Man, This American Life wasted no time going for the heartstrings in their debut episode last night, telling the story of Mike, a young man with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which has left him bed-ridden and incapable of speech. There are a lot of diseases out there with debilitating effects, but this one is particularly visual. Mike’s body looks formless, like the life has been sucked out of it. But he’s mentally intact, and vibrant. Also, he has a girlfriend.
There are plenty of grudges one could hold against This American Life. That it feels decidedly bourgeois and twee, or that it hits a very limited range of emotional points and sticks to a particular kind of American Life. But they do it so well. And I think that regardless of whether or not the television show renders the radio program irrelevant, they’re putting this out at a crucial time. There’s just so much bullshit programming these days, and not just reality TV, but news programming and dramas and sitcoms as well. And I’m not saying that television was ever better. It was always mostly terrible. I think that if you looked at the history of the medium, we’re probably at its apogee right now. Actually, no, I take that back. We were at the apogee about two years ago, when The Wire and Sopranos and Arrested Development were still on the air. But the point is, I’m not decrying some kind of slip in quality, what I’m decrying is a hesitancy on the part of television to tell meaningful stories. Maybe instead of feeling frustrated with the limitations of This American Life, we should admire it for where it succeeds, and take it as a cue to create other great shows that fill in the gaps that it can’t.
Also, while we’re at it, Entertainment, please create a The Best Show on WFMU TV TV show, thanks.