This American Life

This American LifeI recommend the podcast This American Life.

This American Life is a behemoth of podcasting. Although its listener numbers have been surpassed by its offspring Serial, This American Life remains the template for American public radio style podcasting. It embodies the qualities that so many shows strive to obtain: originality, high quality journalism, seamless audio storytelling and a universal appeal.

That last one, ‘universal appeal’, might sound like a bit of a stretch. Relative to other mediums, not many people listen to podcasts so how could a podcast be described as universally appealing? Because the quality of the show transcends subject. I was initially drawn in because of the interesting subjects: there were pieces on subcultures, societal oddities the kind of stuff that I relished in a Louis Theroux documentary or Jon Ronson book (Jon Ronson, it turns out, has contributed to This American Life on occasion.) But very quickly, I didn’t care what the subject was. I was waiting impatiently for the Monday morning digital delivery of ridiculously good and ridiculously FREE content. The presentation, editing, and unique journalistic angle applied to every second of every episode means that, even though I’m a young British man, I am very interested in the American education system, among other things.

So far, I’ve made it sound fairly dry, but This American Life is a lot more ‘fun’ than Serial. Serial needs to be serious because of the nature of the stories it tells. This American Life is so varied that it can cover a whole palette of emotion. It’s like America heard BBC Radio 4 and decided to take all the good bits and condense it into a weekly hour-long show. For example, the Christmas episode was a typically light-hearted one, combining an improv group’s take on the Twelve Days of Christmas with a story about the competitive firemen who make turkey frying fire videos, and Christmas through the eyes of some adopted children who previously didn’t know it existed. While the tone and content can vary even within a single episode, it never seems jarring or inappropriate.

I waited a while to recommend This American Life because it’s a big deal so I wanted to have someone specific to recommend it to. Before Christmas there was a Frank Sinatra show to commemorate what would have neem his 100th birthday. My Grandma likes Frank Sinatra a lot, so I put the show on a CD for her to listen to. I was hoping that this would prove that it truly is universally appealing and a show that can cross the generation gap. We both liked the episode, but her main comment was that Frank didn’t sound as good as he used to, so the main conclusion of this experiment is that Grandma’s hearing is deteriorating.

Anyway, have a listen, it’s cracking.

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