Most TV shows hook people with repetition. The Walking Dead gets their audience emotionally attached to a dumb luck person in a zombie apocalypse and then kills that person a few episodes later, or teases it. Things like Breaking Bad intrigue people because it’s terrible people doing terrible things to each other and, lets face it, most people aren’t anything like those involved. So to say the least: repeating the same things hasn’t ever appealed to me. So, I usually lose interest in TV shows and fall behind in whatever the latest social craze is about.
This American Life’s only repeat theme, so far, is their dedication to telling people’s lives through their own words. They record them for a few days. They interview them for a brief time. Then it’s wrapped up with a brief outcome of that segment of their life. It might sound boring, but the major difference is the types of lives people live and their struggles through common issues.
Most stories are uplifting or give some good insight into just other aspects of life that most wouldn’t be aware about. Like they interviewed the first man to get a genetic clone, but it was of his pet bull. You know? The thing with big horns? It showed how they basically struggled with the mortality, and reality, of their dead pet. Which lead into a episode called Escape. It was about a boy, now a man, who slowly loses all of his normal motor functions due to a rare terminal illness. The fellow struggled with his thoughts, family relations, talking, eating, trying to go for a walk, etc. It was nothing short of completely heart breaking.
The episodes flow seamlessly together and embody something grand; the enduring human spirit. Even if you find yourself not caring about what the people are talking about, or are irritated, it still explains in depth as to why they are the way they are and how they became that way. The attention to detail is finite and gives enough to explain how these issues are important to people. Like in the second season a couple started fighting over lawn care. I thought “well just mow the lawn and shut up.” Then they explained how it was for this man, who viewed something as simple as grass and how certain European influences dissuaded him from ever wanting to touch the lawn. I did find it kinda boring, but the insight was rather deep.
There are a lot of beautiful stories in This American Life. Then, at the same time, there’s a lot of oddities that make me just wonder “why?” Why are these people like this? Why are these people so stupid? Why are these two still together? Why do they do this to themselves? Then I remembered: because people are different. This show highlights the differences, the tragedies, their hopes, and everything in between. It’s a fantastic voyeuristic view into the thoughts, minds, and hearts of many while taking no punches at the people involved. Many of the stories will linger and others will quickly be forgotten like a bad day at work. Regardless this has great insight into the human adventure that is the modern day life.
Please watch at least a few episodes before making a judgment. It’s a trench of empathy that is endlessly captivating.
This American Life show is available on Showtime and Amazon Prime.
The radio show is available for free at This American Life.org.