This American Life

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
This American Life TV Poster Image
Compelling true stories from all walks of life.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series promotes curiosity and empathy by giving viewers an understanding of people from all different walks of life, spotlighting what makes them unique without an air of judgment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of the people featured are positive role models, some aren't, but there is always something to learn. 


Brief partial nudity. A segment set in an art class shows a full rear shot of a nude female model, including a side view of her breast. Sex and romantic relationships are referenced.


Sporadic usage of "ass," "hell," "s--t," "bitch," "damn," and "f--k." Occasional obscene hand gestures.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of drug use and underage drinking. Some subjects drink and smoke in front of the camera.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This American Life is a fascinating, thought-provoking documentary series (based on the NPR mainstay) that covers a wide range of topics and includes interviews with people from virtually all walks of life, making episode content difficult to predict. Depending on the topics -- and the participants -- alcohol and tobacco use is shown, partial nudity is possible, and language (which is never edited) can be strong. While the content probably isn't new to teens, it's definitely on the iffy side for anyone younger. On the positive side, the unscripted stories about everyday lives promote human connectedness and empathy.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 and 12-year-old Written bylmwoodruff August 1, 2009

Fine for younger than 14, too

We listen to TAL podcasts in the car all the time and on trips for my kids that are younger than 14 (they're 9 and 12.) I think it's fine for them -... Continue reading

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What's the story?

A politician sets out to win an election without telling a single lie, scientists find themselves in high demand after stumbling onto a method for erasing memories, a 63-year-old woman sets out on a new career path -- these are the stories of everyday people, presented in stark first-person accounts in the compelling series THIS AMERICAN LIFE. The quasi-documentary series is a TV version of the award-winning National Public Radio show of the same name. Hosted and produced by Ira Glass -- who has led the radio show's unique brand of storytelling for nearly 15 years -- the TV version groups the stories into thematic episodes, profiling two or three related tales each time.

Is it any good?

As the interviewer, Glass takes a backseat to his subjects' first-person accounts, interjecting only occasionally with a question or comment and adding thought-provoking voice-over narration throughout. His honest, introspective style and the show's captivating cinematography combine to support the sincere emotions of these funny, sad, curious, and heartwarming stories. The reality of This American Life may well entertain, inspire, and touch you in a way that few other shows do. If your teens are ready for intermittent strong language and possible nudity, ask them to join you while you watch. You'll be amazed at the stories and gain new perspective on people of all walks of life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the stories told on This American Life. Did any of the show's stories inspire you? How? What experiences from your past would fit the theme of the episode? If you had to compile an episode, what would it be called?

  • Some of the stories feature people dealing with adversity. When have you faced difficulty in your life? How did it affect you? How did you respond? Who did you turn to for guidance?

  • How does This American Life promote curiosity and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love true stories

Character Strengths

Find more TV shows that help kids build character.

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