If you needed an idea of just how weird and tangled the legacy of Twin Peaks has become in 2017, there was plenty of evidence on display at a sold-out screening of Fire Walk With Me at the Royal Cinema in Toronto this week. Donuts and coffee were on offer, a few moviegoers showed up in costume, and, most puzzlingly, two burlesque routines were specifically devised to accompany the screening. (This wasn’t even the first Twin Peaks burlesque event to hit TO this year.) The event’s organizer and host, Alicia Fletcher, introduced the routines and the film with a sort of trigger warning about the film’s explicit, prolonged depictions of rape and murder, before wryly announcing that it was time to bring on the strippers. (Fletcher speaks to the choice to combine Fire Walk With Me and burlesque in this interview.) Watching a burlesque performer hump a log to the tune of an amusingly edited version of “The Power of Love” (with each instance of “man” replaced with, well, “log”) while donut-downing patrons – myself included – waited to subject ourselves to the movie’s onslaught of terror and sexual violence offered a handy synecdoche of what it feels like to be a Twin Peaks fan with even a slight modicum of self-awareness.
Things won’t get any simpler when Twin Peaks returns, this time all helmed by David Lynch and presented sans network restrictions on Showtime. When it premiered in the early 90s, the TV fan and criticism landscape was very different – despite what Showtime’s promos would have you believe, there was definitely precedent for movie auteurs making the journey to television (from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which the master of suspense himself directed 17 episodes of, all the way to Michael Mann’s involvement with Miami Vice), and yes, there was plenty of precedent for TV shows acting as major cultural touchstones, but Twin Peaks helped to reshape the concept of televisual fandom and speculation. Twin Peaks laid the groundwork for the TV-show-as-fan-universe dynamic that The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayerwould go on to greatly expand upon and diversify, and now it’s returning to be judged by the fan and critic culture it helped to spawn.
Sight unseen, the new season faces an uphill battle. Twin Peaks’ third season has many masters to sate, and inevitably some will come away disappointed with the offering. In an attempt to prefigure the hot takes that seem inevitable to arise, I have attempted to categorize the most obvious grievances by audience segment.
Twin Peaks fans
While Twin Peaks is generally thought of as Lynch’s (and co-creator Mark Frost’s) child, the nature of a network TV show demands collaboration, and the original run of Twin Peakssometimes struggled to reconcile the gaps between the imaginations and abilities of Lynch’s collaborators and Lynch himself. Even very capable directors – including Lesli Linka Glatter (who went on direct series-best episodes of Mad Men and Homeland, among many others) and Tim Hunter (The River’s Edge) – sometimes struggled with the more obviously surreal elements of the series and deploying them effectively, as well as having to juggle those elements with the series’ many goofy subplots and characters. Indeed, Peaks’ status as both a send-up of and loving homage to soaps essentially demanded that it devote much of its screentime to criminal conspiracies, love triangles, and other salacious banalities that exist far from the iconic imagery and characters that linger in the popular imagination.
The new Twin Peaks seems unlikely to operate on the same rhythms. This time around, Frost and Lynch wrote a 400-page tome of a script, which Lynch then directed in its entirety, divvied up into 18 episodes. With no mediating force (beyond Showtime’s reportedly modest notes process) or creative restraints, it seems unlikely that the new season will spend quite as much of its time devoted to the less-fondly remembered plot aspects of the original run. That said, the tension between the sillier aspects of the show and the grim case at its heart was what drew many to forge such a strong association with it, and that kind of push-pull tonality may be absent with Lynch more strongly at the helm. The non-involvement of a few key players (most notably Michael Ontkean and Lara Flynn Boyle) is likely to sting for original-run fanatics, as well. Most importantly, it’s been two and a half decades since Lynch has waded in these waters, and even the small glimpses we’ve gotten of the new season (to say nothing of the intimidating new cast list) indicates that something not altogether very much like the often-cutesy preceding series is likely to emerge. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
The social justice crew (AKA: The new breed of TV critics)
Lynch has never been popular with social-justice-minded critics. His casts are overwhelmingly white and his heroines are often put-upon victims with a limited sense of agency. (The subtitle and conceit of his masterpiece Inland Empire: “A woman in trouble.”) No one has ever accused a Lynch work of being “woke.” Lynch himself appears like an antique from another time, shouty and broad in his performance style and creaky in his mysticism and open advocation of Transcendental Meditation. Even at the time, Fire Walk With Me was critically reviled for the way it centered Laura Palmer and her already-familiar story of abuse, torture and eventual murder at the hands of men, including her own father. For critics who demand that stories of women be “empowering,” Lynch’s films don’t frequently offer easy ways in.
