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God: Good is relative. Beauty's relative. Everything's relative. Except for me. I'm absolute.
Joan: I thought that was vodka.
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Will Girardi has moved to Arcadia, Maryland to take over as chief of their disorganized police department. His son, Kevin, has been paralyzed from the waist down since a car accident half a year ago. His wife, Helen, is quietly trying to deal with the collapse of her faith and the near-collapse of her family. His other son, Luke, is brilliant but along for the ride. And his daughter, Joan, keeps having encounters... with God?

Lasting two seasons from 2003 to 2005, this Magic Realism Dramedy tells the trials of Joan, who meets and talks to Capital-G God (in the form of various avatars, most of them enjoyable to watch) and receives tasks, which she carries out grudgingly, usually only discovering the point of the request at the end (if at all).

Although Joan's interactions with God were the center of each episode, the lives of her family and friends continued in the background, making for a mixed genre show; Will would bust criminals, the various students would deal with classes and romance, and Kevin would try to deal with his disability.

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This series provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The subplot in season one of Luke helping Kevin in a slow but promising recovery in his legs was almost completely dropped in season two, save for a single episode which showed him doing a news story about the subject.
  • Adult Fear: "The Uncertainty Principle" has God assign Joan to take out bully Ramsey to the local dance. She spends the whole night trying to keep him from doing something stupid, from bringing whiskey to the dance to waving around a gun. Will and Adam hunt them down and threaten to shoot Ramsey, as Joan begs both of them to stop. It ends with Ramsey getting arrested, and Joan feeling like she failed. God then revealed that if Joan hadn't taken Ramsey out to the dance, he would have shot everyone there with his gun, and Joan's kindness led to the lesser of two evils.
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  • Aesop Amnesia: Joan seemed to have learned the lesson that blackmailing popular kids who are bullying you with personal secrets they have is bad twice. Along with two different episodes teaching her the lesson that death is sad.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: God, of course.
  • And the Adventure Continues: This was ultimately how the show was left due to cancellation. The final episode of Season Two saw Joan facing off against the mysterious-but-definitely-evil Ryan, who could also see God and was even implied to be the Devil himself (or at the very least one of his agents). God warned Joan that she would be forced to battle Ryan's machinations with the help of her friend group, and the last shot of the show saw Ryan taunting her and walking away, with Joan staring after him with a determined look on her face, eager to begin the fight.
  • Author Avatar: Helen.
  • Author on Board
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The AP Chemistry teacher Ms. Lischak is fun and cool, but the way she teaches and discusses is more than a little too distracting to properly get anything fixed into the students' minds beyond "hey our teacher is cool!"
  • Axes at School: When it's revealed that a student had brought a gun to school, major changes in the school's security went up for the rest of the series.
  • Badass Longcoat: Will again.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Joan thinks this is the lesson she is supposed to preach in one episode. But it turns out it isn't. But it kind of is. Sort of. It was confusing.
  • The B Grade: Oddly enough in one episode everyone but Joan was worried for her future because of her grades. She got all Bs last semester and failed one test, and immediately she is told that any chances of getting into a four year college would be almost impossible.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: In "Friday Night", Luke goes to a meeting of these types, looking for Grace. He realizes that literally every girl there looks exactly like Grace. He claims that he was only looking for her so she could...burn his sneakers, which he throws into the middle of the room (they were made by underage Central American sweatshop workers, after all).
  • Brother Chuck: Kevin's boss that he romances throughout season one completely vanishes without any mention in season 2. In fact he acts like his girlfriend in the second season was the first he had since his accident.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Even if the parents don't find out, God will:
    Joan: Oh, the package is C.O.D.? Uh, I don't have any cash...
    God: You have 12 dollars in your pocket which you were going to buy a muffin and a frappucino with while you ditched history class, which you really shouldn't do, by the way.
