Some Episodes of “This American Life” That Everyone Should Listen To

Some Episodes of “This American Life” That Everyone Should Listen To

Podcasts are the form of media I?ve consumed the most, rivaling music, in the past four years. A good podcast is able to give the listener knowledge and entertainment, and since its form is audio you can also preform mindless chores or ruin your rank in Rocket League while doing so. I?ll probably write another article in the future about podcasts, some of my favorites, and why its a good interest to take up, but for now I want to talk about my favorite podcast: This American Life.

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My exposure to NPR before I started listening to TAL (This American Life) was slim to none. I remember once my mom had it on while we were driving back from church one evening and it was some program where they were talking about the recent BP oil spill. Another time me, my brothers, and our neighbor were driving home and someone was messing with the dial and we ended up in the 80s *shudder* on the FM range so we hit the NPR frequency and heard some guy talking about ?his life in cartoons?. So how did I end up becoming a religious listener of TAL? I wish I had a glamorous backstory to tell, but I don?t. At the time I listened to my first episode, I think there was one other podcast I listened to so I was bored one day and checking out the Apple Podcasts app, and decided to click the top podcast which happened to be TAL. The episode I listened to was ?No Place Like Home? and to this day its my idea of a quintessential episode. Maybe I feel this way because it was the first episode I listened to, but I think the format and stories in this one make it a classic. After that, I quickly dug into the archive, starting with episodes released after the one I listened to; turns out it was a rerun so there was about 20 episodes till I was caught up in that direction. Then, I dug into the back catalogue one year at a time. I started listening around the beginning of 2015, and since then I?ve heard every episode released from 2009 to 2019, in addition to some others (over 300 in total). It?s a really well done show, with captivating stories, stellar research and journalism, and great pacing and production. Below are my all time favorite episodes made. They vary in style, subject matter, and seriousness, so I hope you at least take the time to listen to the one that seems the most interesting to you. And who knows? Maybe in four years you?ll have spend 300 hours listening to this show too. The list below is ranked in order, loosely; based on how I was feeling at the moment of creation of this list. Remember, even the ones at the bottom of this list are above my 90th percentile so don?t count them out. Almost every episode is great, so these are all amazing. Thank you for reading (and hopefully listening).

1) 129 Cars

129 Cars – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these Civil War reenactments, wax museums, simulated coal mines, fake ethnic?

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This is an episode I think everyone should listen too, regardless of if you think this style of podcast/radio show, or even podcasts in general, aren?t for you. The entire hour focuses on a car dealership in Long Island and the team of journalists stays with the dealership and catalogues their monthly quest to reach a vital sales goal of 129 cars. If this sounds boring or dumb to you, trust me it?s not. It?s at the top of this list for a reason, as its a captivating piece on something most of us don?t focus on.

2) A Not-So-Simple Majority

A Not-So-Simple Majority – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas-a town?

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The whole episode focuses on a school district in East Ramapo, NY. There is a growing population of ultra-orthodox Jewish people in this city, who send their kids to their own private schools and grow upset that they have to pay taxes to fund schools none of their kids go to. They attempt to take over the school board and defund the public schools. A fantastic piece of reporting interviewing both sides, as the clash reaches its pinnacle.

3) Harper High School

Harper High School – Part One – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these Nancy Updike goes to Iraq to try to figure out what it’s like to be a?

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Harper High School – Part Two – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We go to the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to talk to residents about?

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This two part episode is a Peabody Award winner; diving into a high school in Detroit where 29 current and recent students were shooting victims the year before. TAL staff spends 5 months at this high school, interviewing students, teachers, and community members, showing what has become normal for these students.

4) 24 Hours at the Golden Apple

24 Hours at the Golden Apple – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We asked listeners to send us their best coincidence stories, and we got?

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This episode focuses on a diner in Chicago, cataloging 24 hours at this diner. An iconic episode for me, because it?s stories of many ?American lifes? being lived, all very different, yet all connected by this one diner. I know this one may once again seem mundane, but trust me, its a great piece of journalism.

