Lisa Schwarzbaum
March 23, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

This American Life

type
TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
03/22/07
broadcaster
Showtime Networks Inc.
genre
Documentary

We gave it a B+

Listeners who love the public radio show from which This American Life harvests its DNA tend to lurrrve their program with its funky junkyard collection of real-life stories. They love the themes that tie each week’s assemblage together — maybe the costs of stubbornness, or the consequences of trying new things. And they especially love their Ira Glass, the series’ singular creator and host, whose earnestly deadpan delivery suggests that all of America resides within the zip code of Ghost World.

Loyalists may reasonably fret that the translation from radio to TV dilutes the intimacy of the purely aural: Watching a story about a rancher who clones a beloved pet bull only to get attacked by the replacement isn’t nearly as marvelously disorienting as hearing the tale, however dreamy and Gus Van Sant-y the imagery. (It so happens this slice of life first ran on the radio some time ago, and I could imagine the gorer and the gored.) Still, this handsomely produced experimental series ought to please flexible fans — as well as so many more who are new to the notion of an artful grab-bag documentary series about real people describing little realities. Besides, the onscreen Glass turns out to be the perfect 3-D representation of voice-only Glass. He’s a white-shirt-and-necktie hipster nerd in owlish glasses who opens each show sitting behind a desk with an old mic, in the middle of the open air somewhere, channeling John Cleese when he promised, ”And now for something completely different.” This is. B+

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