Radio on the TV

My sister called me on Sunday. She was upset. "What's wrong?" I said. "Did you know," she said, "that This American Life is a TV show now? I just don't know how to feel about that."

While I wasn't as upset as my sister (who has a strange and possibly uncategorizable, and I'm told quite common crush on Ira Glass), I too was a little nervous about our precious little, nerdy, smartypants, heart on its hipster sleeve radio show making the transition to big, bad, stupid television. Can Ira Glass even exist on the same plane as Tori Spelling and "New York?" Can Sarah Vowell really work in the same medium as Billy Bush? More importantly, will they, in the process of moving their nice little radio show to big bad television, ruin all the things we all love about This American Life.

Oh, and I should say that if you don't love This American Life (for you non-initiates out there, memorably described by Summer on the OC as "that show where they act like normal people's lives are all intersting and stuff," or something like that), then you should really check it out. If you've already checked it out and you're a little sick of squeaky voiced humorists waxing on about their experiences (the show did, after all, pretty much launch David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell), check out the Squirrel Cop episode, and try to not love it.

So back to my worrying: can they do this and not totally fuck up everything I love about the show in the first place? To be brief, the answer is yes. They've managed to perfectly capture the mood of the radio show, and maybe even, through photography that you'd have to call lovely, to enhance it. The TV show is funny, smart, spare, sad, and completely loyal to the vision of the radio show.

They've chosen topics wisely, and the ones I've seen have played well visually (with that lovely photography). They've also rejected the urge to fill up the time with lots of quick cuts and herky jerky MTV style editing. Like the radio show, the TV show provides space to breathe -- there is silence, or just music, along with those lovely images, and the whole thing moves along at a nice, unhurried pace, like listening to a slightly stoned but really smart friend relate a really interesting story.

Best of all, for my sister at least, we finally get to see what Ira looks like. It's pretty much what you thought.

No comments: