Join 3,411 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Each week on our show we choose a theme...
July 11, 2013 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow, public radio show This American Life airs its 500th episode. Started in 1995 by Ira Glass, with the initial title Your Radio Playhouse, the show is a popular reference point here on the blue, covering everything from the minute goings-on of ordinary people, to allegedly unearthing the secret recipe for Coke, to the 2008 financial collapse. Ahead of the occasion, Ira Glass talked to Buzzfeed about the episodes that stand out in his mind.

While also being home to short stories by perennial favourites like Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, and Mike Birbiglia, TAL has been home to some attention-grabbing journalism, shedding light on vital current topics, including:

Guantanamo Bay
The Sub-prime mortgage debacle
Health Care reform
The War in Iraq and its aftermath
The War in Afghanistan (with it's own unique flavour)
Frakking
Immigration reform
The explosion in Federal Disability benefits
Patent Trolls
The influence of money and lobbyists on US politics

TAL's accessible coverage of the 2008 financial meltdown led to a spinoff podcast, Planet Money, a twice-weekly show that aims to make mundane, arcane, and obscure pieces of the economy understandable for everyday listeners, using TAL's trademark inquisitive and conversational style.

Slate also has a three part video interview with Glass about his approach to interviewing.
posted by dry white toast (84 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

 
The poultry price fixing episode was amazing, and I believe was the story that was turned into the movie The Informant!

Also highly recommended, Russ Feingold and John McCain discussing the horrible Citizens United decision
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:45 PM on July 11, 2013


Heh. I like how the BuzzFeed writer has written his survey in the style of a TAL radio story.

Or is that just me grafting TAL's voice onto BuzzFeed's words?

Stay tuned.
posted by notyou at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Ira talked to Buzzfeed about this, I would assume we're going to be getting a "500 of the best This American Life episodes" article from them soon.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Super may be my favorite. [Transcript]
Reporter Jack Hitt tells the story of how he helped organize tenants and threaten a rent strike in a New York City building back in the 1980s. Before long, Bob, the building super, became his enemy. The situation got pretty ugly. Mobster ugly. Bob began to brag about how important he was in his native Brazil, how he could kill a person and be immune from prosecution. It was only many years later that Jack found out how dangerous Bob really was. (21 minutes)
posted by notyou at 12:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Beat me to it, notyou. I was just linking to it. My favourite as well.

In general I never miss Jack Hitt's TAL pieces. Consistently the best.
posted by dry white toast at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let us not forget Mike Daisey.

Rob Schmitz: So you lied about that. That wasn’t what you saw.
Mike Daisey: I wouldn’t express it that way.
Rob Schmitz: How would you express it?
Mike Daisey: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip. So when I was building the scene of that meeting, I wanted to have the voice of this thing that had been happening that everyone been talking about.
Ira Glass: So you didn’t meet any worker who’d been poisoned by hexane?
Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

posted by entropicamericana at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Adam Davidson and the rest of the team at Planet Money, after their initial outing, can suck it. Yes, you, Zoe Chace.

On the other hand... David Rakoff. I've been listening to the audio book of David Rakoff's last set of essays "Half Empty," read by: David Rakoff. It is completely brilliant; mesmerizingly, incandescently brilliant and wonderful. If you have the kind of sensibility to which This American Life appeals, you should get it. Audio book, not book. Rakoff's essays, as performed by Rakoff, are simply fantastic. Thank you, TAL, for introducing me to him.
posted by Auden at 12:55 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Glad to see the Loon Lake episode on his list. That was just a fantastic story. The ADM price-fixing and mortgage debacle ones were outstanding, too. The mortgage one in particular - "giant pool of money" - really drove home for me the full extent of the crisis in a way that nothing else really did.
posted by jquinby at 12:58 PM on July 11, 2013


Glad I'm not alone in my urge to link to The Super every time TAL comes up. The snowman piece cracks me up every time.
posted by antonymous at 1:01 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm so glad the show wasn't renamed Journey to Whatever or American Whatever. Those are almost insufferably 1995.
posted by muddgirl at 1:02 PM on July 11, 2013


Jquinby, I think the Giant Pool of Money episode was the clearest explanation of the financial crisis I have come across so far.