  • Clueless Aesop: Some episodes didn't seem to have much of a clear reason why God had Joan do something. Like joining the cosmetology class. Sure, Glynis learns to be herself, and Joan's dad stops a criminal, but they both did that on their own, and Joan didn't have anything to do with them.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: While bothering one of Joan's friends in the locker room, a classmate manages to snap a picture of Joan in her panties. While struggling to get the phone and delete the picture, Joan accidentally winds up in the school hallway, still in just a T-shirt and panties, as students are passing by.
  • Condescending Compassion: This is Kevin's Berserk Button—he hates the idea that anyone might give him special treatment just because he's paralyzed. A few episodes have him deal with new coworkers, strangers, and even his own family being overly nice and in turn treating him like an infant. It becomes justified when it's revealed that his paralysis was his own fault, as he got in a car with a drunk driver rather than appear uncool in front of his friends.
    • A Season Two episode guest-starring Cloris Leachman as an elderly eccentric relative goes into the same territory. After she suffers a stroke, she can't lead the active life she used to, and so interprets all of Helen's genuinely good-naturted attempts to care for her (such as cutting up her food before eating it) as being treated like a helpless baby. Kevin, realizing they're not that different, offers her some wisdom.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Grace, of the "government ID chips" variety.
  • Cosmic Plaything: When God randomly pops into Joan's life, gives her a mission that causes problems or at least inconveniences, then pops out again, it can seem like this. Especially when He has unexplained reasons or vague goals.
  • Cowboy Cop: Will very much was a by-the-books cop for the most part in the first season, but he became a Cowboy Cop briefly in season 2 after Judith's murder, when he goes on the warpath to catch the perpetrator. In a subversion of Turn in Your Badge, his boss actually encourages him to act like he shouldn't. He gets called on it by Helen, and he eventually gets better.
  • Dead Person Conversation: With Judith. Also a few times with Rocky, after he dies.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: In "Double Dutch", God poses as a pizza delivery boy to communicate with Joan. After the usual banter, he asks about his tip. Joan refuses, and God protests: "But I got it here in thirty minutes or less!" Joan snipes back: "Like that's hard for you?", then slams the door in his face, pleased at finally getting one up on the Almighty.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The song "(What if God Was) One of Us," by Joan Osborne, is used as the theme of the series. In "Double Dutch," God, in the guise of a street performer with a guitar, sings the same tune, suggesting that it exists within the show's universe.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Deconstructed in "The Devil Made Me Do It." Kevin goes to a music store and inadvertently takes a CD when it falls into his chair (he can't feel the disc because of the lack of sensation). When he goes to return it, the clerk shows Condescending Compassion and allows him to take even more CDs, obviously fearful of coming across as insensitive. Kevin milks this for a while by stealing other items from a hobby shop, but Luke catches on and takes that clerk (who treats Kevin with the same pity) to task.
  • Divine Race Lift: Several of the show's incarnations of God were people of color. Examples include a cafeteria worker, a janitor, a doctor, and a street performer—all Black—and a pregnant woman at a bus stop and Goth student, both Latine.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: In the second season finale, Helen begins have strange dreams: in the first, clowns put on a show for her in a church, only to start spraying the walls with paint; in the second, she is dancing in a field surrounded by water and asks Grace to join her, but the teen replies that she only sees fire—and the water turns into a wall of flame. These dreams turn out to be premonitions of the defacement of a church and Grace's father's synagogue being firebombed, respectively.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The pilot is the only episode in which Adam and Grace do not appear.
  • Easily Forgiven: God convinces Joan to forgive Adam and stop being mad at him after he cheated on her, despite Adam giving no reason why she should forgive him.
  • Everybody Lives: Played for Drama in "The Uncertainty Principle." God reveals that Ramsey would have shot everyone at the school dance if not for Joan asking him to go as her partner. She points out each person that was slated to die. By Joan showing kindness to Ramsey and serving as his Morality Chain, she saved her friends and classmates.
  • Evil Counterpart: Ryan Hunter would have apparently filled this role had there been a third season.