As others have more eloquently noted, the rise of social consciousness and political point-scoring as a guiding principle for criticism and judging the merit of a work of art has hobbled a new generation of critics and limited the means by which we can appreciate pop culture. The overwhelming majority of popular critics are mainstream American liberals, and series that flatter their sensibilities are overwhelmingly likely to garner praise. Just look at the rapturous reception to Hulu’s totalitarian fantasia The Handmaid’s Tale, or the second season of Netflix’s doggedly laugh-free comedy Master of None, series that are praised more for the way their viewers can pat themselves on the back for their own enlightened attention to contemporary concerns than they are for any inherent aesthetic or formal qualities.
Lynch’s work (with the possible exception of The Elephant Man, a movie premised around the idea that the limits we place on empathy are arbitrary and inhumane) has always seemed to exist separately from worldly concerns, at least on the surface. Lynch’s films aren’t intellectual exercises reverse-engineered from a set of predetermined narrative or thematic goals. That’s absolutely not to say that one can’t wax intellectual about his work, as many have, but to say that, for instance, reading Ebert’s infamous pan of Blue Velvet is in no way an adequate substitute for actually watching it. In the same way, assailing Lynch for relying on images or tropes of violence against women is totally fair, but if you’re going to use that as a cudgel to beat his work with, you’re going to miss out on Sheryl Lee’s incredible work in Fire Walk With Me, bringing a character who’s always been viewed through others as an object to vivid life as a subject.
When Twin Peaks originally debuted, David Lynch was more or less a household name. Blue Velvet had scandalized the country and dazzled (most) critics, building on his expanding cachet following the underground success of Eraserhead, the flirtation with prestige acceptability with The Elephant Man, and the high-profile fiasco of Dune. He’d earned two Best Director nods at the Oscars, and his name became synonymous with a particular brand of surreal and poisoned yet strangely alluring Americana. ABC was able to cash in on his notoriety in order to produce a built-in audience, tuning in if only to see how far he’d be willing to push the network envelope.
Fast-forward to 2017. Major directors making their way to the small screen is now old hat – everyone from Jane Campion to Guillermo del Toro to Alfonso Cuarón (remember Believe?), among many, many others, have taken stabs at the medium. More importantly, there is no such thing as a “TV aesthetic” any more. Even on network TV, there’s a much broader palette at work than simple shot-reverse shot, from hyperviolent impressionism (Hannibal) to documentary and mockumentary (most single-camera comedies since The Office) to fossilized retakes on classic multi-camera comedy (NBC’s productively subversive The Carmichael Show).
Moreover, series from the canonical to the misbegotten have deployed imagery lazily classified as “Lynchian” for well over a decade now, from The Sopranos’ extended dream sequences to Legion’s primary-colour-dappled centerpieces. (If you really want a taste of the Lynchian on television, your best bets are probably the Adult Swim “infomercials” – yes, including Too Many Cooks, though Unedited Footage of a Bear gets even closer.) It’s been 16 years since a Lynch feature made its way to any kind of popular acclaim – Inland Empire was strictly for diehards – and in Lynch’s material absence from The Discourse(tm), the entire concept of what qualifies as Lynchian has eroded well astray from and below Lynch’s actual aesthetic core and capabilities. (And it certainly doesn’t help that the Beautiful Dead Girl trope, which Peakshelped to bring to a new level of ubiquity and seems likely to revive with the new season, has been overused in countless series and films in the intervening years.)