I love This American Life, and I have Metafilter to thank for introducing me to it. Though I enjoy the multiple segment episodes too, I think my favourites are the ones that cover a single story: posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:05 PM on July 11, 2013


If Buzzfeed wanted to be helpful in their Buzzfeed way, they should do a list of the best Tory Malatea tags. They're a great way to get people to listen to the end credits.
posted by dry white toast at 1:05 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


In general I never miss Jack Hitt's TAL pieces. Consistently the best.

I was just going to link to the first TAL I ever heard, and it hooked me immediately--yes, it's Jack Hitt.

Act V:We devote this entire episode to one story: Over the course of six months, reporter and TAL contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet.
posted by gladly at 1:06 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


ACT V! YES! I've been listening to this show for over 10 years, and that's one of the only ones that immediately comes to mind.
posted by liketitanic at 1:06 PM on July 11, 2013


One of my favorite pieces ever in This American Life has tortured genius Jonathan Goldstein reading his short story "Man, Not Superman" in "Act 4" of 2001's Episode 198, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." (audio link)
posted by Auden at 1:08 PM on July 11, 2013


Two of the first TAL stories I ever heard were Act V and also Heretics which completely sucked me in to the program.
posted by kmz at 1:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The House At Loon Lake is my favorite. This episode reminds me of the many abandoned homes I saw in Eastern and Northeastern Kansas during my college days roaming the back roads looking for things to photograph. THALL always makes me think that these houses may have, at one time, been filled with happy voices and are now broken and empty and sad.

Tornado Prom was a good one too.
posted by stltony at 1:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Auden: Adam Davidson and the rest of the team at Planet Money, after their initial outing, can suck it. Yes, you, Zoe Chace.

Why? They have done some really great work explaining economics from a lot of perspectives.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Episode 487/488 Harper High School referenced in the "popular" link above is probably the best episode of This American Life. But I can't call it my favorite because it's also the one that made me cry multiple times on public transportation.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:10 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just remembered how Adam Davidson wanted to be the Israeli PM when he was a youth and that made me like him more.
posted by liketitanic at 1:10 PM on July 11, 2013


20 Acts in 60 Minutes is hands-down my favorite episode, and I desperately wish they woulda returned to that format on a semi-regular basis, like once or twice a year.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:11 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had read a few articles and listened to a few people try to explain the subprime mess to me. After listening to The Giant Pool of Money, I thought, "ok, now I get it....wow, we're fucked."

ACT V is breathtaking. There's a moment where one of the prisoners/actors is rehearsing the monologue where Hamlet debates whether to kill Claudius as he's praying. And I'm pretty sure the dude was an actual convicted murderer. It was more compelling than any production of Hamlet I've ever seen.
posted by dry white toast at 1:11 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The Giant Pool of Money" was the only thing that made sense to me in coverage of the mortgage crisis. Partly because it took the time to interview people at nearly every step of the chain. You had investors looking for anything better than U.S. bonds. You had the mortgage broker who was borrowing millions in short-term loans, giving it out to anyone who could sign an application, and selling those loans to meet the credit call at the ned of the week. You had the homeowner who went underwater on a mortgage thinking he'd be in a different house when the balloon terms hit. And you had the analyst trying to figure out exactly what his client actually owned after buying a mess of mortgage-backed securities.

Everyone admitted that something was not quite right, but figured as long as the monthly figures all balanced out, it couldn't be that bad.

It possibly was a bit biased in suggesting that the middlemen who overleveraged themselves by hundreds of millions of dollars were bigger idiots than Joe Homeowner, who usually went out of his way to make some sort of payment arrangement. But that's a bias I share.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:14 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


This American Life Completes Documentation of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence

I kid because I love
posted by odinsdream at 1:17 PM on July 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I had read a few articles and listened to a few people try to explain the subprime mess to me. After listening to The Giant Pool of Money, I thought, "ok, now I get it....wow, we're fucked."

If you want to be driven to drink even more whiskey, try Griftopia.
posted by odinsdream at 1:19 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Planet Money but yeah, when Zoe or Channa-throat-clearing whats-her-name are on the air, it sounds like an 8th grade broadcasting project.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:20 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jquinby, I think the Giant Pool of Money episode was the clearest explanation of the financial crisis I have come across so far.

