.... was a question I'm sure many people asked when hearing that the most innovative, wonderful NPR radio program "This American Life" was going on television. It seemed almost impossible to believe that they would be taking their winning format and trying it out in a totally different medium. Would the intimacy that radio provides be possible on TV? Would seeing ruin the visuals the stories build in your heads? Rest assured, the show was in good, good hands and the result is a winning combination.
Host Ira Glass, with his nasally calm voice, introduces each week a theme, and spins stories on that theme from a wide pancea of possibilities, each a complete story within it's own, each adding to the examination of the question without ever directly answering it. The television show picks up the same concept, albeit in a shorter, half-hour version. More about this later.
The opening episode tells about reality, and two disparate stories (and one of the funniest introduction stories I ever heard) that you can possibly imagine. One about a tame bull named Chance and his unlikely offspring, and the other about a radical improv group in New York City. That's the beauty of Glass' radio show: taking these two stories, that literally happen in different worlds in our own country, and putting them together to make beautiful poetry. That's Glass' and the show's genius.
I found the show's visual aspects to not be a detractor, but to enhance the storytelling of the show. One segment in the second episode tells about a group of dastardly senior citizens deciding they were going to make a movie for Sundance. The story was definitely enhanced by seeing the woman who was selected playing the robber, a plastic mask covering her face, her hand shaking. Less needs to be said description wise as the stories are told (yes, I did miss that), but it's nice to actually see the "reality" of it.
My only small beef is the length of the show. It cuts at a half hour, and every time the episode ended and the credits rolled, I did feel ripped off. I'm very used to the hour format of the radio show, and the three act format (although even the radio show bends that format by doing one or two act shows, depending on the content). I simply want an hour of the show!
Glass manages to tells diverse stories of our diverse country, honoring the people telling the stories, and giving them a wonderful sense of dignity. Their realities may not be one ounce similar to your or my realities, yet we find common themes that unite us together. This American Life expertly unites all of us by helping us understand life in other people's shoes just that much more. Bravo for that!