This American Life #503 – I Was Just Trying to Help

TAL GIvedirectlySorry about this review; I really, really want to like This American Life (TAL) — the way I used to like it — but yet again, I’ve happened upon a less than stellar episode. Maybe it’s just me.

Maybe someone new to podcasts would dig the current incarnation of the show. But as many a sitcom and serial TV drama have revealed there seems to be a sweet spot. You end it before it turns into The Office season 8.  Not to say, TAL is an ineffective shell of its former self. But something that was once there, is there no more.

The intro snippet was about a lawyer (I think) who was fired because of what I’m assuming was a clerical formality. Then something about getting a wrongly-convicted prisoner exonerated. That first snippet was kind of a blur.

But the first act tried to sink its teeth in, as first acts are apt to do. It was a Planet Money segment wherein David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein journeyed to Kenya to investigate a charity called GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly is a program so simple in its approach, it baffled, and caused skepticism even in its beneficiaries. Instead of building hospitals, providing shoes, etc. the GiveDirectly coordinators decided to just give money directly to the poor people who needed it, and let them decide how to spend it. It’s cash with no strings attached. And the story as good as I thought it was getting ended with little ado. I guess the jury’s still out on GiveDirectly’s efficacy.

The second act was about the legalized marijuana debacle. Growers in Mendocino, a community north of San Fransisco, and the police in the Mendocino National Forest were the focus. They discussed the legal confusion and diplomatic rabbit holes pot regulation have turned into.

I’m a little amazed at how lifeless this story turned out to be. It’s not about train schedules. I mean, it’s a historically divisive, even heated topic. But whether it was the reporter’s delivery or the inherent convoluted nature of the subject matter, it just couldn’t get off the ground. There was a lot of talk about zip ties.

I guess I’m just saying “come back, TAL. We miss you.”

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