The problem, however is whether it was accurate. Specifically, that piece pointed to the Federal Reserve lowering rates as the trigger of sorts of the financial crisis. This is both dubious as well as indicative of the political point-of-view that the offshoot, Planet Money, would continue to push.

Why? They have done some really great work explaining economics from a lot of perspectives.

There is a consistent stream of right-wing politics that Adam Davidson pushes in his work on NPR, TAL, Planet Money, PBS, NY Times, etc. that is very troubling.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 1:20 PM on July 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why? They have done some really great work explaining economics from a lot of perspectives.

This article has a good writeup of Davidson/Planet Money's ethical issues

http://observer.com/2012/08/adam-davidson-planet-money-media-ethics-08092012/

A Sponsorship Problem: Ames and Levine published a 2009 lobbying report signed by the financial conglomerate in question, GMAC (now Ally Financial), in which the company discloses lobbying against the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009, which created the CFPB that Elizabeth Warren now acts as a special adviser to. To them, this disclosure speaks great volumes about Davidson’s coverage, particularly a 2009 interview between Davidson and Warren. At the time, Warren was lobbying for the act (as she was its architect), which set out to create an agency that would protect consumers from predatory practices by companies like GMAC/Ally Financial. During the interview, Davidson was so surprisingly hostile towards Warren that it famously warranted an apology from NPR’s ombudsman.

[Ally (formerly GMAC), the consumer-lending arm of General Motors, is 74 percent owned by the government after receiving a $17.2 billion bailout. Even as other financial firms have emerged from the darkest days of the financial crisis, Ally has remained in the government’s debt, due to the struggles of Residential Capital, the Ally-owned mortgage lender that recently entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy.]

Meanwhile, Ally had sponsored the show since shortly after it had launched, in an arrangement that raised eyebrows when it was initially revealed. Ames and Levine note that at that time, Planet Money was the only NPR show with a single sponsor.

The Speaking Gigs: They’ve compiled some of Adam Davidson’s “lucrative” speaking gigs, hosted and funded by some of the largest financial institutions in the world (JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs). While a widespread practice, it’s one that in their eyes—and the eyes of many others—compromises journalistic integrity.

posted by longdaysjourney at 1:21 PM on July 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


The less well-known companion piece to The Giant Pool of Money is the "Another Frightening Episode About The Economy" (the "2008 financial collapse" link in the FPP), which was done in Fall 2008 after Lehman's and TARP, etc. It brought clarity to that mess as well, talking about money markets and how they seized up, and explaining what a Credit Default Swap was ("Imagine I were to take out an insurance policy on your house burning down").
posted by dry white toast at 1:22 PM on July 11, 2013


I don't understand the Zoe Chace hate. I love her voice. What, do you want everyone on the radio to have the bland Midwestern accent?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 1:22 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Every so often I feel like I've had enough of TAL and its sensibilities. And then I hear something like the Patent Troll episode. For what it's worth, I can not NOT listen to almost any Jack Hitt once I hear a millisecond of his voice. Act V sticks with me like glue.
posted by readery at 1:23 PM on July 11, 2013


Episode 487/488 Harper High School referenced in the "popular" link above is probably the best episode of This American Life.

Ahhhhhh noooooooooooooooo I actually really, really, really violently disagree. I mean, I am the sole person in the U.S. who feels this way, but I think it is beautifully produced, with clearly searing reporting, and it is structurally and thematically extremely fucked up. Like I actually respect the show a lot less than I once did. Here's why:

1. It elides any engagement with race as a part of this story, in a city that is deeply racially segregated, in a school that is 98% black, in a school system that is 92% nonwhite and in which one in two African American males don't graduate. The only time the word "black" is used is to describe clothing.

2. It is deliberately framed as a story about a school and about education, but only seems to reinforce the worst, most irresponsible stereotypes about urban schools. This is a story about a school in a system with many similar schools with similarly serious problems, in which the promos make it sound like the school itself is a violent place. It's not. None of the students were killed at school. The violence the story describes does not happen in the school. But the promos say "a school where 29 students were killed last year."

