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TV Preview: "This American Life"

TV Preview: "This American Life"

Those of you who have Showtime are in luck: I'm positively giddy about "This American Life," which premieres this Thursday. I've been nervously awaiting the TV adaptation of my favorite radio show, and having seen several episodes, I can say it doesn't disappoint. The show is as funny, quirky, and moving on TV as it is on the radio — only now, it's also pretty.


In fact, "This American Life" is the prettiest thing I've seen on television, period. It's full of sweeping landscape shots, rich colors, and interesting angles. As creator and host Ira Glass has said, it doesn't look like anything else on TV, but that doesn't mean it looks like a movie, either. I suppose it's most like a series of photographs that happen to be moving. The stories themselves manage to feel just as fresh and intimate on screen, so to hear more about the show and see some clips, read more

The format sticks close to what Glass and company have been doing for more than a decade: Each half-hour show consists of a series of stories arranged around a central theme (the first episode, "Reality Check," focuses on seemingly brilliant ideas with unpleasant outcomes). Glass is present without being overbearing; he appears from time to time sitting at a desk in the middle of some random location, like salt flats or a school gym, and those of you who haven't had the pleasure of being starstruck by him in person can be assured that he's just as nerdy-hot as you'd hope. Loyal fans also will be glad to know that the show has kept its signature sign-off of attributing one random, out-of-context line to WBEZ general manager Torey Malatia.

Some of the stories have previously aired in radio format, but seeing them with visuals adds a new texture. It's one thing to hear a producer describe what happened when she saw a man get attacked by his prized cloned bull; it's another thing entirely to see the man as he's wheeled into the hospital. Both versions work, and the shift is impressively seamless. The show gives its stories time to develop, but it isn't plodding. "This American Life" pushed the boundaries of what could be done on radio; I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up changing television, too.

Here's a trailer for the show:

And here's a scene from the second episode, "My Way":

Photo courtesy of Showtime

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