As the new Twin Peaks reunites Lynch and Frost for the first time since the original run (with the exception of the in-jokey oddity On the Air), it’s difficult to know whether the new season will truly represent, as Showtime’s David Nevins expressed, “pure, uncut” Lynch, or whether it will be some new form of productive compromise between Lynchian madness and the constraints of old-school network storytelling. What is clear is that much has transpired since the last time Lynch captured the popular imagination, and that contemporary audiences might very well not cotton to Lynch’s sensibility without a recent reference point.
The rest of us
So let’s say you’re familiar with the original run of Twin Peaks but you’re not overwhelmed with expectations, or you’re a Lynch newcomer but you’re open to new and unfamiliar aesthetic stimuli. How should you best enjoy the new episodes?
The only advice I can offer: fuck the zeitgeist and tune out the discourse as much as possible. (I wholeheartedly include my own thoughts in this roundup of folks whose opinions you should disregard.) Groupthink and superficial ideological readings dominate current TV and film criticism and choke our collective understanding and openness when it comes to taking art at face value and deriving valuable experiences from it, and it’s precisely this kind of viewing that will put viewers at a disadvantage when it comes to enjoying Lynch, whatever form the new season winds up taking.
- Simon Howell
Apple TV+’s The Morning Show Both-Sides Itself Into Prestigious Irrelevance
The Morning Show’s mix of flashy performances and one-dimensional writing makes for one of 2019’s more intriguing misfires.
One of Apple TV+’s early projects was a Whitney Cummings-helmed comedy firmly rooted in the #MeToo movement – unsurprisingly, it was canceled when Apple executives balked at the idea of hosting such politically charged content.
Then Hillary Clinton’s press secretary walked in with a #MeToo-themed drama based on a CNN’s anchor’s poorly-reviewed book, and Apple said: “Here’s $300 million.”
Everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics bleed through indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.
The strange optics are a rather apt reflection of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, one of the more confounding high-profile dramas in recent years. Comparisons to Aaron Sorkin’s HBO disaster The Newsroom might seem lazy and obvious, but there’s really no comparing it to anything else. From shot composition to dialogue and performance, everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics and indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.
It, unfortunately, begins with one of 2019’s worst pilots, a grating 63-minute introduction to its world of morally compromised broadcast news players. As it builds out its world of producers, lackeys, stars, and C-suite executives, The Morning Show‘s first (and most of its second) hour painfully imitates the worst Sorkin-isms with glee, a series of painfully overt character introductions and an overwhelming feeling the script is about five years behind on the many conversations it wants to have about gender, power, political conflict, and the state of broadcast news.
At the center of it all is Jennifer Aniston, relishing in the decidedly two-dimensional Alex Levy, host of the eponymous show-within-a-show. When the delicate balance she’s found between being a mother, a star, and a serious contributor to the morning show culture, is disrupted by sexual misconduct allegations against her co-host Mitch Kessler (Steven Carell, doing the best he can with it all), it becomes an inflection point in her career.
To her credit, Aniston justifies the hype of her streaming debut; her committed performance allows her to run the full emotional gamut of Alex’s life, grounding her with an emotional restraint I only wish carried through to the writing. Both to its benefit and detriment, it writes around its star, offering Aniston all the room in the world for showy, dedicated, awards bait. And though it carefully avoids falling completely into a series of tropes and cliches about women almost having it all – and what they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve it – there’s no denying how the basic notes of her character are pounding over and over in early episodes, to dull effect.
The same goes for Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, a woman whose Libertarian opinions and rough edges have stalled her career as a try-hard journalist… for a conservative news outlet (twist!). In the pilot, Bradley gets fired for yelling at someone during a protest against the coal industry, a speech that absolutely belongs in the Both Sides-ism Hall of Fame. Experienced and naive, whip-smart but held back by her own intelligence, Witherspoon’s overbearing presence as Bradley combines with some of the show’s clumsiest writing, an unremarkable attempt to subvert expectations on multiple levels.
Jackson’s character begins to come together by the third hour (once Jay Carson, the show’s creator, was fired and no longer credited on scripts), after she’s thrown unexpectedly into the mix by an Alex Levy power move; “unexpected” in that Bradley didn’t see it coming, though it is painfully obvious to even the most casual observer where the first 110-plus minutes of plot is heading. But it’s a painful road to get there, one full of asides about blue-collar upbringings and frustrations with the left and right (centrism, baby!), with the obligatory tinges of bad mom drama and professional insecurity.