5) Petty Tyrant

Petty Tyrant – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these Civil War reenactments, wax museums, simulated coal mines, fake ethnic?

www.thisamericanlife.org

I?m going to use this moment to tell you that if you look at my top five your probably not going to get a good look at what a standard episode of TAL is like. All of these are episodes where just one story is being told rather than as Ira Glass says: ?Each week we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme?. Trust me, there are a bunch of those that I love and they?re coming later on . It?s just when the story/topic is so good, and there?s a whole hour to tackle it, its amazing: as evident of these five and some more.

Ok, anyway, this episode is about a man who starts at the bottom of a school district, and rises in rank and power. The way he abuses his power, his rise to the top, and eventual downfall is shown in this episode in Shakespearian fashion.

6) 20 Acts in 60 Minutes

20 Acts in 60 Minutes – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these A Guatemalan immigrant living near Boston gets a phone call with some?

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The pendulum swings dramatically here. After 5 episodes with just one central topic, we have 20 in one episode. Typically there?s 3?5 acts in most TAL episodes, and this is their experiment of trying to put 20 acts in just one show. It produces an array of topics, mediums; short stories, shorter stories, and more. It?s an experience to listen to, especially if your used to the typical format.

My Favorite Act: Act 15 – ?Mr. Prediction?

7) Notes on Camp

Notes on Camp – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these Stories in which ordinary people make last ditch efforts to get through?

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I?ve been to overnight sleep away camp for less than a week in total, yet this episode makes me nostalgic for days at a camp I never went too. One of the older episodes on this list, it was recorded in 1998, yet it is timeless. Most of the acts are focused on one camp ?Lake of the Woods?, yet there is an interlude pair of acts, where listeners tell their unique stories of camp and a staff member recalls his time at Israeli army camp.

My Favorite Act: Act Six – ?Color Days?

8) My Summer Self

My Summer Self – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these One car dealership tries to sell 129 cars. It is way more chaotic than?

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Stories about summer. All the acts in this one are great, which is why its one of my favorite ?typical? TAL episodes. First act is about a 66 year old lifeguard who feels he?s being pushed out of his job. Next, an group of comedians preform improv on stories from Ira Glass and themselves about summer, including the time Ira vacationed with Michael Jackson when they were both kids. Finally, a producer on the show tells of his family?s timeshare when he was a kid.

My Favorite Act: Act Two – ?Say Yes to Summer?

9) Hit the Road

Hit the Road – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these The world redrawn by the five senses. All kinds of little stories that?

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Stories about travel; a large part of this episode is one man?s journey walking from Philly to the Pacific Ocean, about his experience traveling and the people he met along the way.

My Favorite Act: Act One – ?The Slowest Distance Between Two Points?

10) Three Miles

Three Miles – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas-a town?

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A one topic episode, exploring the program that brings kids from one of the poorest districts in the country to an elite, expensive, private school just three miles up the road. Investigates what happens when you see how much greener the grass really can be on the other side, and the benefits and repercussions of that.

11) Cops See It Differently

Cops See It Differently – Part One – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these What happens when of a group of public school students in the Bronx goes?

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Cops See It Differently – Part Two – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these One car dealership tries to sell 129 cars. It is way more chaotic than?

www.thisamericanlife.org

Another two part episode, covering the serious topic of racial discrimination among cops. Made just months after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, this episode has become unfortunately only more relevant. TAL tries to figure out what cops and blacks think of the situation and what they think can be done to make it better.

12) Act V

Act V – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We go to the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to talk to residents about?

www.thisamericanlife.org

Over 6 months, one reporter follows a high security prison?s production of the final act of Hamlet, put on by the inmates. From the TAL website: ?Shakespeare may seem like an odd match for a group of hardened criminals, but Jack found that they understand the Bard on a level that most of us might not. It?s a play about murder and its consequences, performed by murderers, living out the consequences.?

13) Babysitting

Babysitting – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We spent five months at a high school in Chicago where in the last year?

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Stories on babysitting. Three quality acts: brothers remember what happened when the eldest was put in charge of them when mom and dad went out, divorcee kids stranded at an airport the day after Christmas, and a brother and a sister who invent a family to babysit for to gain freedom from their mother.

My Favorite Act: Act Three – ?Yes There Is A Baby?