You'd be forgiven, with this framing, for thinking that no learning happens at this school because the reporters literally NEVER enter a classroom or use tape from a classroom. You'd think the school is a triage mental health clinic. And I understand the argument that it is functioning in that way, but a) if it really were only that, why are we not talking about Engelwood, why are we not talking about the South Side, why are we not talking about the shuttering of schools and the closing of the city clinics, why are we not given any CONTEXT for this, and b) it ISN'T only that. I work in schools all over Chicago, and my colleagues have worked at Harper. I understand that this is supposed to be a framing device for talking about epidemic violence in Chicago, but when it is devoid of any kind of real context? It only seems irresponsible to me.

3. No one asks any questions about how the CPS administration's choices in managing their schools (and school violence, which is not really what this story is about) actually make these problems worse. It seems like piss-poor journalism to take the principal's word that military crisis control tactics are the only meaningful way of managing the school around Homecoming. No one asks why military tactics have any place in a school. No one asks what it means for teenagers to walk through metal detectors each day and be treated like de facto criminals before they even get to homeroom. No one asks why the Chicago Public School allows the city police department to set up offices IN SCHOOLS and why 2500 students a year, including some as young as seven, are ARRESTED IN SCHOOL. These things are surely part of the problem.

4. It's part of a long history of black suffering and poverty porn produced by public radio.

I have more to say about this, including the encouraging donations to Harper, as if it is the only school that direly needs help, but this comment is probably long enough now. I work in the schools; I was trained in radio. I wanted to love this and it broke my heart for all the wrong reasons.
posted by liketitanic at 1:24 PM on July 11, 2013 [28 favorites]


Everyone loves The House On Loon Lake.. I thought it was fascinating myself. The funny thing was in the first five minutes of the story I was already thinking "the people that owned the place probably died, and either they didn't have kids or the kids are fighting over it or whatever.." but then the story kept going and I started thinking "wait a minute, if the explanation is as mundane as 'the owners died' then why is TAL doing a story on it?" and I wound up thinking something really bad/weird did happen to them.
posted by smoothvirus at 1:25 PM on July 11, 2013


The episode linked in the main post about the explosion of Federal Disability benefits (a partnership between TAL and Planet Money) had a lot of problems and took a lot of heat for it. (MeFi post on that episode)
posted by gladly at 1:29 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really wish they'd bring back Scott Carrier now and then, especially since Hearing Voices petered out with absolutely no huzzah last year.

That is a fun picture, though.
posted by item at 1:31 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I miss Starlee Kine. Someone drag her back into the studio.

Alix Spiegel is my other favorite. 81 Words is probably her best-known episode, but I really love Pray, when she travels to Colorado Springs to check out Ted Haggard's megachurch (pre-scandal) and meet some extreme conservative Christians. She makes what seems like a genuine connection with one guy who eventually tells her flat-out that they can never be real friends due to her unbelieving ways - the casualness of his dismissal took me aback.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:32 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Since the very first time I heard TAL, I was hooked. That was in 2000. What a milestone for them!
posted by honey badger at 1:32 PM on July 11, 2013


OKAY, if no one minds, I would like to shit on Sleepwalk With Me.

I actually really liked the original standup as broadcast and after the *constant* promotion on the show, me and the ex sat in our hotel room and pining for something to see loaded it up on the laptop.

It's terrible. It's exceedingly self indulgent; there are no actual characters other than Mike Birbiglia. He just commits the sin of mistaking candour for "interesting maturity" where in fact we're just watching some jerk flail about.

I don't even remember it all that well, other than sheepishly trying to explain to a bored girlfriend why I had taken Ira at his word.
posted by pmv at 1:32 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't even remember it all that well, other than sheepishly trying to explain to a bored girlfriend why I had taken Ira at his word.

omg did Ira Glass cause your breakup y/y
posted by liketitanic at 1:34 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, I joke that economics is the study of the explanation of human behaviour in terms of conservative political philosophy; but it gets really annoying for the Planet Money team to root for "team economist" without really exploring the notion that there are competing conceptual frameworks within the discipline.

As a result, some episodes feel like long appeals to authority to ring-leaning economists.

