Rookie of the Year

Shit Show

A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture, politics, music, videogames, travel, fatherhood and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed mercilessly while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect and sobriety. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.

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This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #88. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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I just finished binge-listening S-Town, the podcast everyone is buzzing about this week. There are more than a few complimentary things to be said about it, but I have no interest in adding to the cacophony of praise. I found the show misleading, manipulative – and worse.

But instead of breaking it down, point by point, I’d simply like to present my own take on the show’s opening monologue, the one minute forty-five second clip used as a tease on This American Life and Serial, and the ostensible setup for the story to come. My version is a look at how S-Town should have begun – if the producers were truly being honest with their listeners.

Warning: Spoilers galore.

Support for S-Town comes from SquareSpace.

Chapter One:

When a podcast breaks, because of a non-existent murder mystery sold as a bill of goods to listeners in the opening lines as the central element of the plot – but is actually total bullshit that has nothing to do with anything – it can be tricky to fix it.

The podcast might have a recording of a conversation with a guy who didn’t kill anyone because there was no goddamn murder in the first place. It might contain even more tapes of second- and third-hand accounts of said non-existent murder. It might have a tour of a cool garden maze. It could even feature a brilliant but eccentric main character who rambles on about climate change and be set in a small Alabama town that can trick big-city liberals into feeling more connected – or more superior – to Trump voters.

To make it even trickier, all these many years of intricate, in-depth interviews with mostly completely irrelevant people might not be simply discarded; the elements could be part of a highly produced, mass-marketed seven-hour series and six hours of it might not work simply as dead air. It might have a fun title and slick music and even some interesting things to say and the reporter might have recorded every single fucking useless conversation he’s had since at least 2012 to make it. Plus, there could be loads of gratuitous homosexual behavior to report without the subject’s consent. A tattoo parlor with a hidden bar in the back where hicks casually use the “N” word and which later becomes the source of more private sexual encounters no one needs to know about. Civil and criminal court cases that ultimately mean little or nothing to the listener. And another potentially awesome mystery that might seem for a while to be the real story, but also goes absolutely nowhere.

Anyway, you only learned about this podcast because a show you love, This American Life, told you you needed to check it out. It will kill off the main character and spend the great majority of the series exposing his life in a way that neither lives up to the promises of the first episode nor has much bearing on anything at all, really, doing little more than exploiting a man ultimately driven to suicide by mental illness.

From Serial and This American Life, this is Shit-Town.

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

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