Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THIS POST WILL CONSIST OF ONE ACT:  StvMg suggested in the comments to the Phil Collins post that the This American Life piece to which Collins contributed, "The Breakup," was the best in show history.  And I realized, hey: there's a list we've constructed yet!  Let's get to it.

(And, by the way, I do have a concept for another round of Humiliation.)

My nominees are a mix of the political and the more entertaining -- Giant Pool of Money and Harold for the former, #1 Party School, The Middle of Nowhere, and Tough Room for the latter. Your mileage will assuredly vary.

55 comments:

  1. I'll offer up Reruns (though the middle act is far weaker than the Starlee Kine piece that opens the show and the Sarah Vowell one that closes it), and MacGyver.

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  2. I was reading this and very excited to nominate "#1 Party School," which I feel like must have sounded like an anthropology study for those of you that didn't go to a big football school, but then you already did. "The Giant Pool of Money" was also very well done.

    My original nominee would be "Classifieds," if only for the third act where they assemble a band through the ads and then play "Rocket Man."

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  3. mhgatti9:15 PM

    I really like ones like Rest Stop and Georgia Rambler, where the producers spread out and get stories all from one starting point. I'd think that you'd have to put The Fix is In (aka "The Informant") pretty high on the list, too.

    I might be the only listener who didn't enjoy Giant Pool of Money, but I don't care for the Planet Money guys to start with.

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  4. Joseph J. Finn9:26 PM

    I've never been the most constant of listeners, but Rest Stop goes on my list as well.  Another would have to include A Very Special Sedaris Christmas, especially for Julia Sweeney reading the family newsletter.

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  5. Testosterone!  Hands down.  

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  6. jessica9:46 PM

    Oh, TAL, one of my true loves in life. My favorites are The Super, Mapping, and Testosterone.

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  7. Anonymous9:46 PM

    Oh, I love this topic!  Act V is my fave.  Also, Notes on Camp sort of makes me cringe but I was sooo one of those overly passionate camp kids that I can't help but love it very much.

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  8. Dan Suitor9:53 PM

    I've loved the show for a long time, but a year and a half ago I actually started at Episode #1 (when TAL was still called Your Radio Playhouse) and I've been working my way through ever since. I'm up to #208, currently.

    As for my favorites, the following stand out: #109 (Notes on Camp), #377 (Scenes From a Recession), #198 (The House on Loon Lake), #47 (Christmas and Commerce), #403 (NUMMI), and #304 (Heretics).

    Of note, some of the work they did after 9/11 is incredible in that it functions as a time capsule, a cultural artifact of that time and place. Their first wholly original show after the events (#194: Before and After) was broadcast just 10 days later and is breathtaking in both its bare-faced hurt and uncertainty. Then, when I listened to #206 it was a recording that had an updated intro (as the show sometimes does with dated material) that seemed almost apologetic for the subject matter (daily life in the military).

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  9. isaac_spaceman mobile9:57 PM

    The Breakup was great, sure, but the one about the guy whose mom left a pre-Internet viral voice mail where she said "fuck you and the little mermaid" may always be my favorite.  And the one where the LA real estate agent's old band, the Automatics, suddenly becomes hugely popular in Japan, twenty years after they broke up.  That's great too.  And the one about the people who disagree on the telling of a story, which has as its centerpiece the story of how the guy got arrested after breaking into the penguin exhibit at the zoo, that's in my top five, along with the one about the catastrophic high school play. 

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  10. Maggie10:03 PM

    I love "fuck you and the little mermaid" and the catastrophic high school play episode is also wonderful.  My top five would be rounded out with Mapping, Starting from Scratch (Puppies, Puppies, Puppies, Puppies, Puppies!), and Poultry Slam 2003 (with the story about the two sisters that communicated with a stuffed duck named Duki).

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  11. christy in nyc10:05 PM

    Yeah, Notes on Camp hits way too close to home for me.

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  12. christy in nyc10:13 PM

    Tough question. Especially because I tend to listen to TAL before I go to sleep and so my memories of it tend to be a little muddled.

