20 voters

The 25 Most Memorable 'This American Life' Episodes

June 11, 2020 223 votes 20 voters25 items

List RulesVote up the most essential 'TAL' episodes.

No matter how big or small, everyone has a story to tell, and no podcast quite captures them like This American Life. Hosted by Ira Glass, this thoughtful, deep-diving series examines a variety of subjects, from summer camp to Wall Street. With so many episodes to choose from, how do you know where to start? This list has all the best This American Life podcast episodes from over the years. 

Stories featured on This American Life episode list are funny, charming, and sometimes, quite terrifying. Depending on your taste, you're bound to find an episode that piques your interest. Want to learn more about breakups, mystery, or the evangelistic movement? This American Life has got you covered. Some episodes are dedicated to telling one individual story. Others feature a smorgasbord of several topics that will keep you engaged the entire hour. Either way, it's a fantastic way to spend 60 minutes of your afternoon. You'll certainly feel more informed after listening to an episode or two! 

Keep reading to find out the best This American Life episodes. Learn more about the contents of each episode, or if you're already a fan, vote up the episodes you enjoyed the most. 

  • 1

    Episode 528 - "The Radio Drama Episode"

    Photo: playability_de / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    For Episode 528, this podcast pulls out all the stops. It features nearly 50 members of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House, including singers, actors, dancers, and musicians. If you want to hear journalism become musical theatre, and musical theatre become opera, you're in the right place. Seriously, you've never heard anything quite like this. 

    A must-listen?
  • 2

    Episode 487 - "Harper High School"

    Photo: chicagopublicmedia / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    "Harper High School" is one of the more profound episodes of This American Life. It involves a five-month visit to Harper High School, where 29 current and recent students had been shot. There's loads of inspiring stories from within the school's walls, where students and teachers learn how to adapt to the threats of gun violence. It's emotional, and at times surprising. But you'll take away an important lesson or two. 

    A must-listen?
  • 3

    Episode 589 - "No Coincidence, No Story"

    Photo: ICMA Photos / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    So many things in life can just be chalked up to sheer coincidence. So much so, that This American Life asked their listeners to send in their own coincidence stories. They ended up getting over 1,300 submissions! This episode features some of the most uncanny coincidences you've ever heard. From childhood best friends to grandmothers to lovers, everyone featured in this episode can remember a time when things just seemingly worked out. You won't believe some of the connections these people made.

    A must-listen?
  • 4

    Episode 560 - "Abdi and the Golden Ticket"

    Photo: mac morrison / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    This episode is a can't-miss. It's a gripping story about a Somali refugee named Abdi who works so hard to try to become an American citizen. He gets a huge break when he's put on the short-list for a visa. But he's not out of the woods yet. As the police starts raiding his neighborhood, Abdi will have to fight even harder for his freedom. The conclusion is absolutely enthralling, as Abdi finally gets his embassy interview. 

    A must-listen?