This American LifeWebsite | Ira Glass By Kristy Puchko
An exhilarating and expansive look at American life.
"From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Every week we choose a theme, and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme..." Since 1995 the show's warm but unflappable host, Ira Glass, and a menagerie of journalists, writers, and comedians have gathered together to explore the American zeitgeist one topic at a time on this remarkable NPR radio broadcast turned podcast that has since been spun into a heralded documentary television series and is now branching out into filmmaking. Whether they are breaking down the housing market crisis, investigating what it means to be a psychopath, or exploring personal identity through the revelation of long-held family secrets, This American Life unfolds unforgettable stories week after week with an unshakeable interest in the unseen virtue of the everyday and a humane sense of humor.
With more than 400 episodes to their credit, the This American Life crew has offered thousands of compelling stories with intelligent whimsy that makes them compulsively intriguing whatever the subject. Experts weigh in on hot topics like the economy and campaign finance reform with an easy-to-follow narrative of where we are, how we got there, and why it matters. Comedians and humorists like Mike Birbiglia, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell contribute autobiographical stories infused with self-deprecating humor and radiant with insight. But sometimes it's the unadorned stories of the common man that are the most incredible.
With so many amazing episodes, it's a dizzying thing to pick the best of the best. Still, of all of This American Life's favorites, I'd to say Switched at Birth and The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar are among the most compelling. The first reveals the shocking story of a mother who knew her child had been switched at birth, and what happened when she finally revealed this 43 years later. The other travels back in time to 1912, to explore the case of a missing 4-year-old named Bobby Dunbar. Decades later, when Bobby's granddaughter decided to make a scrapbook of his peculiar time in the spotlight, she discovered some troubling newspaper articles that led her down a road that would bring to light a startling truth that would change her family forever.
These hard-hitting stories of families in crisis make for captivating listening, but if you're new to This American Life, I'd recommend starting off with something lighter, like MacGyver or Break-up. The former begins with Chuck Klosterman explaining how he pulled a last-minute Valentine's Day gift out of his ass--or more specifically his closet--then leads into a hysterical but true story of an FBI agent looking to bring down the mob by producing a movie. The latter contains one of my all-time favorite stories in which writer Starlee Kine wallows in her break-up with a bad boyfriend by getting songwriting advice by the master of the heartbreak ballad, Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Phil Collins.
Of course This American Life offers a new episode each week, so you could try your luck by subscribing and giving a listen to the latest edition. With all the talented storytellers the show attracts, it's a safe bet that whatever the episode will prove a solid introduction to this addictive series.
You can subscribe to the This American Life podcast at i-Tunes or listen to its entire archive online for free at ThisAmericanLife.org
TV & Film News By Kristy Puchko
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|This American Life: Animation from season 2|