  • Fake Guest Star:
    • Becky Wahlstrom (Grace) and Christopher Marquette (Adam) have guest starring credit on every season one episode they appear in - which is every season one episode (except the pilot, the only episode of either season they don't appear in). Cue official promotion to regular in season two.
    • Aaron Himelstein (Friedman) appeared in 33 of the series' 45 episodes, more than any other guest star. In the second season alone, he appeared in 19 out of 22 episodes. If the series had gotten a third season, he'd probably have become a regular character. They might even have revealed his first name!
  • Figure It Out Yourself: God either says a variation of this to Joan or gives her a look which communicates the same thing more or less Once per Episode.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend:
    • It really doesn't take many of the characters that long to completely get over Judith's death. Friedman gets about one scene in an episode afterwards being sad for a moment, but besides that after about three episodes it just gets watered down into another generic subplot for the police to solve.
    • Similarly, Rocky. Both make a reappearance in the second Season Finale.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The Trope Namer. God tells Joan directly, "I look and sound like this because this is what you can understand."
    Joan: Are you — Are you being snippy with me? God is snippy?
    God: (exasperated) Let me explain something to you, Joan. It goes like this: I don't look like this. I don't look like anything you'd recognize. You can't see me. I don't sound like this, I don't sound like anything you'd recognize. You see, I'm beyond your experience. I take this form because you're comfortable with it, it makes sense to you. And if I'm "snippy", it's because you understand snippy.
  • Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind: Goth God.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: The Baker lawsuit arc.
  • Gambit Roulette: When you're omniscient you're allowed to make complicated and chancey plans.
  • Geeky Turn-On
  • Girl of the Week: The girl that Adam randomly hooks up with for one episode in season 2. Kevin's ex girlfriend in season 2.
  • God Is Good: Zigzagged based on the episode. Some of them show Him as benevolent, some as a jerkass and others as inscrutable.
  • Godly Sidestep: The creators made this rule, actually listing things God couldn't say with regards to universal truths and religion.
  • God Test: Joan asks the teenage boy claiming to be God to prove his divinity. He simply points at a tree.
    Joan: ...that's a tree.
    God: Let's see you make one.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The show's writers often went out of their way to show that "right" and "wrong" were complicated topics with no easy answers. For example, God would occasionally tell Joan to break rules, such as building a boat (she cuts class to do it) or throwing a Wild Teen Party (albeit without alcohol). Similarly, in Will's storylines, the various criminals were occasionally far more innocent than the corrupt leaders and business owners in Arcadia.
  • Happily Married: Will and Helen.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Joan wears headphones when she's alone during the pilot. When she takes them off at the end, it shows she's willing to listen to God.
  • Heartbreak and Ice Cream: In one episode, Joan and Helen both face disappointment and end up in the kitchen together late at night. Joan pulls a frozen chocolate dessert and starts microwaving it for them to share; despite Helen protesting "Just a taste," the two end up eating the whole thing ("Mom, we're bummed").
  • High School
  • Hippie Teacher: It turns out that Helen, a secretary whose highest education was being an art school dropout, is qualified to teach high school students.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Luke.
  • Incredibly Inconvenient Deity: Zigzagged throughout the series, as God would simply give Joan a task to do and let her choose how to do it without further guidance. As a result, Joan's choices would occasionally backfire and get her and others in trouble, which wouldn't have happened if God's orders weren't so vague—but since free will was a major theme of the show, it's at least justified. To give but one example: God instructs Joan to keep Adam from displaying a statue at an art show. She asks him not to, but he refuses, and trouble begins when a buyer shows interest in the piece, prompting Adam to drop out of school full time. A desperate Joan proceeds to destroy the statue with a chair, breaking Adam's heart. Helen points out all of the other ways she could have gotten the statue pulled, and Joan tearfully realizes she suffered a "failure of imagination."
