Best episode to introduce someone to This American Life?
May 4, 2008 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Best episode to introduce someone to This American Life?

I'm a big fan of This American Life and I'd like to introduce my friend to it by pointing him to a truly great episode. I know this sounds suspiciously like a chatfilter question, but I'm looking for suggestions of the most moving and compelling episode/segment you've heard on the show.
posted by exhilaration to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 106 users marked this as a favorite
I was hooked after listening to the Superpowers episode.
posted by JDHarper at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the superpowers one is fantastic. It think it would be a great starter; it has several stories, they're all human, parts are insanely funny, it goes from light hearted to really digging into and exposing a human life.

Fiasco! is also great, and I think my personal favorite is Backed into a Corner with I Know What You Did This Summer as a close second.
posted by Science! at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2008

Radio or t.v.?
posted by Sufi at 2:06 PM on May 4, 2008

There is a page of TAL staff favorites among which the "Babysitting", "My Pen Pal", and "Prom" were some of my favorites.
posted by jaimev at 2:06 PM on May 4, 2008

I like 'Kid Logic' and anything with Sarah Vowell.
posted by supramarginal at 2:07 PM on May 4, 2008

I think it depends a lot on the person's taste. Some are really interesting and thought provoking, and some are just a good laugh. Some people think it's just middle class bellyaching, and I don't understand that perspective, but if I wanted to convince someone the show wasn't like that, I'd introduce them to something like the recent "Competition," which involves immigrant injustices etc.

But for someone generally unbiased, I'd recommend Fiasco or Notes on Camp.
posted by sweetkid at 2:09 PM on May 4, 2008

Act V is one of my all-time favorites; The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar is one of the best I've heard recently. Also seconding Notes on Camp.
posted by scody at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2008

This one is not really representative of the multiple different stories motif, but the Act V episode (Hamlet as performed in a prison) is really amazing.

And here's another prison-related episode which I still think about frequently after hearing it 10 years ago.
posted by pjenks at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2008

The "Tornado Prom" segment of Prom, and, well, the entirety of The Allure Of The Mean Friend strongly factored into making me a fan of TAL. 24 Hours At The Golden Apple (the bit during Act 2 with the two teenage girls playing matchmaker with each other is especially heartwarming) and the anonymous mother's essay during Act 2 of How To Talk To Kids are also wonderfully accessible.
posted by thisjax at 2:13 PM on May 4, 2008

I've found it depends hugely on the person - if they're into something, I'll find an episode to match (like Dreamhouse for the rosemantic architects), or ditto if they like one of the contributors from elsewhere. This seems to work better than pointing people at the archive.

What Is This Thing has worked on a few people (especially the Sarah Vowell piece about Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash). The Book That Changed Your Life was the one that won me over. Family Physics always strikes me as a good typical episode, and the Jon Ronson and David Sedaris stories in it are fantastic.

My dad was a hard sell (he kept describing great episodes like Notes On Camp as "too American") but I got him with 81 Words, and he liked some of the other atypical single-story episodes likeThe Fix Is In (this never gets old on relistening) and House On Loon Lake.
posted by carbide at 2:14 PM on May 4, 2008

It really depends on whether you want to highlight the show as funny, thought-provoking, political, etc.

Some of my favorites:

#74 Conventions
#168 The Fix Is In
#260 The Facts Don't Matter
#292 The Arms Trader
#317 Unconditional Love
#321 Sink or Swim

For what it's worth, I had a horrible experience trying to introduce someone to the show using Fiasco!.
posted by ellenaim at 2:16 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fiasco and Cringe. I used them to introduce TAL to my parents and they loved them.
posted by Falconetti at 2:21 PM on May 4, 2008

To me a classic is the squirrel cop story - definitely in the comedy category. (scroll down to First Day, and peruse the rest of the favorites list too).
posted by O9scar at 2:29 PM on May 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

The Middle of Nowhere is as close to a perfect radio production as they've ever done. It's masterful.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with sweetkid that it really depends on your audience. I don't agree that the ones that focus on immigrant rights, etc. are best for people who'd be annoyed by class issues. Nothing worse than middle class bellyaching about middle class problems than middle class bellyaching about poor people's problems. You know? TAL is good at what it's good at.

House on Loon Lake is awesome.
Most Sarah Vowell is awesome, though the one where her parents come to NYC is kinda' annoying.
The Fix Is In is awesome.
David Sedaris is usually awesome.