14) Human Spectacle

Human Spectacle 2015 – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these A story about someone who’s desperately trying – against long odds – to?

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Stories about people being watched. The first act is about a crazy Japanese reality show which involved a contestant who had to survive only on his sweepstakes winnings. Following, is an act on a scientist who studied every aspect about a child?s life for one day. The final act, is about a comedy duo who got the chance of a lifetime: preforming on the Ed Sullivan Show. Unfortunately for them, they were overshadowed by a small group making their American debut; The Beatles.

My Favorite Act: Act One -??I Am The Eggplant?

15) Amusement Park

Amusement Park – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these One car dealership tries to sell 129 cars. It is way more chaotic than?

www.thisamericanlife.org

Stories from amusement parks, featuring listener stories, one reporters unusual summer at a New Jersey boardwalk, and a lifelong amusement park worker and patron who loves his job.

My Favorite Act: Act One – ?Gameboy Grows Up?

16) Rest Stop

Rest Stop – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these Exactly how much are the animals that live in our home caught up in?

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In a similar fashion to the story on the diner higher up on the list, nine reporters cover two days at a rest stop. The people that pass through there, the people that work there, and the stories they have to tell.

17) The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We asked listeners to send us their best coincidence stories, and we got?

www.thisamericanlife.org

The staff of TAL takes the psychopath test and shares their results and how they think others in the office will do. The first act is about how psychopaths are more likely to be repeats offenders of crimes and questions the morality of withholding parole for criminal psychopaths. The second tackles the correlation between CEOs and psychopaths, with one author visiting the house of a CEO and basically asking him if he?s a psychopath.

My Favorite Act: Act Two – ?King of the Forest?

18) The Seven Things You?re Not Supposed to Talk About

The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these David Sedaris takes Ira on a tour of his favorite spots in Paris. Did a?

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A staff member?s mom is a very proper lady and she shares her list of seven things you shouldn?t talk about because they are boring and nobody cares. TAL sets out to prove her wrong, finding the seven most interesting stories on these topics they can find. The mom decides whether they achieved their goal or not.

My Favorite Act: Act Three – ?Health?

19) Mind Games

Mind Games 2016 – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We spent five months at a high school in Chicago where in the last year?

www.thisamericanlife.org

This is an interesting episode as its kinda all over the map. The theme is mind games but the acts are very loosely based on that. One act is about ?Improv Everywhere?, a group famous for flash mobs and other such performance pieces in the world. They try to give an unknown band their show of a lifetime, by acting as fan who know lyrics and flood the place. Examines the unintended consequences of how the band feels afterwords. Another act is about a musician called by a fan to come play at his apartment to save his relationship, and the dynamic that follows.

My Favorite Act: Act Two – ?The Spy Who Loved Everyone?

20) Middle School

Middle School – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these We spent five months at a high school in Chicago where in the last year?

www.thisamericanlife.org

Stories about the middle school experience, and how kids deal with the change. From school dances, created alibis, young teenage reporting, and moving to a new school, there is an array of stories on this time of our lives.

My Favorite Act: Act Three – ?Mimis in the Middle?

21) Take the Money and Run for Office

Take the Money and Run for Office – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these The surprisingly entertaining story of how the U.S. got itself into a?

www.thisamericanlife.org

How money intersects with politics. Shows the inescapable reality of our current political system, where representatives have no choice but to spend more time campaigning for support than actually doing the job they are elected to do. TAL goes behind the scenes and investigates what the money does and how it is gotten.

22) Who You Gonna Call?

Who You Gonna Call? – This American Life

If you enjoyed this episode, you may like these One car dealership tries to sell 129 cars. It is way more chaotic than?

www.thisamericanlife.org

Stories of people finding the right people to call. A radio host receives a call from a suicidal man on live radio at 3AM, and stays on the line with him. A woman is the translator for a community who have many different names for the same streets. A fan of a radio psychologist talks about the show she listens too, and questions if the advice is just too good.

My Favorite Act: Act One – ?Fass Talker?

Thank you for reading and I hope you find one of these topics interesting enough to give it a chance. Let me know what you think of any episodes you listen too.

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