  • I Never Told You My Name: This trope defined the show. Most episodes began with Joan having a conversation with a cheerful stranger—a pizza boy, a suburban mom, a street performer, et al—only for the person to call her "Joan" without prompting, making her realize it was God. It happened at least Once an Episode and often three times. It eventually became a safe bet that any seemingly-random extra who was given lines would ultimately be revealed to be God.
  • Informed Judaism: In Season One, Grace's being Jewish is barely mentioned—until it's revealed that her father is a rabbi. Season Two showed a few more plots involving her faith, including Grace preparing for a Bat Mitzvah and, in the season finale, her father's synagogue being firebombed.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Price.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • God can sometimes shift into this, mostly because They always refuse to explain why They wants Joan to do a particular task, and often the task results in someone getting hurt.
    • Friedman is a bit of an asshole at times, particularly to Grace in Season 1. In Season 2, however, he shows a sensitive side with his love for Judith and he and Grace even become friends...well, sort of. Joan also seems less disdainful of him in Season 2, probably because he has stopped lusting after her. Again aside from his asshole qualities, he's a loyal friend to Luke.
  • Large Ham: Ms. Lischak, the AP Chemistry/AP Physics teacher, is very...enthusiastic about her subject matter.
  • Last-Name Basis: Friedman is always called by his surname. His first name is never revealed.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "Secret Service", Lilly mentions watching Stargate with her date Stan on his TV with a tinfoil antenna. In the 2004-2005 season, Stargate SG-1 aired opposite Joan of Arcadia at 8 o'clock on Friday nights.
  • Literal-Minded: Joan never seemed to catch on that God spoke in metaphors a lot of the time, and would frequently declare she was done with her current assignment the second she finished the letter of her instructions.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Little Miss Almighty: God took the shape of an elementary-school girl a couple of times.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Discussed in "Touch Move," which sees Joan trying out for the chess team. The B-plot involves the Arcadia Police Department partnering with a psychic on a kidnapping case; the woman provides some clues and perspectives through her visions, and correctly intuits that Joan "has a special connection with the universe." Ultimately, though, Will solves the case with old-fashioned detective work, leading him to disparage the supposed psychic. Luke ties the two storylines together by pointing out that in chess, players almost always predict their opponent's next few moves—at what point does the ability to see what's happening next stop being logical and start being extrasensory?
    • Averted with Joan's own visitations from the divine, at it was repeatedly made clear that God truly was speaking to her and causing changes in the universe through her actions.
  • Mission from God: A new one every episode.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The Rock Paper Scissors match between Joan and Luke.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Promos for the show during the first season got a lot of mileage out of showing Joan telling God "is it weird that I have a crush on you?" In the actual show this line is spoken during the first episode, because God first appears to Joan on a bus as a boy she doesn't know but thinks is cute; at no point does any sort of romantic infatuation come into play. God Himself lampshades this when He replies "I don't think that'll be a problem", and then when appearing to Joan later as a middle-aged black cafeteria worker She gives the Ironic Echo "told you that crush wouldn't be a problem."
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Joan would frequently suddenly become talented in whatever activity she was to take part in for that episode, much to everyone's surprise, including her. Usually it goes away by the end of the episode. Justified, in that, well, it is God working behind the scenes.
  • N-Word Privileges: Averted, Helen asks Kevin not to make jokes about his disability because "if anyone else made those jokes about you, I would scratch their eyes out."
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • It seems virtually everyone who works in a job with authority in this town besides Joan's dad is a conniving Jerkass.
    • If they aren't this, then they're a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Omniscient Morality License:
    • Well, it is God giving the orders.
    • One episode that stands out in particular would be "Queen of the Zombies" where God is the school's musical director. He has a girl who had the lead singing role whose family was coming in from across the country to watch her perform get Demoted to Extra in the play, and shoving Joan into the lead for no explainable reason besides showing her that she is good at singing. The girl and her family isn't touched on at all.
  • Opposites Attract: Luke and Grace.
  • Oracular Urchin: "Little Girl God" is reminiscent of one.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Joan.