Bradley’s character becomes an unfortunate mouthpiece for all the issues The Morning Show is woefully equipped to handle; the fossil fuel industry, what’s wrong with broadcast news… and in “That Women,” abortion, when she accidentally (or…??) reveals what the show treats as a Deep, Dark Secret of her past… and then immediately drops as an actual plot halfway through “That Woman,” folding it into the background noise that is the capital-d Drama surrounding the fictional Morning Show.
(This happens on her second broadcast, I might add, during her attempt to subtly undermine the wickedly facile dialogue being fed to everyone from cue cards and teleprompters.)
The benefit of having such a large, talented cast and prestigious directors (Mimi Leder and Lynn Shelton direct three of the first four hours) does allow The Morning Show to occasionally stumble into being quite watchable. There’s strange chemistry to the cast, and it combines with the sharp direction to breathe life in between the many instances where The Morning Show trips over itself with bloated plots and repetitive character beats.
There are a number of scenes in the third and fourth episode that are genuinely compelling, in a sadistic kind of way: the writing and performances are so confident and dedicated to what they’re trying to say, even when it is blindingly obvious The Morning Show is ill-equipped to catalyze on the many compelling ideas it throws into the mix. It can be fun to watch, an incongruous relationship between style and substance that is occasionally intoxicating in the sheer ludicrousness of it all.
But mostly, The Morning Show is just tiring in its dissonance, and its clear horniness for moderation and careful reinforcement of systemic norms – it is more interested in getting participation trophies for being in complex sociopolitical conversations, than actually having a concrete point of view on anything (it’s like the anti-Superstore in a lot of ways). The first four episodes are a confluence of elements, brash lead performances clashing with the naturalistic work of the show-within-a-show characters around them, all trying to convincingly deliver the dramatic equivalent of sugar-coated chalk. There are certainly some tasty, addictive qualities to The Morning Show; but those delicious morsels are overwhelmed by the bitter, archaic nature of its central narrative and episodic flow.
It is certainly fascinating to watch a show consistently jump in the deep end without knowing how to swim – it’s just not entertaining to watch The Morning Show flounder around helplessly scene after scene, a creative misfire of epically-budgeted proportions.
$300 million and those are the best opening credits you could come up with? Dots?
It is interesting how Steve Carell is listed among the main cast; he is not in these first four episodes very much – and when he is, it offers some of the show’s most uncomfortably strained writing.
This show constantly cuts to a shot of a clock alarm going off at 3:30 am. Literally every day that passes on the show, we get Bradley or Alex slamming the alarm off. WE GET IT.
Mark Duplass co-stars as the longtime producer of The Morning Show; of the show’s collection of idiotic male characters, his Charlie is rather carefully constructed. It is unexpectedly strong, and stands in interesting contrast to Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison, a network executive Crudup clearly relishes in making a brash, exaggerated performance.
There’s a subplot about a simpleton weatherman (the always-welcome Nestor Carbonell) and the young producer he’s hooking up with. She’s apparently from a rich, influential family? It kind of feels like this show’s 2019-ified take on Sports Night’s Jeremy and Natalie.
Yes, there is an episode that ends with an acoustic version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”… spoiler: it is the episode that has a Kelly Clarkson cameo.
Karen Pittman chews up scenery as Mia, a very pragmatic producer, and Bradley’s guiding hand.
The second episode focuses pretty intently on Alex’s role as a mother… and then her daughter basically disappears without mention? I’m sure they’ll come back to it, but boy does The Morning Show like to go on tangents and forget its many, many, many side plots.
Oh man, there is an awful, awful scene where Martin Short plays an unnamed director, who talks with Mitch about what they’ve done, and how they can try and return respect to their names. And then Mitch reveals he knows the director is an “actual rapist,” and presumably decides not to make a documentary with him? It is so weird and distonal, and feels like The Morning Show presenting a weird moralistic litmus test to Mitch.
