Ira Glass returns to Showtime to shine a light on more surprising citizens. As before, each episode combines short documentaries with more in-depth profiles. Though some viewers liked the way he remained seated throughout the first season, others criticized the impression of detachment. Glass responds by ditching the the desk and filming the introductions himself using a flip camera (in the special features, director Chris Wilcha says it cost $100).
In the first piece, one of the best, Glass meets Mike Phillips, a 27-year-old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), who finds a way to live independently, even though he can't walk, talk, or address any of his basic needs without assistance, usually from his no-nonsense mother (the theme is escape). One of Mike's favorite actors, Johnny Depp, reads the e-mails he exchanges with Glass. In other stories, an Iraqi immigrant sets out to speak with Americans who supported the invasion of his country, two boxers known as "opponents" or professional losers prepare for the fight of their lives, and a man who suffered a brain injury after a beating channels his fantasies of romance and revenge by photographing World War II re-enactments with action figures.
In the final piece, the longest and most affecting, Glass introduces seven men named John Smith, all at different points on the age spectrum, from 11 weeks to 79 years. He sees it as a means to survey an entire life in one hour, which sounds questionable, but works remarkably well. The set concludes with commentary from Glass and Wilcha on "Escape" and a live preview of the season featuring the bits that were cut. Altogether, their second set represents another strong effort from Glass and his collaborators, including co-director/cinematographer Adam Beckman, who adds a poetic flair to every show. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
The widely popular, award-winning Chicago Public Radio show of the same name is now a Showtime show. Drawing on a different theme each week, viewers hear compelling stories from everyday folks culled from six months on the road. Host Ira Glass and company create a captivating look at the American Life in a series that’s not quite documentary, not much of a news magazine and definitely not a reality show – it’s simply unlike anything else.