by BEN KROMER & r & & r & This American Life
(Season One currently available via iTunes)
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & ra Glass had been hosting his show on public radio for years before someone had the idea of making it into a half-hour program on Showtime. Six episodes were made. Hardly anyone watched them. Then they were put on iTunes. That's where I found them.
Glass, who looks like a young David Lynch, introduces each episode from behind his traveling desk. Episodes are one to three stories centering around a theme. Most of them are told documentary-style, but there are also live-action recreations and simple animation. The first episode, "Reality Check," opens with a story about an elementary school girl who really has to go, so she pees on the floor of a school bus. The theme is people who are unpleasantly snapped back to reality, as the girl was when she realized her imprudent urination wouldn't stay secret for long. Later we meet a farmer who misses a dead bull, so he gets it cloned.
Episode Three, "The Cameraman," is about a man's attempt to understand his mother and stepfather by making a documentary about them. After that are the intermingled stories of a Mormon who paints religious pictures, his Marxist Jesus model, that model's disgruntled girlfriend and her relationship with her very Mormon father. Episode Five starts with a man who spends his time hanging out in his dead wife's mausoleum, then moves on to a precocious junior high school student who swears he doesn't believe in love, even claiming not to love his own mother. The last and best episode starts with a frightening, TV-MA-rated journey into the world of genetically modified pigs and ends in one of those diners where employees are rude and yell a lot, except in this one the drunk patrons use it as an excuse to vent their racism.
For this review, I've attempted to replicate Ira Glass's matter-of-fact way of presenting these individuals and their situations. Unencumbered by opinion-giving, This American Life has the time to take long looks at its subjects and trusts the viewers to think what they will. Glass's narration, with his pleasant radio voice, is occasionally funny and always informative. Popular documentaries have become nothing but left or right-wing agitprop. This is the way they should be.
Man vs. Wild
For some reason, seeing Bear Grylls actually drink his own urine is less alarming than seeing Kevin Costner pretend to do so in Waterworld. On the menu in tonight's two episodes: scorpions and small birds. (Friday, July 27, 9 pm, Discovery Channel)
Ocean of Fear: The Worst Shark Attack Ever
This is where the Discovery Channel goes head to head with Steven Spielberg and Robert Shaw to see who can make the most intense recreation of a boat sinking and the ensuing shark banquet. (Sunday, July 29, 9 pm, Discovery Channel)
Two adventurers travel the globe searching out masters of various martial arts and attempt to learn their ways. Before I got this writing gig, I used to do that. Why doesn't anyone believe me? (Friday, July 27, 8-10 pm, History Channel)