Friday, May 9, 2008

WOW - This American Life TV

Faithful readers (or the reader) of got lactate? know about This American Life, one of the best and most original radio shows ever to grace the airwaves. To think that Ira Glass used to avoid being photographed, lest his image somehow ruin his relationship with the radio-listening public. Now he has his own television show.

I feel like host Ira Glass is one of my closest running buddies, having logged countless miles with me since running, my iPod and my ability to access podcasts coalesced in late 2006. Unlike Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal (a Boston Marathon qualifier), I don't get the sense that Ira is a runner, but he has certainly spent lots of virtual time on the roads, with me and many others.

After hearing him promote TAL's television show, now in its second season, I finally remembered to look for it, and I recorded it and watched it last night for the first time. Rarely does any product - whether creative or material - live up to its self-promoted hype, but when TAL - The Television Show claims to be "unlike anything else on television", it could not be more true. I fall into that ever-increasing category of people who subscribes to a wide array of cable channels, yet routinely find that "there's nothing to watch". Thanks to a DVR (like a TiVo), I record the few shows I like (Scrubs, The Daily Show, soccer, 24, etc.) and watch them whenever I choose, skipping commercials along the way. TAL has instantly vaulted to the top of my "must-see TV" list.

Last night's episode was entitled "Escape" and featured two stories: a short one about inner city kids who ride horses in Philadelphia, and a longer story about a man with a degenerative muscular condition which has rendered him essentially immobile, mute and otherwise barely functional by most people's standards. His story deals with his desire to "escape" living with his mother, a wonderful woman who has basically spent every waking (and non-waking) moment making sure her son stays alive. The man communicates painfully via a thumb-click-operated computer program, and it's clear that his intellectual and emotional life is very rich and dense. Between the gorgeous cinematography and fresh point-of-view storytelling, TAL ranks as one of the most compelling pieces of television which I've ever seen. What a refreshing change from reality shows, sitcoms, high-noise/low-substance news and whatever else fills the space and time which is the video broadcast spectrum.

Ira Glass himself has pointed out the irony that TAL's fan base, Public Radio listeners, are not likely to be Showtime subscribers, so I hope that TAL finds a way to get the ratings it needs to stay on the air. Perhaps post-air downloads, national tours and other promotional events will raise the show's visibility. One can only hope.

If you have not seen (or listened to) TAL, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Perhaps it won't be your cup of tea, but I promise that you won't walk away feeling like you've seen it before.


1 comment:

Billy said...

I saw it too! My roommate's a fan of the radio show and I just happened to sit down and watch that exact episode.

Afterwards the latter story, I simply turned to him and said: "dude, I have no right to complain about anything ever again!"

powerful stuff.