Sunday, May 4, 2008

If the show is half as good as the review . . .

I like radio. More specifically, I like NPR. TV, as Borat might say, not so much. One show that I always loved, although I've only heard it if I happened to be in the car at the right time, is "This American Life". I knew it became a television show, but not being much of a TV hog, I've yet to see it. Whoa. After reading the May 04 review of the second season by Heather Havrilesky in Salon, I'll be recording it now from now on. Here's a snippet.

Some days you merely survive. You brush your unwashed hair and pack something crappy for lunch. You trudge from the car to your office. You sit and check your e-mail, the highlight of your day. And now the real work begins. You pick up the phone and close your eyes. Your co-workers say "Hi!" and you struggle to muster an appropriately chirpy yet professional response.

And just when you think the day is all about getting by, a glimpse of sunshine out the window or a melancholy song playing in your headphones sends you out of survival mode into some dreamy, nostalgic state that makes the pragmatic world of work feel horribly mundane. Your quest to simply get through the day is replaced by a painful longing for more. The world is full of hope and heartbreak and lukewarm coffee and glasses that don't fit quite right, and you have to do something about it. You want to walk outside and spend the day wandering around in the springtime sunshine. You want to pick your kid up from day care and take her to the park. You want to bail on that lunchtime meeting and go see a movie down the block. You want to get a pedicure, and then have a sandwich and a big glass of iced tea. You want to stare at the wall and let your eyes go unfocused.

And then, when you go to lunch alone and you sip iced tea and stare at the wall with glassy, unfocused eyes, you recognize Glenn Miller on the stereo, and that gets you thinking about how romantic and unmatched the big-band sound was, how maybe it was the war raging overseas or the styles at the time. Thinking about it makes you want to go back and live in some smoky, noir, black-and-white version of the early '40s. You'd wear cinched dresses and uncomfortable pumps with neatly pinned hair and red lipstick. Even though you know your vision is formed from some sentimental, blurry mix of old movies, newsreels about Rosie the Riveter and your dad's Time-Life books about the Third Reich, you still think it would be nice to live back then, writing letters to the troops with an ink pen, and baking cookies in your bad shoes. You'd probably be married to someone rigid and unyielding, and you'd be forced to look good, forced to smile politely when people made ignorant, inane remarks, like the poor, pent-up, chain-smoking heroine of "Franny and Zooey." Modern times are too permissive, after all, and someone like you, with your unwashed hair and your dog-hair-covered sweater, would clean up nice and thrive, really, under oppressive societal conditions. --snip--
Lots of wonderful descriptions of the show follow, including a segment on Haider Hamza and his "Ask an Iraqi" booth. You gotta read about him and his conversations with "Americans". Havrilesky continues --
There's a feeling of magic in "This American Life," the kind of feeling you get when you read a great novel or listen to truly inspired music. After watching this show, you start to experience the little things around you through a different filter: the dogs sleeping on the bed, the clothes turning and turning in the washing machine, the sound of kids playing next door. Instead of intrusions, each of these mundane details feels like a gift.

Can you ask for anything more from a TV show? Of course you can, but you also want to wear tight dresses and bake cookies in your bad shoes, so we can't exactly trust you on this one.
If you've got TV, with a review like this, how can you resist the show. In the meantime, I'm gonna look for more stuff written by Heather Havrilesky. If it's half as good as this review . . .

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