Okay, I got all of that out my chest. I still listen to everything they put out.
posted by pmv at 1:35 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Say what you will about Sleepwalk With Me, it's miles above the first TAL movie.
posted by item at 1:36 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


the encouraging donations to Harper, as if it is the only school that direly needs help

I've been struggling with this issue as well. Not just in relation to Harper High. The last TAL episode, Taking Names, was about a guy trying to get Iraqis who worked with the Americans out of the country, because their lives are now in danger. The consistent theme was every time he got any individual some media coverage, their visa application suddenly moved more quickly. The episode focused a lot on one man they called Omar (not his actual name), who was killed before getting out of Iraq. TAL announced this week on their blog that, his widow and child flew to the US this week. They don't take any credit but you have to imagine there's a connection.

Similarly, a recent episode of Planet Money about a guy trying to build a school in Haiti generated a ton of donations as well.

My takeaway from it all though is that this is a product of human nature. We as listeners just connect with a live person who is struggling because we can empathize with them and want to help them. It's also emotionally rewarding to us to be able to help a tangible someone. To blame This American Life or Planet Money, or any journalist who does a deep dive into an individuals story seems like shooting the messenger to me.

I thought TAL addressed the issue as best they could in the Harper High episode, ending it with a string of other principals talking about similar challenges they face, explicitly making the point that Harper is far from alone.
posted by dry white toast at 1:39 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, interesting--I had no idea about the problematic Planet Money stuff linked above. Definitely gives me pause now.

Liketitanic, I have not listened to the Harper High School episodes, but that is very unfortunate. The descriptions had led me to think it would obviously address systemic issues of race, class and poverty but it doesn't sound like that's the case.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:41 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


My takeaway from it all though is that this is a product of human nature. We as listeners just connect with a live person who is struggling because we can empathize with them and want to help them. It's also emotionally rewarding to us to be able to help a tangible someone. To blame This American Life or Planet Money, or any journalist who does a deep dive into an individuals story seems like shooting the messenger to me. I thought TAL addressed the issue as best they could in the Harper High episode, ending it with a string of other principals talking about similar challenges they face, explicitly making the point that Harper is far from alone.

But they didn't talk to any other principals in Chicago, I don't think, and I think they could have at least named a second way to donate--like to a nonprofit that serves many of the city schools.

I also don't think it's shooting the messenger. They make active choices about every single piece of every single thing that airs. They choose what we hear, how we hear it, and whether we tie those individual stories to something larger. The best stories do that.
posted by liketitanic at 1:42 PM on July 11, 2013


I was on a date once. She said I reminded her of Ira Glass on "This American Life." I hadn't listened to it at that point, I had no idea who he was. Years later, I emailed her back and said: "Thanks!" ... but I'm not sure (well pretty much not sure) that it was a complement, just like when, back in junior high school, I was told over the phone that I sounded like "Duckie."
posted by Auden at 1:43 PM on July 11, 2013


It could have been worse, Auden. You could have been "Potsie," like me.
posted by notyou at 1:49 PM on July 11, 2013


I spent a lot of time commuting in overpacked minibusses in western Kenya this year, which gave me a LOT of time to listen to TAL. I pretty much made my way through the 'favorites' section of the site, one-to-three shows a day, three days a week. It's been pretty great. Some (Like Act V) are awesome episodes everyone knows. Here's a couple I loved that aren't quite as well-known:

Island Time has some fantastic reporting about natural disasters, foreign aid, and boxing mangoes.

NUMMI is probably the one I tihnk about the most. It's about Japanese auto workers teaching Americna quto-workers their style. It's a beautiful piece that gets at the question of how to effect meaningful change in large institutions.

Heretics is another one I think about a lot, especially as I'm working in a country with a deep-seated obsession with the worst strains of American evangelicalism. What holds faith together?

Petty Tyrant is just straight-up loony. I listened to this with my girlfriend and we were in awed disbelief the entire time. Fantastic, and so over-the-top that it straddles this place between deeply disturbing (because, well, it is) and completely hilarious.