    I found My Pen Pal astonishing. No Map heartbreaking. Who Do You Think You Are? was a majorly pleasant surprise because based on the title and the prologue I thought it was going to be about people being jerks to each other, but it turned out to mostly consist of awesome Studs Turkel clips and a couple of other interesting stories.

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  13. Anonymous10:14 PM

    My favorite is The Friendly Man, the episode devoted to Scott Carrier stories exclusively.  He's their best producer IMO, his stories have so much heart, and he understands the medium of radio better than almost anyone.

    The story Jorge Just tells at the beginning of Starting From Scratch has me in stiches every time I listen to it.  It is so funny.

    Agreed on the Peter Pan high school play one.

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  14. I did enjoy No. 1 Party School. It was fun to tease a co-worker from Penn State, particularly once they mentioned how often they heard "Party in the USA" during all their trips around campus. 

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  15. Dan Suitor10:22 PM

    I first listened to "No Map" during a week-long stint in a beach house in Maine. It was dank and chilly, despite being summer, and I listened to it as I walk along the beach with my dog. The second act just killed me. I'd been in a third world country less than a year prior and seen some of the awful conditions that lead to putting kids up for adoption. I had to sit down on a dune and take a few minutes before I could move on.

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  16. Joseph J. Finn10:26 PM

    <span><span>“You and the little mermaid can go fuck yourselves" </span>never gets old.</span>

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  17. Oh, also: My Big Break, Act One: "<span>Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall were a comedy duo back in the mid-1960s, playing clubs around Los Angeles, when their agent called to tell them he'd landed them the gig of a lifetime: They were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. The only problem was that their performance was a total fiasco, for a bunch of reasons, including one they never saw coming. David Segal of The New York Times reports. (18 minutes)"</span>

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  18. The Pathetic Earthling10:53 PM

    I love Big Pool of Money, not least because I spent the worst nine months of my career doing nothing but mortgage-backed securities.  (I include in that time the periods in which I didn't have a job).

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  19. Stevie11:28 PM

    Big Pool of Money, #1 Party School, and the one where they spent 24 hours at the Golden Apple in Chicago. I also like the episode they spend on an aircraft carrier.

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  20. It's true, say "Little Mermaid" to anyone who was at Columbia in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and they'll know exactly what you're talking about.

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  21. Yes!  When I read Isaac's post, I thought, "Oh, that's the story that [friend who was Columbia '94] told me!"

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  22. LisaJunior1:14 AM

    Please tell me someone else was obsessed with Mistakes Were Made about the early attempts at cryonics. I think I sat in the car for 40 minutes because I didn't want to risk missing a moment. Or with the story of Baby Nubbins (Act Three) which is a charming exploration of race, class, and American consumer culture.

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  23. Bobsyeruncle3:51 AM

    Great choices - Camp, Loon Lake and NUMMi are some of my favourites.

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  24. Bobsyeruncle3:56 AM

    I love #379, Return to the Scene of the Crime.  It's one of their live shows, and Birbiglia, as usual, has a great story, but the showstopper is Dan Savage talking about the death of his mother and his on again, off again relationship with Catholicism.  It's at turns hilarious and absolutely heartwrenching.  Had me crying like a baby in my car. 

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  25. Reading all of these comments just makes me realize how rarely I'm disappointed in a TAL.

    I loved NUMMI, and even though it was set in California had a lot of resonance for Michiganders, especially as as we watch the plants come down.  On the other hand, to hear that GM COULD do something correctly but chose not to was heartbreaking. 

    I rarely remember the names of the shows, but Giant Pool of Money, obviously, and #1 Party School (though I realized how much I've taken in to much of the culture of working at a top ten party school campus when I responded, "well, duh" to the idea that random drunk kids might sleep it off in your living room or on your front porch).  I've kept the following in iTunes--The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, a Little Bit of Knowledge, and No Map.  I used to have What I Learned from TV in there too.

