On the surface, it might be easy to lump in Showtime’s This American Life under the category of Reality Television. Yet to look at Showtime’s TV version of the radio program produced for over a decade by Chicago Public Radio and hosted by Ira Glass, this really isn’t a fair association. With no prize money or goofy angle to speak of, perhaps this could be categorized as “Hyper-Reality TV”, as the stories contained on this series do not feel filtered or manipulated in any way. Like the best documentaries, This American Life presents stories relating to a particular theme and tries to make them as relatable as possible, showing you how amazing we as a people really are.
As host Ira Glass will tell you, from episodic theme, we are presented stories surrounding that theme. These narratives will run a ridiculously wide gamut, from an anecdote about a young girl who cannot wait to use the bathroom any longer on a bus trip and the years she had to suffer in school because of it, to the tale of a photographer so committed to his own maxim of nonintervention while covering events, that he actually watches a woman die instead of pitching in to save her life. These are the type of beguiling accounts that make this show so unique and intriguing that you’ll wish this season of episodes was ten times longer than it is.
Regardless of how mundane or fantastic, This American Life treats each of its stories with equal importance, showing us how even tales surrounding garage bands and then cloning can be connected and then be able to move us in equal measure. The show will also open your eyes to developments which you may or may not think about, such as the evolution of pig farming or experiments that can possibly block out parts of your memory (much like Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but the series does its best to emphasize our human relationship to these events, and how they can effect many of us. Other stories can be much simpler in their approach, such as one where a middle-schooler swears off love, or another story of a man who can’t give up the love of his life, even after she has long passed away, but still be deeply effecting.
This American Life: The Complete First Season is hopefully just the first step for a show that will have a long future ahead of it. With its simple, yet enchanting stories, the series brings all the charm from the radio broadcasts that made it such a hit in that format and feels fresher than most shows on TV do right now. Real human drama and emotion are just two of the things that this show never seems to never be short on week in and week out, and it’s a good thing too, because for much of TV those two factors are unfortunately in small supply.
There’s a pretty good print on this disc, but it won’t blow you away with its clarity. Shot like a cinema verite documentary, the show is a little rough around the edges, but that seems to only enhance its charm. The show is filmed in anamorphic widescreen. It also sounds fantastic on this print, with its mix of music and voice never muffling each other out.
Ira Glass Biography
While extras on this disc are virtually nonexistent, I can’t recommend this show enough. This American Life is a touching, wonderfully quirky look at human existence, and I hope all of you try to check it out.
Showtime presents This American Life: The Complete First Season. Created by Ira Glass. Starring Ira Glass. Running time: 168 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: September 23, 2008. Available at Amazon.