The book that changed your life has two great stories out of three. The grand-daughter of a hyper-literate - but dead - playwright discovers his life through his marginalia, and a construction worker becomes obsessed with collecting Lewis and Clark journals. I kind of fantisize about going to Portland and trying to find the guy...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some of my favorites that haven't been mentioned:

90: Telephone
About a kid who was "scared straight" when his dad forced him to listen to tapes of himself (that the dad had secretly made) talking on the phone when he was high. Also a profile of They Might Be Giants focusing on their long-running Dial-a-Song gimmick.

206: Somewhere in the Arabian Sea

Life aboard the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea

340: The Devil in Me
The story of an Iraq War veteran who came home from the war plagued by feelings of hate and anger toward Muslims, so he joined the Muslim Student Union at the university he was attending in an attempt to get over it.

348: Tough Room
Evesdrop on the editoral room at The Onion. Talk with Mormons trying to share their faith in Manhattan, and Malcom Gladwell telling a funny story about his first job in journalism.
posted by straight at 2:26 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's weird how some of those stories can stick with you for years. I remember the one about the woman who got snubbed by the CIA and decided to acquire a list of 50 something James Bond credentials like flying helicopters; the Afghanistan embedded part I & II may have been the most amazing thing I saw/read/heard about the war in the early 00's; the guy who had tape recordings from his dead friend on the pros and cons of his impending suicide; my favorite might have been when they tested everybody's testosterone in the office and the gay guy's was like double everyone else's.
posted by bukvich at 2:30 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


my favorite might have been when they tested everybody's testosterone in the office and the gay guy's was like double everyone else's.

That was David Rakoff!

Here's his postmortem best-of episode.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:51 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the episodes I always remember is Pimp Anthropology.
posted by Red Loop at 3:05 PM on July 11, 2013


The one I think of the most frequently is still Opening Night from Fiasco!
posted by grapesaresour at 3:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I often think back to the episode about whistleblower cop Adrian Schoolcraft. The Village Voice broke the story, but it was a story that needed to be told on radio.

Also, let's not forget the Metafilter podcast's parody of TAL, leading to this hilarious exchange:

So I've been meaning to do this for about three weeks, since I saw Ira Glass give a talk. He came off as kind of weird because he walked around with an ipod and would actually play plinky music behind himself as he talked as if he was on the show. I was fascinated with his trademark delivery and I started doing impressions of him for friends, by thickening up my tongue and nerding up my voice a bit more. I need to keep working on it though.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:51 PM on May 8, 2007 [+] [!]

Matt, trust me (and I mean this in the very best way possible); you do not need to nerd your voice up any more.
posted by yhbc at 10:11 PM on May 8, 2007 [+] [!]

posted by painquale at 3:18 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


> The Super may be my favorite.

Word. I've used that episode more than once to introduce people to TAL. Act 1 is incredible, but the second act about the "bench-pressing snowman" may be one of the funniest pieces of radio TAL has ever produced.

253: The Middle of Nohwere is the episode that I recall as making me a devotee of the program.

And yes, bring back Scott Carrier. The Friendly Man and Running After Antelopes are haunting pieces of work.
posted by Panjandrum at 3:31 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's probably petty of me, but I once saw Ira Glass be very rude to a fan and I really haven't been able to listen to the show since. Just hearing his voice reminds me of it.
posted by girlmightlive at 3:45 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't believe no one's mentioned 115: First Day, if not just for Squirrel Cop.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:07 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd be curious to hear more about that! Ira Glass also has the distinction of being Lynda Barry's worst boyfriend.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:30 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the Lynda Barry story really changed my opinion of Ira Glass.
posted by maryr at 4:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]



I've been working my way through TAL for a few months now. My first exposure to TAL was through a CD collection of some stories that included some mentioned here: the squirrel cop, the drug using teenager whose father recorded his phone calls and was really impressed. Since then, I've gone through a couple dozen of the back episodes, found some to be favorites ( ghost of bobby dunbar, 24 hours at the golden apple - the greasy spoon, #1 party school was oddly interesting - on penn state, pre-scandal - nothing groundbreaking or insightful but as a recent college grad it discussed the prevalence of alcohol on campus, and noted efforts for prohibition are futile, the bit on the little mermaid answering machine - by far my favorite!) - other episodes are pretty mediocre and I don't even finish them.