Gots to say that I DO NOT like "Notes on Camp."
I am an on-again-off-again fan of TAL, and that episode epitomizes the "middle class bellyaching"
problem. In this case, it's not bellyaching so much. More the opposite. Do they not realize that sleep away camp is a really, really privileged thing? Ugh. Bugs me.
posted by lalalana at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2008

Sometimes the first of something can end up being a favorite just because it was the first. The first episode of TAL that I ever heard was Accidental Documentaries. I was hooked.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:59 PM on May 4, 2008

Getting and Spending, especially part two and three. John Hodgman's piece on the Mall of America (part three) is what I play for everybody I know and love.
posted by stresstwig at 3:00 PM on May 4, 2008

House on Loon Lake is my personal favorite.
posted by Ostara at 3:01 PM on May 4, 2008

Any episode with Sarah Vowell would be perfect, better than David Sedaris for sure.

24 Hours at the Golden Apple was pretty damn compelling.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:11 PM on May 4, 2008


Specifically Act I. I have never laughed so hard from the radio before.
posted by chrisalbon at 3:13 PM on May 4, 2008

The Super, in particular, "Act Two: SUPER DUPER." I laughed so damn hard.

I also liked "Act One: The Luck of the Irish" from Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time.
posted by nkknkk at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2008

Lots of great suggestions here. Two of my favorites, with a low threshold of entrance:

Quiz Show
My Brilliant Plan
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:23 PM on May 4, 2008

Classifieds is one of the ones that got me hooked.
posted by leesh at 3:41 PM on May 4, 2008

Highly recommend the Lies, Sissies and Fiascoes best-of CD.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:48 PM on May 4, 2008

My Pen Pal is the one that leaps to my mind, for Sarah York's story (and equally compelling is the follow-up of what she's up to now, but I'm fascinated by that stuff).

Remember Me made me cry over ACT I. I still love this one.
posted by schnee at 3:53 PM on May 4, 2008

inconsequentialist: "Break-Up"
I came in to recommend this episode. This is the episode I have most burnt to disc to share. Whether that speaks to me or the show, I don't know. Great episode.
posted by geekyguy at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2008

Seconding "The Super" - it's my fave.
posted by davebush at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2008

Seconding Middle of Nowhere (especially the segment about getting stuck on hold, my favorite ever), Notes from Camp, and The Super.
posted by awesomebrad at 5:47 PM on May 4, 2008

Squirrel Cop. Squirrel Cop. Squirrel Cop.

(Plus, "The Super".)
posted by LairBob at 7:19 PM on May 4, 2008

I liked Dream House also. I heard it scanning the radio stations one night. This was before I got hooked on podcasts. Something about it made me stop, listen and consider.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:21 PM on May 4, 2008

After some coaxing by a friend I recently gave this show a try and I've been hooked ever since. I've only been able to listen to fairly recent shows but these are the ones that got me hooked.

The Audacity of Government
The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar
Mistakes Were Made

Hope you're friend gets into it.
posted by fredbaker at 7:31 PM on May 4, 2008

I can't believe no one has mentioned Recordings for Someone. Act One - The Little Mermaid answering machine message - makes me cry it's so funny.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2008

Which is the episode that starts out with the weird guy in the subway pointing at people and saying "You're in. You're in. You're out. You're in." and the guy telling the story says he really hoped that this total stranger would say "You're in" even though he had no idea what it actually meant or who this guy was?

That one.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:44 PM on May 4, 2008

Oh, and neither of these are at all like the rest of the show, but both the Guantanamo Bay episode and the episode about the guy who is effectively duped into being tried and convicted as a terrorist are both amazing.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:54 PM on May 4, 2008

Deathalicious: The Kindness of Strangers
posted by inconsequentialist at 12:29 AM on May 5, 2008

I just recently got hooked. I think the one that did it was The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar. I think the last one I downloaded - With Great Power - was really edge-of-your-seat as well (at least the first act; the third mostly sucked).
posted by desjardins at 6:52 AM on May 5, 2008

The Super
The Allure of the Mean Friend
Break Up

and there's one about these people that ride horses across country, I can't remember what the name is but I literally found myself in tears...such a beautiful story and the people are awesome.
posted by sully75 at 8:51 AM on May 5, 2008

nthing "The Super." It's pure gold.
posted by sneakin at 12:57 PM on May 5, 2008

I listened to 'Ties that Bind' while walking home from work last night. Thank god it was late and very dark, because I was walking along bawling my eyes out.

Another fascinating episode was 'What's in a Number?'

When I grow up I want to be Ira Glass.
posted by Lucie at 2:55 AM on May 7, 2008

I loved The was my first, and I've listened to every episode since. Also heard great things about Pen Pals, although I still haven't heard it.
posted by alohaliz at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2008

And don't overlook Who's Canadian. It's a riot.
posted by catmint at 10:45 PM on October 28, 2008

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