  • Pædo Hunt: In one episode, a priest is badly beaten with the slur "Faggot" scrawled on his car; the priest is able to say that he was attacked for being gay. The cops investigate and find out that a local teen had been visiting the priest a lot lately, and when they question the boy's father, he says that the priest molested his son, triggering Papa Wolf instincts. When Will talks to the teen in question, he parrots what his father said, but Will (through Joan's experiences) realizes that something isn't adding up and correctly infers that the boy himself is gay and was seeking counsel from the priest, who never touched him at all. His bigoted father thought the clergyman "corrupted" his son and thus attacked him.
  • Part-Time Hero: Joan again. One of her frequent complaints to God is "I'm allowed to have a life, right?"
  • Police Brutality: One episode's B-plot featured two cops savagely beating a Black man at a gas station. When Will goes to speak with them, they explain that they thought their lives were in danger, especially when the man reached into his pocket for a weapon. Will thinks the case is open-and-shut...until he meets the victim, who turns out to be developmentally disabled and barely cognizant of what happened, let alone capable of being a threat to anyone.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Joan's main friend group includes the conspiracy theorist and anarchist Grace, the spacey and deeply troubled artist Adam, the geeky and neurotic Luke (her younger brother), the girl-obsessed and obnoxious Friedman, and the equally-dorky but also-feminine Glynis. The final episode implied that the group would serve as Joan's support in her battle against the evil forces that Ryan represented.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Comes up in "Just Say No." God tasks Joan with holding a yard sale, and while she's searching through the attic for merchandise, she discovers dark, disturbing art that Helen painted. Helen refuses to talk about it, which makes Joan mad; the viewers discover that Helen created the paintings after a man broke into her dorm room in the middle of the night and raped her. When God (in the form of a businessman) urges Joan to consider the pain that might have motivated the work, she slowly realizes that it's something related to the trauma of sexual assault, and asks, "How bad was it" God Himself replies: "It was evil. And I don't throw that word around."
  • Real Dreams Are Weirder: While God does occasionally talk to Joan through dreams, her normal dreams also include Adam as a dog and evil koala bears in hats.
  • Refusal of the Call: About every other episode.
  • Romantic False Lead: Iris (for Adam), Glynis (for Luke).
  • Running Gag: Joan yelling embarrassing things as God walks away.
    "You're the one who made us ashamed to be naked!...Yeah, I should really stop doing that."
  • Secret Keeper: The only living person who knows that Joan talks to God is Adam. It's only mentioned that he knows in about two episodes after he believes her. Lily the ex-nun is the only one who knows about Helen's charism.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Glynis briefly gets a make over to look more feminine and pretty, after getting tired of her boyfriend Luke treating her more like a lab partner than a girl who wants to get a compliment on her appearance now and then rather than her brain.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Joan, regarding boyfriend prospect Adam, for the first half of Season 1.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The season two episode "The Rise and Fall of Joan Girardi". By the end of the episode nothing really was accomplished or changed at all. Which they then point out.
  • Single-Minded Twins: Literal; God briefly appears to Joan as a pair of twin girls—although since Joan was suffering the effects of Lyme's disease at the time, and this incarnation never showed up again, it's possible that this was simply a hallucination.
    Joan: I thought we were going with monotheism.
    God Girls: I'm impressed you know what that is.
  • Spirit Advisor: Others can see God; They just doesn't let them know who They are.
    Joan: You talk to my brother?
    God: I talk to everyone.
  • Spock Speak: Luke and Glynis often talked this way.
  • Status Quo Is God: Glynis and Luke break up after she gets a makeover and wants to enjoy people who acknowledge her appearance. By the next episode she's back to her same old image, friends, and mannerisms.