I understand liketitantic's point, but I interpreted at TAL's intentional focus was on the school administration's actions to deal and treat the social and psychological trauma that the students experience in their lives outside of school. Maybe you could consider nativity on my part, but I didn't assume that any of the deaths had occurred on school grounds based on their framing.
posted by fizzix at 4:54 PM on July 11, 2013


It's worth noting that TAL has both iPad and Android apps. Neither is free, but you get a lot for the money. I have the iPad one, it provides access to the show's entire run and lets you save up to three at a time for offline listening.
posted by JHarris at 5:25 PM on July 11, 2013


I found the wonderwoman story. It's chapter 2 of the superpowers episode.

(I am highly skeptical that this episode received rigorous fact checking; still damn great radio.)
posted by bukvich at 6:34 PM on July 11, 2013


I disagree with those highlights. The worst episodes for me are the current events ones.

Some of my favorites: John Hodgman on flight vs. invisibility, what happens at a real diner, Starlee Kine and Phil Collins, Gabe Delahaye being an asshole, Rakoff on Canadians. Or Rakoff on TV. Or Rakoff talking about anything, including giving himself enemas.

Get that ripped-from-the-headlines shit out of there. I really, really hated the two hours wasted on Harper High.
posted by ego at 6:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Music Lessons is still my favorite episode. You haven't lived until you have heard David Sedaris impersonate Billie Holiday.
posted by 4ster at 6:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's weird how some of those stories can stick with you for years.

I can’t remember most movies or books a year later. I can re-watch or re-read them because they’re practically new to me. But I can remember most episodes of TAL.

but the second act about the "bench-pressing snowman" may be one of the funniest pieces of radio TAL has ever produced.

Stunning. I remember sitting in the car outside of a restaurant listening to the whole thing.

Yeah, the Lynda Barry story really changed my opinion of Ira Glass.

Wasn’t that like 30 years ago? Besides he copped to the whole thing in that article. He’s great as a radio host, I wasn’t going to marry him.
posted by bongo_x at 7:18 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agree with bongo_x. 30 years ago and it's not like he's crossed into Orson Scott Card territory. Perspective people, it's important.
posted by Ber at 7:42 PM on July 11, 2013


There was this one story of a Muslim family living near New York on 9-11 and the impact the attack had on their kids at school.
posted by wrapper at 7:55 PM on July 11, 2013


For all of the heartwarming and informative pieces TAL has done over the years, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the most memorable show for me has to be True Urban Legends.

Prologue: Or, take this urban legend. I'd heard this one, but I'd never believed it. Turns out to be true. Ian Meyer in Portland, Oregon, three years ago, walks home one night with his girlfriend from a party, where he'd had a couple of beers, three beers. Gets to his house, goes in the bathroom

Ian: Start unzipping with one hand, lifting the lid with the other hand, and, you know, I get the lid maybe halfway open. And there was this wet, beady-eyed rat in the toilet just looking up at me.

posted by wensink at 7:57 PM on July 11, 2013


Note that The Super was not originally a TAL piece---it comes from the marvelous The Moth.

Also, no discussion of TAL would be complete without The Ira Glass Sex Tape.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:02 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think that it's entirely possible to have a lot of appreciation with TAL without thinking that they're infallible, or acknowledging that they might not know as much about a subject as people who do something related to that subject for a living, or that there is potentially one (or more) episodes that make you want to throw the radio against the wall. And heaven forfend that I ever find people on an internet forum talking crap about me because of what someone that I dated thirty or so years ago, and had a not-nice breakup with, had to say about me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the Lynda Barry story really changed my opinion of Ira Glass.

From the article:

Glass says, “I was an idiot. I was in the wrong. About the breakup. About the haircut story. About so many things with her. Anything bad she says about me I can confirm.”


Sounds like the Lynda Barry story might have even changed Ira's opinion about himself.
posted by straight at 8:43 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of my favorites that I don't think have been mentioned:

What is this thing? Has an amazing radio essay (is that what you call it?) by Sarah Vowell about why Johnny and June Cash were an amazing couple that I've heard was the inspiration for Walk the Line and a very funny piece about romance writers.

