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Showtime presents
This American Life: Season One (2007)

"It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show we choose a theme, and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme."
- Ira Glass

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 11, 2008

Stars: Ira Glass
Director: Christopher Wilcha

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 02h:48m:00s
Release Date: January 29, 2008
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C+B- C+

DVD Review

This American Life: Season One gathers up all six episodes from the series' 2007 debut season on Showtime, in which host Ira Glass attempts to recreate his popular syndicated public radio show with the same sort of smart-guy wit, augmented this time by all sorts of moving pictures.

The central premise of Glass' radio series remains intact, with each 28-minute episode centered on a particular theme, and an assortment of one, two, or three quirky pieces that connect back to that theme. The connections are sometimes quite disparate, but like the radio show, that's the inherent draw of the This American Life experience.

Glass does borrow from the well-stocked radio show well for some of the stories, so that popular pieces like the cloning of a much-loved bull (seen in the premiere episode's Reality Check) become not only a bit more three-dimensional, but in some cases add to an already existing This American Life radio segment. As host, Glass sits behind an old-school desk in different outdoor settings to introduce segments, presenting himself as that potentially smart-ass guy who just manages to always keep himself this side of being a smarmy tool. He does it right—pulling back from the "ain't-I-cool" at just the right time—and thereby lending the proper left-field intelligence required to make the video version of his radio show carry the same hip tone.

The series includes a clever pre-title sequence narrated by Glass that sets up the theme for each episode, and these neatly stylized bits clearly define the somewhat off-kilter journalistic approach that is to follow. The trauma of a grade school girl being forced to pee on the floor of the school bus or the sweeping societal disorder caused by pretending to have a video camera are funny, sad, and all points in-between. The presentation is as varied as it is spot-on in nailing the crux of the theme, and over the course of six episodes I found myself eagerly looking forward to these opening setups.

There's a fine balance of humor and pathos sprinkled throughout, and the sweet story of a woman in her 60s writing her first screenplay (and the highly unusual short film project it launches) is endearing, while the unexpected result of research into controlling memories in lab rats turns suddenly down a road that is simply heartbreaking. Even the segments that seem to serve no grand function (the teenager who vows to never fall in love or the comedian who uses her personal 9/11 tragedy as a basis for her act) contain the same underlying purpose of cool that This American Life provides on the radio. It's all about real people, in all of their unique and yet thematically-connected lives.

Reviewer note: as of February 2008, this item is currently exclusive to Borders.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A fairly craptacular 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Showtime on this one, with quality and clarity that varies widely across the board. Moments of strong, sharp details are replaced by bouts of frequent ringing and shimmer, as well as extremely soft edges. Color rendering, however, holds up well throughout.

Not always pretty, and more than a bit disappointing.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio defaults to 2.0 stereo, though a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also provided. There's a slightly distracting tonal quality to the stereo blend, making the cleaner 5.1 option the preferred choice. Not much cause for dramatic surround cues here, but voice quality is cleaner, and some of the score elements get painted to a wider, more substantive effect.

A Spanish mono dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ira Glass, Christopher Wilcha
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Host Ira Glass and director Christopher Wilcha serve up a commentary for Episode 1 (Reality Check), and it's of moderate interest, especially if you're pining to know when Glass had to do ADR work, or how the opening pee-on-the-bus sequence was assembled. It's not a bad listen, just not all that fulfilling.

An onscreen text bio of Glass is also included, as is a brief set of ten behind-the-scenes photos. Each episode is cut into five chapters.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The transfer is below average and the extras are hardly remarkable, but the offbeat tilt and presentation of the stories supercedes all of that.

Highly recommended.


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