TV on the Radio

21Mar07

I remember the first time I heard This American Life. It was November 1998, and my wife & I had driven down to Chicago from Madison to visit friends. We picked up our friend Deanna and were planning driving somewhere to get food. She looked at the time and asked if we could listen to This American Life, as if we knew exactly what it was given its ubiquity among the urbane 20-something NPR set – but Madison was late in getting the Chicago-produced NPR show so we were hopelessly out-of-the-loop country mice. We turned it on the car radio and were so mesmerized by what we heard that we sat parked for the remaining 45 minutes of the show. We lucked out, as the first story we heard was the hilarious tale of “Squirrel Cop,” which you should take 15 minutes of your busy life to listen to.

I’ve listened to TAL consistently ever since, aided by its available online in streaming archives and weekly podcasts. This week I taught a segment from “Recordings for Someone,” featuring a pre-Internet ‘viral’ voice mail message, in my Media Technology course. And I just finished listening to this week’s episode, “What I Learned from Television,” featuring David Rakoff’s rough reentry into the realm of television viewing, Sarah Vowell’s dissection of television sitcom representations of Puritans (“the problem is that 17th Century America is all Sit and no Com”), and Dan Savage’s anxieties about how TV is shaping his son’s perspective on heterosexuality. My favorite moment is Ira Glass discussing his own fandom for The O.C., leading into a rousing cover of the theme song by Mates of State. The episode is atypical, as it was recorded live on tour, and thus lacks the show’s typically sumptuous use of background music (even if they overuse Tortoise just a tad) and sounds a bit more like an urbane hipster version of Prairie Home Companion, but the episode offers tremendous insight into television and its cultural values. You can download it for free until Sunday via their podcast – then you’ll have to stream or pay to download. So what are you waiting for?

Alas I’ll have to wait to watch the new television version of the show, as I don’t get Showtime. Based on the clips on their website, it looks like they hired Erroll Morris to direct the series, so clearly I’ll watch as soon as I can download or buy the episodes. [UPDATE: Heather Havrilesky tells me it’s beautiful television. I believe her.] Enjoy!

[DOUBLE SECRET UPDATE: From Michael, this tonally perfect TAL parody.]



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