Ep 6: Our Favourite This American Life Episodes

Craig had certainly never heard of This American Life until Ahm introduced it to him before Episode 6.

In summary: It’s a radio show. There’s a theme to each episode, and each episode contains a variety of stories on that theme from writers, broadcasters, journalists, ordinary people…

It’s kind of hard to describe, just listen to a few episodes below and hopefully you’ll see why we love it so much.

Oh, non-Americans? Don’t be put off by the name like Craig initially was.

#14 – Accidental Documentaries

Stories made from old tapes found in various places, including a “letter on tape” found in a Salvation Army thrift store. Host Ira Glass with tapes of his father on the radio, circa 1956. And radio producer Nora Moreno with tapes of her father, a Spanish broadcasting pioneer in America. Her mother fell in love with him over the radio, with tragic results

#27 – The Cruelty of Children

Stories about kids being mean to each other.

#74 – Conventions

What happens when people with one common interest gather in monstrous, fluorescent -lit halls for the weekend? Sometimes they drive each other crazy, sometimes they fall in love.

#109 – Notes on Camp

Stories of summer camp. People who love camp say that non-camp people simply don’t understand what’s so amazing about camp. In this program, we attempt to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between camp people and non-camp people.

#168 – The Fix Is In

There are all sorts of situations in which we suspect the fix is in, but we almost never find out for certain. On today’s show, for once, we find out.

I didn’t really expect that a story about a businessman organizing the price fixing of an industrial chemical could fascinate me for an entire hour, but it did. The entire episode felt exciting enough to be a Hollywood blockbuster,which, of course, it became… The Informant!. It has spies, deception, theft and the FBI.

#178 – Superpowers

We answer the following questions about superpowers: Can superheroes be real people? (No.) Can real people become superheroes? (Maybe.) And which is better: flight or invisibility? (Depends who you ask.)

I was really taken here by the discussion of “which would you prefer, flight or invisibility?” Especially when I made up my own mind then asked my friends… the results and reasonings were enlightening.

#199 – House on Loon Lake

Our entire show this week is one long story, sort of a real-life Hardy Boys mystery. More than most of our shows, this one lends itself to a Hollywood-style tagline. Perhaps: “You Might Break In … But You’ll Never Forget.” Or “Dead Letters Tell No Tales.”

Honestly? This is an hour-long, true life mystery story that had me captivated from the first moment I realized what it was about.

#203 – Recordings for Someone

All the stories in this week’s show center on personal recordings that one person made for just one other person.

One of the first TAL episodes I ever heard, and still one of my favorites. It’s a radio show made up of recordings intended originally for one person, from answering machine messages, to recordings taken during battle in Iraq, to love letters (tapes) sent intercontinentally.

Seriously, beautiful stories.

#218 – 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.

The story of high security inmates putting on a production of Hamlet. Thought provoking? check! Upsetting? Check! Uplifting? Check!

#220 – Testosterone

Stories of people getting more testosterone and coming to regret it. And of people losing it and coming to appreciate life without it. The pros and cons of the hormone of desire.

This is it… this is the episode that made me fall in love with TAL. What happens when a tiny amount of a chemical compound is added or subtracted from our bodies? A man loses his testosterone for medical reasons, a woman is given testosterone as she turns into he… they talk about how their thoughts and feelings change.

THIS is something I had never thought of before. It breaks down the whole seperation of ‘mind’ and ‘body’. If a few milligrams of a chemical can change our entire selves what ARE we?

#238 – Lost in Translation

Stories of what can and cannot be translated. A short, non-athletic, bespectacled East Asian studies major who couldn’t make his high school basketball team finds himself in the NBA as the personal translator for the first-ever Chinese pro basketball superstar, Yao Ming.

#268 – My Experimental Phase

Three stories about people who decide to try out a new life — the kind of life their parents never wanted for them.

#314 – It’s Never Over

A grown man tries to get to the bottom of why his schoolmates threw him in a lake 20 years earlier. And a woman buys a house on the cheap, with the understanding that the seller will soon vacate.

#339 – Break-Up

Writer Starlee Kine on what makes the perfect break-up song and whether really sad music can actually make you feel better. Plus, an eight-year-old author of a book about divorce and other stories from the heart of heartbreak.

#347 – Matchmakers

Sabir, a young man in Afghanistan, thought he’d found true love but he couldn’t afford a wedding. So two foreign aid workers, friends of his, decide to come to his rescue. They soon find out making a lasting love match isn’t as simple as writing a check.

#383 – Origin Story

This week we bring you little-known and surprising stories of how all sorts of institutions—from a controversial legal precedent to a Hollywood teen dance flick—began.

#385 – Pro Se

It’s tempting to act as your own lawyer, to argue your own cause. Who better to defend your position than you? This week, stories of pro se defenses: some brilliant, some disastrous.

#411 – First Contact

Stories of first encounters with unknown and distant beings: girls, foreigners and perhaps even aliens. Including a story by comedian Mike Birbiglia about his first kiss.