A Brief History of Survivor Series: A Cornerstone of WWE
Relive Some of the Biggest Moments in Survivor Series history
There are a few pay-per-views that are mainstays of WWE’s annual slate of offerings. SummerSlam. Royal Rumble. WrestleMania. Kids grow up dreaming of wrestling at these shows, and Survivor Series is one of them. The classic Survivor Series match is a five-on-five elimination bout, featuring a variety of top stars as well as up and coming wrestlers. It provides an important showcase for WWE’s talent, some of which don’t always get pay-per-view time.
Besides that, it’s a lot of fun for fans to watch.
Over the years, Survivor Series has produced a number of career-defining moments for the talent involved and those moments can mean everything. This is the pay-per-view that kicks off the build-up to WrestleMania, the ultimate goal for all WWE wrestlers.
The 2019 event is even more interesting than past iterations because of its incorporation of talent from NXT for the first time ever, pitting their champions against Raw and SmackDown. If fans were looking for a statement as to how seriously WWE is taking NXT as its own brand, matching NXT against their long-standing brands accomplishes that. Let’s look back at some of the most memorable moments of the event.
Bret Hart’s Survivor Series History
Many of the biggest moments in Survivor Series history happened outside of the actual namesake match. One of the most infamous moments in WWE history, The Montreal Screwjob, happened at Survivor Series 1997. Knowing Bret Hart was leaving WWE and wanting to make sure he didn’t take the belt to WCW, Vince McMahon ordered a fast count during Hart’s match with Shawn Michaels.
Hart’s response was infamous and understandable, his long feud with both McMahon and Michaels only coming to a relatively recent end.
Hart had a part in another big moment, this time at Survivor Series 1996. One year before The Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart faced off against a young wrestler name Stone Cold Steve Austin who was looking to make a name for himself. Thanks to this match, he would do it. While it’s not often recognized as such, this match was the start of Austin taking the wrestling world by storm and building a legendary career that fans still talk about.
Notable Survivor Series Debuts
A WWE franchise player, The Undertaker himself debuted at Survivor Series 1990, starting arguably the most legendary run for any gimmick in wrestling history. The next year at Survivor Series 1991, The Undertaker would go on to defeat Hulk Hogan for the World Championship and cement his legacy as ‘The Phenom.’
The Undertaker wasn’t the only wrestler to debut at the venerable pay-per-view. The Shield, a faction that would go one to produce three major singles champions, made their first main roster appearance at Survivor Series 2012. They came through the crowd and destroyed both John Cena and Ryback on behalf of CM Punk. The legendary Sting made his first WWE appearance at Survivor Series 2014, attacking Triple H and setting up a WrestleMania match between them.
Asuka also achieved glory at Survivor Series 2017 as part of her build-up to WrestleMania. She was a member of the Raw Women’s Team, putting in a typically dominant performance. Asuka was the sole survivor, winning the match for her brand and eventually going on to win the first Women’s Royal Rumble match.
Unfortunately, she didn’t win her match at WrestleMania, a loss that took months and months to recover from. Now, it seems like she’s finally back on track alongside Kairi Sane as the Women’s Tag Team Champions.
Many big names have been sole survivors, as well. Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Andre the Giant, and Lex Luger have all held that distinction. The likes of Ric Flair, The Rock, and Dolph Ziggler have been sole survivors on two separate occasions each. Randy Orton holds the unique distinction of being a three-time sole survivor, though that’s no surprise for ‘The Viper.’ He is nothing if not a survivor.
Now. Then. Forever.
The big four pay-per-views will always have a special place in the hearts of WWE fans, and Survivor Series is no exception. While every moment on screen plays a role in building a successful wrestler, showing up and showing out in big moments like this set the tone for the rest of the year.
Some of the biggest names in WWE history have made their names at Survivor Series, possibly even more so than WrestleMania. Survivor Series was created to play off the success of Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Both men led their own teams at the inaugural event, featuring some of the biggest talents of their time.
That continues today as modern talent use this traditional pay-per-view event as a means of launching careers. It’s one of those events young wrestlers grow up dreaming about.
‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’ is a Quirky and Oddly Engrossing Worldview of Modern Culture
Disney Plus launched on November 12th to the general public and with it came ten new pilot episodes for upcoming original shows including Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Pixar In Real Life. Out of all the original television series to debut on opening day, one strikingly stands out from the rest: a quirky National Geographic docuseries featuring Jurassic Park and Thor: Ragnarok actor Jeff Goldblum that was initially going to air on the television channel before switching over to the digital streaming service.
In the mouse’s newest selection of shows for their Netflix Competitor, variety can be the key to the foundation of building something successful and The World According to Jeff Goldblum might just hit the sweet spot for what this service needs, but it is still notably something that would never be labeled as a reason to buy into Disney Plus. With that being said, viewing a regular conversation with Jeff Goldblum has never been so engrossing before than in this odd gem of a series.
Goldblum Versus The World
The pilot episode of the series turns Goldblum into a comedic ethnographer who indulges himself in the culture of shoe collectors and creators. Goldblum slowly dives into his worldview of the purpose and significance of the common day footwear, while looking into how the business operates and the passion behind those who proclaim shoes to the highest extent. The pilot episode focuses on a theme of revelation while jumping from different specialists within the culture such as basketball teams, business owners, creators, and even YouTube personalities.
If you are a fan of the actor then you should already except what you are about to watch. Goldblum has his typical quirky and childish mannerisms that make him iconic, while he goes around interacting with a vast selection of people who are widely educated about the subject matter that each half-hour episode focuses on. Despite seeming like a show that can easily become a bore to watch, it never loses steam and becomes an exceptionally well-executed documentary with a flair of humor and spice of knowledge thanks to Goldblum’s mesmerizing appearance.
From the perspective of becoming an ethnographer, Goldblum surprisingly does a good job interacting with an audience he typically would never engage with. He never misses a beat as he proceeds to ask serious questions and of course, make humor out of certain situations when appropriate. Never once does he provocatively attempt to embarrass a group of people for mindless entertainment or make fools out of them like other docuseries on specific cultures have.
In fact, Goldblum goes the extra mile to participate in sneaker conventions, recreational basketball games, and even professional science laboratory visits- taking on the tasks that a legitimate ethnographer would have to engage in. All of his crazy yet conventional doings ultimately pays off into what ends up building a captivating show that may even attract audiences who do not care about anything that is being discussed. Goldblum’s personality will miraculously keep you hooked on his wild journeys through everyday life as he attempts to explain his stance on common objects while plunging into a perspective of life he has never once stepped into.
Science, Psychology, and Style
This is a National Geographic production though, after all. It is no surprise that this series would be injected with a relentless amount of historical knowledge that is slowly seeping into the core of the show. In the pilot episode, Goldblum combines science, psychology, and of course eccentric style to form a captivating presentation that is quite unlike any other docuseries. For example, in the pilot episode alone Goldblum covers how shoes work, why the category of clothing is so popular among shoe collectors, and the different art styles of footwear found throughout shoe brands.
That being said, for a series revolving around such a simple concept, there is a substantial amount of content to actually talk about and the production value here is unnecessarily high- hitting that Disney expected production value to the point where its astonishingly remarkable how much passion was actually put into this series. From the editing to the cinematography, this is certainly something that was not made without passion. On-screen graphics are always welcomely flashy, lighting is constantly up to pristine quality, and the focus always remains on the title actor.
Goldblum’s consistent upbeat pazazz and high energy makes this series not only entertaining and relaxing to watch for his comedic appearance, but for an enjoyable source of overall education- something that most other docuseries tend to struggle with when multitasking multiple genres.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Is The World According to Jeff Goldblum worthy of being called a reason to purchase Disney Plus? Absolutely not. Is it worth watching on an empty afternoon though? Unsurprisingly yes. This is a fun family series that is not only educational regarding subject-matter but educational to learn more about Jeff Goldblum himself. Without the big-name actor though it would be hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to watch this series.
Goldblum’s presence allows this series to become a notable piece of content available on the streaming service, however, without him, it would be nothing but another typical documentary series with no real focus. It is entertaining until the very end and is keen on ending off on a positive punchline to keep you coming back next time. Simply put, it is another great addition to Disney Plus’s colossal lineup that will seemingly never stop producing high-quality content.
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