My Fabulous Vacation Home On Naboo, With Michael Schur
4:19 PM EST on March 9, 2023
Beyond "include jokes" and "try not to say 'like' so many times" it's hard to say that I go into the average episode of The Distraction with anything like a goal in mind. I want it to be good, of course, but given that we've only done something like 400 episodes of this show in various configurations and at several different platforms it seems unfair to expect me to have an idea of what "good" would mean in this context. If I had to explain it, which thanks to my decision in writing this post in this way I do, a "good" episode of the podcast would include some combination of smart and dumb things, each addressed with about equal rigor and energy, and if possible a serious discussion of something having to do with toilets. By that standard, I would say that this week's episode, which features the baseball and television savant Michael Schur and just about everything listed above, is "good."
I am biased in a number of very obvious ways, so it might be more circumspect to say that this is my type of episode. For one thing, Drew says "that's a big dog" in a loud Drew Voice before we even get to the three-minute mark, and for another a good portion of what comes immediately after that is given over to discussion about topics that are especially near to my heart, in this case the hilarious and preposterously vile local tabloid The New York Post and SNL honcho Lorne Michaels' era-defining, world-historic capacity for namedropping. By the time Schur was telling a story about a Tina Fey bit pegged to the concept of Lorne vacationing on one of the planets featured in The Phantom Menace, I would have been happy to end the podcast. I'd gotten what I came for.
Of course, we hadn't actually gotten to the "podcast" part of the podcast by then. So there was some baseball talk, both about the newsy question of when it is wise to start noticing or caring about baseball and the more global one of what the sport's most powerful figures are and aren't doing on the game's behalf, and why. There was also some television talk, less about the particulars of actually making shows (although Schur's previous Distraction appearance was very illuminating on that) than the broader environment in which shows are produced, bought, sold, and then made to disappear, suddenly and without explanation, from various streaming services. This, like a lot of other lousy and utterly normal things, is something that just kind of seems to happen, now. Like all of those lousy things, it is happening for a reason. As it turns out, a great many of those lousy things are happening for the same reason.
So we talked about that. Schur, who is on the bargaining committee for the Writers Guild of America as it gears up for a showdown with the increasingly consolidated and profit-minded studios, proved an astute and patient guide to the (extravagantly fucked and anti-human) business concerns that continue to contort that industry into sad new shapes. This, again, is "my kind of thing," but I think even people who are less interested in television than in how and why things have gone about becoming more rote, less creative, and generally worse up and down the culture will find a lot to interest them here.
It might seem like a hard pivot, or like one of those Fast And Furious emergency-brake 180s, to go from that conversation to jolly remembrances of perma-old knuckleballer Charlie Hough and a Funbag-aided consideration of how bathrooms smell, and why, and what science can and can't do about that. I suppose it was, just on the merits. But when an episode is working, these sorts of things don't seem quite so jarring. One minute you are discussing the ways in which the demands of ultra-optimized corporate greed militate against human flourishing and delight, and the next you are appraising the text on the back of Charlie Hough's 1983 Fleer baseball card with the guy who came up with some of your favorite television shows. When it's good, it all just feels right.
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