  • Straight Gay: One Season Two episode sees God tasking Joan with helping the school politics geek with his campaign for class president. His main opponent is a Big Man on Campus and Jerk Jock who engages in mudslinging to reveal that the geek's father is in prison. Joan and Judith decide to get some dirt of their own, tail the jock, and notice him chatting up the school's biggest drug dealer, who's also a guy. Then the two start kissing. Judith snaps a photo, and the rest of the episode is Joan debating whether or not to out the jock. She ultimately doesn't, and he wins, with God comforting her that at least she did the right thing.
  • Strawman Political: Grace is a Conspiracy Theorist who very frequently mouths off about things that are "fascist."
  • Straw Vulcan: In "Touch Move", Joan defeated the best Chess player in the school, despite not knowing how to play Chess well. The reason given was that you can't use order to defeat chaos. In reality, using chaos against a computer chess player is always a losing proposition, and practically all chess players beyond the novice level would recognize a threatened mate in one move.
  • The Television Talks Back: One of the ways God communicates with Joan.
  • Totally Radical: The science teacher, who tries way too hard to look cool.
    • A better example might be the guidance counselor, who basically acts like a teenager despite being in his thirties
  • Tuckerization:
    • Joan is named after Joan of Arc.
    • The Girardi family are named after Robert Girardi, who wrote "Vanity, Thy Name is Human".
  • Turn in Your Badge
  • TV Genius: Luke is only believable if you've never met anyone with an IQ above 110.
  • Two Girls and a Guy: Joan, Grace and Adam. Contrasted with...
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Luke, Friedman and Glynis.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Two-Teacher School: If there's any teacher shown besides the science teacher or Helen, it's safe to assume they're either God in disguise, or only here for just that week.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Every scene in the police station. Not just the police station. Every time Will is shown doing anything on the job whatsoever, it turns gritty and blue. Considering how bright and yellow every other scene is, it's always very noticeable. Especially during one scene where Helen walks through the station wearing a bright red coat. It stands out so much that it feels like you're watching the girl from Schindler's List.
  • Universe Bible: No, not the literal Bible. The creator of the show and all of its writers were given strict rules about the nature of the show's theology. Key points included "Good and evil exist" and "God is not allowed to directly interfere."
    • In-Universe, God also remarks that They established very specific rules when creating existence, and that granting anyone a particular favor would be unfair to the rest of creation. They do, however, remark that "miracles happen within the rules."
  • Very Special Episode: Several, including character death, sexual assault, school shootings... plus Kevin's disability. Very few "right" answers were ever given, however.
  • Wild Teen Party: God Himself requests the party (but veto alcohol). The parents never find out, but the cops came by to shut everything down, much to Joan's relief. This ended up saving the lives of the police officers by preventing them from being at a meth lab when it exploded.
    • One of these also resulted in Kevin's accident—he was at a wild party and, fearful of other people thinking him uncool, allowed a friend to drive drunk.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Both Joan/Adam and Luke/Grace.
  • Woobie of the Week: Joan helps out someone new every week, whether she wants to or not. For the first season, at least.
  • Worthy Opponent: After getting over the shock of his opponent being a 17 year-old girl, Ryan views Joan this way.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: By the middle of Season 1, Joan thinks she has mastered God's tests and even starts bragging about good she's getting at fulfilling Their demands. Unfortunately, she was almost inevitably wrong in her guesses.
  • X Called; They Want Their Y Back:
    "Copernicus called. He said the world doesn't revolve around you."
    "The dork police called. They want their leader back."
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Adam didn't tend to call Joan by her name much. He does it once they've broken up, and when he starts calling her "Jane" again, it means they've reconciled.
  • You Watch Too Much X: Said by Rocky when he visits Joan as a ghost after she tells him to go into the light.

 
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God Is Snippy?

Source of the page quote, and possibly the trope namer. In the pilot of "Joan of Arcadia," Joan questions the boy who states he is God, wondering about the fact that God would be snippy with her. He explains that he's actually not like what she sees, that she's comfortable with snippy, so he's taken that form. He tells her that in fact he has a great personality and she'd like him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

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Main / AFormYouAreComfortableWith

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