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The Meaning of Life: 3 Theories from Cord Jefferson, Damon Lindelof, and Michael Schur — TV Podcast

Cord Jefferson's fear is going to burrow into your brain and hold you hostage for weeks.

Millions of Screens

If nothing else, 2020 has thrived at emphasizing how important it is that we make the most of every moment we have on Earth and to not delay meaningful communication with someone, because tomorrow is never promised.

That was likely the thought process going through the head of Indiewire’s TV Deputy Editor Ben Travers as he asked two of the greatest minds in television a question that had been bothering him ever since the pair appeared on a panel together at Vulture Fest in 2017: “What is the meaning of life?” (At the time of the panel, Lindelof’s original series “The Leftovers” had ended mere months prior and “The Good Place” was airing its second season, so the context would have been more appropriate.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly each man had a nuanced and thoughtful position on the matter.

“Where [Schur and “The Good Place” writers] arrived at was, the goal isn’t, I think, to solve the problem; to answer the question of what matters — and this gets a little semantically tricky,” Schur said. “But I think the meaning of life isn’t to answer the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ The meaning of life is to care to try to find the answer, to try to make the attempt to search for it. Because I don’t think there’s an answer.”

“And people generally fall into two categories and you see this all the time, especially in modern day America,” he continued, “There’s people who care, who give a shit, and there’s people who don’t. The caring and the trying and the attempt — the day to day attempt to be a good person, to be a better person, or to just improve the world in which we live is, I think, what matters.”

The “Parks and Recreation” creator pointed out that this division was playing out in real time, sparked primarily by those people who refuse to wear masks, as advised, in order to discourage the spread of coronavirus.

“I will say that that, oddly enough, the movie ‘Defending Your Life’ feels to me like it’s always been a relative of ‘The Good Place’ because it deals with the afterlife in a comedic way. But I think that the conclusion that that movie comes to, and it presents it out front, is that the meaning of life is basically to know [and to] understand fear and overcome it,” Lindelof said.

“I think that people who don’t wear masks are not assholes. They’re not evil, and they’re not cruel. They’re scared,” the “Watchmen” showrunner said. “And I think that it is very difficult to walk up to someone who’s screaming in the Trader Joe’s and say, ‘What is it you’re scared of?’ but an understanding that they’re coming from a place of fear and treating them with some degree of empathy and compassion — even though everything that they’re doing is jeopardizing the lives of others or maybe it’s been politicized or whatever it is — that’s an incredibly difficult discipline to move through life with.”

Though the excerpted quotes are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the wisdom offered up in this week’s “Millions of Screens,” the real reason to listen is for when the conversation takes a hard right turn into Schur sharing with the world what “Watchmen” and “Good Place” writer Cord Jefferson has an irrational fear of, why it means he only runs on indoor treadmills, as well as Jefferson’s stirring defense of the worst band of all time, Steely Dan.

Hear it (and see it) all in the extended cut of this week’s “Millions of Screens,” available in video form above.

Millions of Screens” is available on AnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.

This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

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