Hare’s first original screenplay for 20 years. Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes will appear in this modern-day espionage drama. Johnny Worricker (Nighy) is a long-serving M15 officer. His boss and best friend, Benedict Baron (Gambon), dies suddenly, leaving behind him an inexplicable file which threatens the stability of the organisation. David Hare, playwright and Oscar nominee, says, ‘The last decade has been as testing as any in the history of the British intelligence community – the compromises and dilemmas they’ve faced in the new century make a fascinating story. I’m thrilled to be working with such an extraordinary ensemble of great actors.’

Boardwalk Empire
Sky Atlantic launches on 1 February, bringing the much anticipated Boardwalk Empire from Sky’s deal with HBO. This 1920s tale of Prohibition Atlantic City is inspired by the real figure of ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician who ruled the town with a mixture of charm and deals with the likes of Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and ‘Lucky’ Luciano (Vincent Piazza). The opening episode apparently cost $20m and was directed by Martin Scorsese. Other highlights include Blue Bloods, a tale about a family of New York cops, and another chance to see the multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-winning The Sopranos.

The Field of Blood
Set in Glasgow, 1982, this BBC crime drama centres on would-be journalist Paddy Meehan, a young copygirl working in a newspaper office. Stuck in an almost exclusively male-dominated world of limited opportunities and cynicism, Paddy dreams of becoming an investigative journalist, and becomes entangled in a dark murder case. Adapted from the Denise Mina novel.

The Reckoning (previously Helter Skelter)
Starring Ashley Jenson and Max Beesley, this ITV thriller has been held over from Christmas and should go out in March. It’s a rather daft premise, about a mum given a life-or-death proposition – she’s been bequeathed £5m, but to receive it she must kill a ‘man who deserves to die’. It just so happens, she has a daughter with a brain tumor who needs an expensive op in America. Could it be better than it sounds?

Exile
A three-part BBC drama with Paul Abbott as an executive producer. It’s the story of a son returning to probe the history of his family, and the digging into a scandal two decades old, whose effects still live on.

Case Histories
Six-part BBC series from acclaimed novelist Kate Atkinson. Private investigator Jackson Brodie, who will be played by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, The Patriot), is the complex and compulsive detective surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune. While his own life is haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel disparate case histories. The series has been filmed and set in modern Edinburgh.

Stolen
Another one from the Beeb, this single film thriller stars Damian Lewis and is written by Stephen Butchard, who was responsible for last year’s excellent Five Daughters. Lewis plays Detective Inspector Anthony Carter in a story about human trafficking in Britain today, where children are brought here for a better life but end up working illegally outside the system.

Vera
ITV has turned to the novels of Ann Cleeves and her fat detective inspector Vera Stanhope, of whom one character thinks it ‘would take a crane to shift to her’. How Brenda Blethyn has been inflated to fill this role will be interesting to see. Four stories, set in contemporary Northumberland and including Hidden Depths and Telling Tales, have been filmed. Vera is obsessive about her work and lonely, but she doesn’t show it, facing her colleagues with caustic wit and guile. Her trusted and long-suffering colleague is Joe Ashworth, her right hand man and surrogate son.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

An enthralling true story based on the non-fiction best-seller by Kate Summerscale about an infamous murder in a Victorian country house. The two-hour drama from ITV stars Paddy Considine (Red Riding Trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum) in the lead role of Inspector Jonathan Whicher, and has been adapted by Neil McKay (See No Evil: The Moors Murders). Also starring Peter Capaldi (In the Loop, Torchwood, The Thick of It) and Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Set in 1860, this  story of murder, psychological suspense and courtroom drama begins when three-year-old Saville Kent is found brutally murdered and hidden down a servants’ privy in the grounds of the elegant Road Hill House on the edge of a village on the Wiltshire/Somerset border. Whicher’s career was ruined by this case, but he became the inspiration for the first detective novel, Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. This really is such a gripping story that something will have to be seriously wrong with the production for it not to be a compelling couple of hours.

Martina Cole’s The Runaway
Set in London’s Soho and New York during the 1960s and 70s, this is about a girl, treated so badly in
care that she runs away, to be befriended by a transvestite. She grows up in the heart of London’s underworld, while her sweetheart is pulled into a life of crime and has to flee to New York. Eventually the pair are drawn together again. Starring Alan Cumming, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Jack O’Connell and Joanna Vanderham. Coming to Sky 1 in March.

Hit and Miss
This one looks interesting. New channel Sky Atlantic has commissioned an original drama to go with all the HBO gems it has. Hit and Miss is from Paul Abbott’s development company (Abbott, of course, wrote State of Play, Shameless, Touching Evil and others) and is his first foray outside of terrestrial TV. Chloe is a contract killer with a secret – she’s a pre-op transsexual. Her life is complicated when she gets a letter from her ex, Wendy, revealing that she is dying from cancer and that Chloe has a 10-year-old son. Written by Sean Conway, it’s described as high-concept.

Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake
Atmospheric new multi-part drama series announced for BBC Two from Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano, Sweetie, Portrait of a Lady, In the Cut, Bright Star). Top of the Lake is set in remote, mountainous New Zealand and is a haunting story about our search for happiness in a paradise where honest work is hard to find. A 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. She is five months pregnant, and she won’t say who the father is, insisting it was ‘no one’. Then she disappears. Robin Griffin, the investigating detective, will find this is the case that tests her to her limits. In the search for the girl she will first have to find herself. Directed by Jane Campion, and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. It is a multi-part serial for BBC Two and will film in 2011.

Appropriate Adult
ITV has commissioned this factual drama, focusing on the untold story of how Fred and Rosemary West were brought to justice. It will look at the period between Fred West’s arrest and his suicide on New Year’s Day 1995, and how he confided in Janet Leach who took the role of the ‘appropriate adult’ during his police interviews. ‘Appropriate adults’ are appointed to sit in on police interviews with children or vulnerable adults to safeguard their interests. Dominic West (The Wire, 300) will play Fred West, and Emily Watson (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Gosford Park) takes the role of Janet Leach. The award-winning production team responsible for See No Evil: The Moors Murders, This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and Wall of Silence, will produce the drama written by Neil McKay.

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