In addition to all six episodes of the series, the single-disc release features a 77-minute cut of This American Life - Live!, the May 1, 2008 show at NYU that was simulcast to theaters across the country promoting the second season, and an audio commentary by host Ira Glass and director Christopher Wilcha for episode one.
A bit of background for the uninitiated: This American Life began on Chicago Public Radio in 1995 and is now carried on over 500 public radio stations each week, as well as being available as a free podcast. TAL made the leap to TV in 2007 with six episodes on Showtime, and completed a second run of six more episodes in 2008. Like the radio program, the TV series features true stories about real people organized around a theme.
At its best TAL offers human drama all the more poignant and unforgettable for being true. Every episode features at least one story that really shines. In episode one, Mike, a 27-year-old quadriplegic unable to speak or breathe on his own, asserts his independence from the fulltime care-giving of his mother by becoming a Goth and finding a girlfriend on Craigslist. In episode two, a young Iraqi travels around Blue-state America inviting passersby to ask him whatever they wish. Episode three features the elaborate 1/6-scale fantasy world of a brain-damaged and traumatized victim of a brutal beating. Episode four reveals more about boxing than you could learn in a lifetime of watching ESPN. Episode five features a man obsessed with winning a lawsuit even if it costs him his marriage, wealth, and freedom, while episode six considers the universal in the particular by documenting seven strangers ranging in age from 11 weeks to 79 years, all named John Smith.
The worst segments on TAL are merely mediocre. Stories about a couple fighting over whether to maintain the lawn (episode two), the hunt for an elusive woodpecker (episode three), and a comedy camp for kids (episode four), fail to fascinate, but are not disasters.
Given the state of the Showtime website, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that This American Life is not coming back for another season, but here's hoping otherwise.