    Individual stories--Mike Birbiglia's sleep walking story, the one about the cop who set the squirrel on fire (followed up by the same cop arresting the guy who owned the driving monkey), the cryonics story,  the one Adam mentioned already in My Big Break, the little mermaid . . .

    I'm in the middle of Toxie right now, and I'm enjoying that one too.  I heard the last 15 minutes of Petty Tyrant on the radio and couldn't get out of the car.

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  26. Greg W9:25 AM

    Along the lines of Giant Pool of Money (in that it is only one story and more about explaining than emoting) is 204: 81 Words, which tells the story of how homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the granddaughter of the APA at the time. Fascinating behind-the-scenes storytelling and something I've assigned in class.

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  27. Heather K9:40 AM

    24 hours at the Golden Apple is one of my favorite, in part because my 2nd apartment in Chicago was around the corner from it and we had roommate Friday night dinners there EVERY Friday, and there were a couple of late night birthday party refuels there, and this all happened at least 6 or 7 years after that was recorded and it was still the same.

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  28. Heather K9:44 AM

    I love TAL the most because it actually brings my family together from big city liberal me to my backwoods redneck republican father and all the other stops in between.  We all love it, we all listen to it.  It sparks great conversations.  About camp, about the economy, about our own lives.  It means my lame joke of calling my big thick rimmed hipster glasses my Ira Glass-es is funny to all of them.  And with our very diverse tastes and interests, this is pretty much the only thing that can reliably make everyone happy.

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  29. I still use "Invisible Man vs Hawkman" from Superpowers as a conversation starter.

    More recently, I loved Act II "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" of Unconditional Love. In the movie in my mind, the mom in the story is played by Amy Aquino.

    But the one that made me sit in my car and cry was when they played an original recording of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" as Act II of This American Life's Holiday Gift Giving Guide.  I was stuck in traffic, not moving, on I-40 between Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC, with tears coming down my face.  I kept hoping the other drivers stuck next to me didn't notice.

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  30. Oh yes, Mistakes Were Made, definitely.  The cryonics story was amazing; I was listening to it on a walk and couldn't stop, just kept walking until it ended.  Also loved Return to the Scene of the Crime, and Fiasco, the one about the disastrous school play.  Probably lots of others, but I can't always remember titles.

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  31. okay. which episode?

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  32. Hobart10:15 AM

    What makes the penguin story even better is that (unless my memory is utterly failing me) it's John Hodgman who broke into the exhibit.

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  33. Marsha10:47 AM

    How can there be no love for "Squirrel Cop" in this thread? It's Act II of First Day (#115). The only other thing I've laughed harder at on the radio is David Sedaris reading his story about his French class trying to explain Easter to non-Christians in broken French. I cannot find it on the TAL website, but it's here. "Then he die one day on two morsels of lumber. He die one day and then he go above my head and live with your father. He wear the long hair, and after he die the first day and then he come back here for to say hello to the peoples. He nice? He make the good thing, and on the Easter we be sad because someone make him dead today."

    I don't listen to TAL as much as I'd like, in part because of when it's usually been broadcast in Chicago (both airings on Shabbat). But among my other full-show favorites are #189 Hitler's Yacht and #218 Act V (about doing Hamlet in a max security prison). I must also mention the "Ghosts of Pasha" segment of #286 Mind Games which introduced me to Improv Everywhere (the segment is actually called "The Spy Who Loved Everyone").

    Finally, the anniversary show they did recently where they did stories that their parents had been trying to get them to do for years was fantastic, both the actual stories themselves, and the perspective it gave on how TAL works. It's #400 Stories Pitched By Our Parents.

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  34. That's a really good choice, too.  My sister and I were listening to that on a long drive, and it went from funny to Birbiglia to funny with Savage to incredibly sad.

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  35. The Pathetic Earthling11:12 AM

    #311: A Better Mousetrap has one of my favorite lead-ins (it's a good episode in any case), a talk with the product development guy at a mousetrap company.  

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  36. Heather K11:12 AM

    I also HIGHLY reccomend the iphone/ipod app for TAL because you can listen to everything as long as you are connected to the internets!!

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  37. Vanessa H.11:23 AM

    It's Episode 203, Recordings for Someone. It has a piece on a guy who stutters that I love.

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  38. Vanessa H.11:42 AM

    There are two episodes that I loved that have a similar subject matter, #360, Switched at Birth and #352 The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar. They are both full hours devoted to exploring the lasting impact of not being who you think you are.

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  39. Andrew11:46 AM

    The first episode of TAL I distinctly remember listening to was Superpowers, mainly for flight vs. invisibility. Other favorites include Giant Pool of Money, Act 1 of Mistakes Were Made, #1 Party School, The Middle of Nowhere, and Rest Stop (in large part because that's a typical stop for me) .

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  40. There's an episode from October '08, "Another Frightening Show About the Economy" that has a large segment about commercial paper.  Having just left a job where I was mostly working on commercial paper litigation for the previous two years, and where we found that almost no one outside the market knew what CP was, or even understood it inside the market, it was very strange to hear a pretty good explanation of it on a mainstream program.  

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  41. christy in nyc12:13 PM

    Yes! The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar! I knew I was forgetting one. That's one that sent me scrolling through the archive, thinking "I want another one like THIS one!"

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  42. Jenn C12:24 PM

    Now you don't even have to be connected! You can pick shows you want to save to your ipod/iphone while you are connected, and you'll have access to them when you are offline.

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  43. Jenn C12:34 PM

    So many of my favorites have already been mentioned, but I'll add What I Learned From Television; Tough Room; Somewhere Out There; and Origin Story is really just worth it for the Peter Sagal story.

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  44. The second seaon finale of the tv show, John Smith, was incredible. I think it won awards, and rightly so.

    Some of the radio episodes I loved that haven't been mentioned (Squirrel Cop!) would be Shouting Across the Divide, Prom, and Trail of Tears.

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  45. Peter Sagal story is so fantastic and random.

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  46. slowlylu5:52 PM

    Everyone's already made mention of my favourites but of all the things that TAL has taught me is how lucky you are to have someone like Ira Glass. The BBC and the ABC do things well but not like TAL.

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  47. The Pathetic Earthling6:55 PM

    I think the genius of TAL is that Ira Glass has a genuine affection for the public, no matter how weird or strange they are, knows he is good (indeed, fantastic) at what he does and doesn't need editorialize to establish bona fides for some other purpose (political, social, whatever).

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  48. Anonymous8:34 PM

    Kate, I also thought of the Mike Buirbiglia story.  Every so often, I hear his faux-accented voice from that story, saying, "So I'm at La Quinta Inn..."

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  49. <span>Kate, I also thought of the Mike Buirbiglia story.  Every so often, I hear his faux-accented voice from that story, saying, "So I'm at La Quinta Inn..."</span>

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  50. Hobart9:36 PM

    My wife's far and away favorite episode is Kid Logic with its opening about discovering the Tooth Fairy's identity which is then topped by the girl bringing up unicorns during a conversation about endangered species around a beer keg.  We had to pause for about 5 minutes while she laughed at that one.

    Also: 20 Acts in 60 Minutes, specifically for Spaghetti Batman.

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  51. woo!  i live in the holler and sometimes service is spotty.  i'll definitely try this during the pre-thanksgiving drive.  the TAL app was totally worth the ridiculously low price of $2!

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  52. slowlylu12:15 AM

    Absolutely  and I think it is more than affection it is a genuine curiosity about people and their motivations. He is an exceptional interviewer because he never tries to answer his own questions. completes someone sentences and tries to out compete them in terms of empathy. 

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  53. I listened to Ruining it for the Rest of Us on the long, flat I5 drive to Seattle and alternated between laughing and crying.  Love that one.

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  54. Jenn C11:13 AM

    Yes, the John Smith episode was *amazing*

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  55. Mandee4:12 PM

    Act V is the one that got me hooked on the show.  I was driving home from my sister's house and purposefully pulled off the interstate to prolong the trip so I wouldn't lose the signal.  Eventually ended up stopping on the side of the road to hear the end.

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