Before It Had a Theme - A Meta-Pod About This American Life
November 8, 2018 6:25 AM   Subscribe

A new podcast from the Creator of Anxious Machine - Exploring individual epsiodes of This American Life Stoked to stumble into this in my feed this morning. As a lover of both TAL and Anxious Machine - Give a listen to this new podcast that delves into the making and backstory of old episodes of This American Life.
posted by jayz (14 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
When This American Life is good it is so good as to be evidence for the sucess of the American Experiment. But when it's bad? Hood boy. It's got you thinking about stranded astronauts and cyanide capsules. Nothing encapsulates this better than their "Fiasco" episode which burned itself into my brain for telling one of the funniest stories I've ever heard about a comically horrific middle school production of Peter Pan and then followed it up with what I think was 12 hours about how some guys wanted to make an alternative to Car Talk.

It was the most NPR thing ever.
posted by East14thTaco at 6:59 AM on November 8 [6 favorites]


When This American Life is good it is so good as to be evidence for the sucess of the American Experiment. But when it's bad? Hood boy.

I'm with you there, I think every person probably has their own criteria, of course. For me, it's the disparity between their fictional and non-fiction content. I personally really enjoy their episodes about real events, places, people, politics, history, and experiences...but I have zero interest in the more narrative, completely fictional episodes. I wish there was an easy way to just listen to one or the other, like spin off one or the other into a whole second podcast (like they did with Serial).
posted by trackofalljades at 7:20 AM on November 8 [10 favorites]


I'm exactly the same with their fiction pieces. I usually chalk this up largely to orality. Often, when I'm listening to a podcast, I much prefer to hear real speech as opposed to anything being read. Something to do both with the reduced pace of natural speech (as I'm often doing something else when I listen) and the reduced contrivance of audio that's coming out of people speaking and thinking and reacting.
posted by little onion at 7:38 AM on November 8


This American Life suffers a bit from it's success. In the age of a thousand podcasts, what is TAL anymore? It has no specific focus. It continues to suffer from the same limitations it always has (although they have seemed to make a specific effort to hire staff of color, the auditory gaze of the show has not shifted significantly). I sometimes forget they exist for long periods, and then notice them in my podcast feeds and think, "Oh yeah! I wonder what TAL is up to!"

And then when I listen I remember they are just so competent at what they do. Every episode is not of special interest to me, but they are made expertly, with incredible intention. I admire that they continue to try new things (remember the TV show?) I admire they have some new producers.

I will likely never forget the very first time I heard the show, late at night on KALW or KQED, Scott Carrier's Running After Antelope. It was the differentest thing I ever heard on the radio. Now they define the sound of public radio.
posted by latkes at 7:41 AM on November 8 [2 favorites]


TAL is like the "Halloween" of radio/podcasts/storytelling. It was so groundbreaking, incredible and influential that it ended up creating legions of imitators and spawning the cliches that it now suffers from.

Ira Glass did a lot to create stories that sounded real and believable, and now every asshole with a screenprinted tote bag rocks up to the mic at The Moth and starts with "sooo .." and ends with "in that moment, I realized" - what I call the "Wonder Years moment."

I had a story on TAL in 2009 ("Swak Down", part of the Pro Se episode) and Ira's interviewing was so kind and efficient and masterful. I got the story on there because my friend Seth saw me do it live and could vouch for my pitch when it came in. I pitched the show and within hours I knew they were interested, had an interview scheduled with Ira Glass a week later and the story aired in its entirety within a month.

This is the equivalent to threading a needle by throwing string at it from across the room.
posted by chinese_fashion at 7:49 AM on November 8 [8 favorites]


There are so many episodes of TAL I'll probably have to wait years for episodes I have a connection with to come up, but I'd definitely listen to an in-depth analysis of say, Flight v. Invisibility or those siblings who invented a babysitting job to get some space from their mentally ill mother. Just no David Sedaris episodes, please.
posted by skewed at 9:04 AM on November 8


For me, it's the disparity between their fictional and non-fiction content.

I delete the podcast whenever a fiction segment starts. Good thing they’re usually near the end.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:17 AM on November 8


The only fiction segments worth listening to are David Rakoff's (RIP), and even then, you could probably limit yourself to the poem about the wedding toast and call it good.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:28 AM on November 8 [5 favorites]


There was one fiction segment that kept me spellbound, and it ended up as an FPP -- "You Had One Job" by Scott Brown.

Ever since I gave myself permission to skip segments that don't interest me, I like all my podcasts way more.
posted by gladly at 10:01 AM on November 8 [1 favorite]


This thread demonstrates that the radio audiences have diverse interests.

I love TAL's fiction, especially some of the weirder stuff they tried in the first ten years. The Man in the Well remains one of my favorite radio productions in the history of radio, along with everything Sedaris has recorded. (Every Rakoff piece makes me want to hurl my radio at a wall and scream in frustration.)

I also appreciate their investigative journalism. It's not all that surprising, at least in format, but it's often incredibly well done. Their quirky stories about professional-class suburbanites with no imagination over-explaining their dull lives sure can grow tiring, though. "Who's Canadian," is my go-to example that exemplifies everything I hate about this show that I love.

On the actual topic of the post - I'll be curious to give this podcast a try. Thanks!
posted by eotvos at 10:46 AM on November 8 [2 favorites]


> Ira Glass did a lot to create stories that sounded real and believable, and now every asshole with a screenprinted tote bag rocks up to the mic at The Moth and starts with "sooo .." and ends with "in that moment, I realized" - what I call the "Wonder Years moment."

Shameless self promotion: Years ago when I was working at WNYC, a public radio station in New York, I downloaded all the TAL transcripts at the time and made a website to show a random sentence from the show beginning with "But then."

There wasn't one per episode, but there were certainly enough for a fun clickbait experiment.
posted by smelendez at 10:59 AM on November 8 [9 favorites]


Now I'm feeling a bit guilty, as it's been a while since I've tuned in. (Not super-guilty, as they seemed to do a fair number of re-runs.) My last regular period of listening was when my regular AA meeting was Saturday noon, and TAL ran at 1 PM. So, I'd go to the meeting, and ponder (and occasionally talk about) the mess that I'd made of my life and my attempts to rebuild it, and then I'd get in my car and drive around and listen to people who'd made even bigger messes of their lives (or had them made so by other people), usually without staggering amounts of substance abuse involved, and their attempts to put their lives back together. It worked for me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:26 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


It's got you thinking about stranded astronauts and cyanide capsules.

Thanks as always to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia, who is NOT looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving this year,
posted by officer_fred at 3:25 PM on November 8 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised to learn that TAL pre-predates Wait, Wait... by just a couple of years or so. In my memory, I was listening to TAL and Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? for years before the debut of Wait, Wait..., which I initially found too something-I-can't-put-into-words—clever in a self-conscious way, maybe. Like it just fine now, though.

Thanks for posting this—I'm looking forward to the new podcast. I still love TAL and there are a couple of dozen episodes that I've listened to repeatedly over the years. Given all of the top quality, informative, thoughtful, and poignant episodes available, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that Squirrel Cop is the one I've replayed most often.
posted by she's not there at 9:34 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


« Older "an intricate guitarist, an astute songwriter and...   |   There's like this storm inside of me and it's been... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.