Conventions. The last story, oh my god, just try not to cry.

I also really love the diner one, I found the relationship between the two teenage girls very poignant.

The story about the immigrant rights activists a few weeks ago was completely gripping.

I understand why TAL moved more towards "issues" and news over the last few years, but I don't think it's their strong suit. I think the strength in the show is illuminating little corners of American life that otherwise don't get attention, or telling stories that are small but compelling. I think they do best when they use these types of smaller stories to shed light on bigger issues (like the immigration piece) but it's a fine line.

Similar to liketitanic's problems with the Harper episode, they recently did a Big Issue episode about the field I work in and they were really, fairly devastatingly, off the mark in a way that makes it really hard for me to take them seriously anymore. Which is such a shame because I do love the show.
posted by lunasol at 8:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's weird how some of those stories can stick with you for years.

I mainly listen to podcasts, including TAL, while traveling around town or running errands. As a result, I have strong associations between particular episodes and particular locations. I'll listen to a re-run of an episode and get a strong image of standing at the self-checkout at a particular grocery store a few years back, or I'll bike through the park on the way to a party and remember the episode I had been listening to when I last was on the same hill some months before.
posted by JiBB at 9:55 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


i would be lost without TAL. Aside from entertaining radio, it is my go-to insomnia cure - but not in the sense that i find it so boring that it puts me to sleep. just the opposite: on those occasions when i am unwillingly awake late in to the night, what i require most is something engaging, entertaining, soothing, something that will hold my attention and distract me from whatever is stressing me out and keeping me awake. TAL is bloody perfect at that - i totally relax, knowing that even if i don't fall asleep, at least i'll enjoy myself while listening - and that very thought often provides enough comfort for me to nod off.

that said, you know that thing where that last music cue of any given episode is a few dbs louder than the rest of the show? yeah, that's problematic. there's one episode where that particular cue is an edit from "won't get fooled again" - every time it comes on i'm jarred awake pretty violently.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:46 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what I'd love to hear on TAL?

An episode about stories they spent time on, and actually killed. Either because they didn't work, weren't all that interesting, or, more intriguingly, turned out to be non-issues.

Kind of like the Mike Daisey's that got caught early.
posted by DigDoug at 7:17 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Ira talked to Buzzfeed about this, I would assume we're going to be getting a "500 of the best This American Life episodes" article from them soon.

Buzzfeed is weird, in that it has a couple different faces. There's the listicles of doom and distraction, then there's the politics section. Oh, and Buzzfeed plans to invest a low “eight-digit sum” over two years to create three news clips a week, in collaboration with CNN and YouTube. In short, Buzzfeed is a land of contrasts.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:36 AM on July 12, 2013


Yeah, the BuzzFeed Politics section is consistently different than the rest.
posted by benbenson at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bung.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:00 AM on July 12, 2013


ego: "Or Rakoff talking about anything"

I'm ashamed to say that I listen to very little This American Life. I mainly only do it on long car trips (and I take very few of those these days). I'd only heard a bit of David Rakoff's stuff before I listened to the memorial episode that TAL created after he passed away.

I was a mess by the end of the episode...
posted by schmod at 11:41 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The one about the NYPD cop who was being harassed by coworkers was absolutely frightening to me -- especially since he had recordings he secretly made of them at his apartment. Hearing the actual moments where his colleagues were banging on his front door demanding to "talk" to him was mindblowing. Chilling stuff.
posted by grubi at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Long live TAL.

I kind of want Torey Mallatea to actually talk at the end of an episode. Just for kicks.

I am wondering if he actually does at the end of this one, but I can't find out until it's online...
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:19 PM on July 12, 2013


Oh, he did!
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:42 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


and now he never will again :( miss u, torey malatia.
posted by liketitanic at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2013


For others confused by that - he left WBEZ at the end of July. (I thought for a moment he must have died!)
posted by maryr at 8:42 AM on August 8, 2013


SORRY, sorry. forgot this is not chicagofilter. TOREY MALATIA IS ALIVE AND WELL.
posted by liketitanic at 10:24 AM on August 8, 2013


« Older Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a reorganiza...  |  DeAnne Smith and Her Kitten Pe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments