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Series / True Life

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True Life is a documentary series running on MTV since 1998. Each episode follows a particular topic, such as heroin addiction as in the first episode, "Fatal Dose". A camera crew follows a series of subjects through a certain part of their lives. Episodes cover a large variety of topics, including drugs, teenage pregnancy and "I'm a Staten Island Girl". The show won an Emmy in 2009 for Best Special Class Series.


  • A-Cup Angst: In the episode "I Hate My Small Breasts".
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
    • The episodes "I Have Embarrassing Parents" and "I Have Embarrassing Parents 2". The first one had featured a wannabe rocker dad, a couple of nudists and a Star Wars fanboy dad. The second one had the triplet daughters of clowns and the daughter of a Playboy model.
    • A specific version of this trope also appeared in the episode "I Have a Hot Mom".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The episode about embarrassing medical conditions followed two girls. One had Tourette's Syndrome, causing her to blurt out phrases and have random spasms of motion or suddenly fall asleep. While capable of doing many things, even driving, she still had to have someone occasionally make sure she didn't collapse and hit her head on something if she suddenly fell asleep. The other girl had...a condition that made her prone to being sweaty.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sometimes, the subjects of the segments don't quite progress with reaching their goals, but very few of them run into a situation that gets astronomically worse by the episode's end.
  • Cure Your Gays: Occurs in the episode "I Want to be Straight".
  • Deep South: "The Theriot Family: The Riot in the Bayou". The episode is about a Louisiana family with 3 girls and 1 boy.
  • Downer Ending: A complete downer ending is rare, as each episode usually has one person succeeding, and the other failing with whatever the subject matter is. There are a few examples of such downers, such as...
    • In the episode "I'm An Alcoholic", one of the girls being followed, Casey, who was only 21 at the time, was a severe alcoholic, and admits during the episode that she drinks all day, everyday. Throughout the episode, she was offered help in a variety of ways from every single friend of hers, and even goes to AA meetings. By the end of the episode however, she moves out of the place she was living in with her friend (who had spent the whole episode trying to help her), and goes back to hard drinking. She ends up living in squalor, drinking mouthwash because the effects are similar enough to actual alcoholic beverages, barely has enough money for even food, and admitted that she quit AA because they "wouldn't let [her] live [her] life". Given that the other alcoholic girl being followed had her entire family absent throughout her whole ordeal, went through it almost completely on her own and succeeded in becoming sober, it's incredibly depressing at how hard Casey fell.
      • This gets better in an update done on the two, where Casey, upon seeing how arrogant and addicted she was, finally got the help she needed.
    • An episode involving smoking has a young woman, who started smoking at the age of 10, getting diagnosed with emphysema in her early 20's and needing a lung transplant. The end of the episode reveals she died at the age of 31, leaving her two children as orphans.
    • An episode about crystal meth addiction has one of the people being followed declining any help, and later overdosing, leaving behind her entire family that worked hard to help her throughout the episode.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Although not all of the segments end happily for the protagonists, the main problems presented at the start have been solved in some fashion by the episode's end.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Played with on the episode "I Am A Sex Offender". On the one hand, a twenty-something male was shown going to court numerous times to get his sex offender stated repealed, because he had sex with a 15-year-old when he was 18. When he broke it off, the girl eventually went to the police with lewd videos that had been created of them have sex. Ouch. On the other hand, the other slightly older twenty-something male previously had sex with his underage girlfriend (though the case was dropped due to lack of evidence), he later had sex with another underage teen girl and was convicted (she was 14, he was 18), he went to court to get his status taken away again, and seemed largely unapologetic about it. By the episode's end, the guy who didn't deserve the sex offender status still didn't get the appeal he sought, while the one who did deserve punishment managed to get rid of his status a second time.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Almost all the episode titles start with "I", followed by the topic, such as "I'm Deaf," "I Have Embarrassing Parents," or "I Have Schizophrenia".
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: The episode "I'm Desperate to Have a Baby" follows two couples having this problem.
  • Long Runner: Running since 1998.
  • Love Cannot Overcome: Quite a few couples broke up due to some type of potent interference or difficulty that could not be compromised. One of the most heartbreaking examples was in "I'm in an Interracial Relationship" where the couple, a white woman and a Hispanic man, were in love, getting married and about to have a baby, but had to contend with her very racist family. Even her sister called her newborn nephew a mutt to his face. A later update of the episode says that they ultimately broke up.
  • Mood Whiplash: Sometimes an episode about some serious topic (poverty/financial issues, drug use, family or relationship issues) will be followed by an episode about some kind of lighter topic (being on vacation, being in a new relationship).
  • Multi-Part Episode: The episode "The Theriot Family: The Riot in the Bayou" had two parts, one aired in 2011 and the second part aired in January 2012.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Played with in "I'm Jealous of My Sibling", where four different siblings who are apparently jealous of their sibling, but only the one subject of the episode truly fit it, a girl who was jealous of her thin and athletic younger sister. The other two subjects were more vague/deceptive; whereas two brothers, both aspiring wrestlers, claimed that the other one was jealous of him, they moreso had a case of a friendly Sibling Rivalry, the subject of the other story had her older brother invoke a "jealous" response out of her due to him having a high-paying job fhat he always brags about.
  • Pac Man Fever: Averted on the three video game based episodes, "I'm a Gamer", "I'm a Professional Gamer", and "I'm Addicted to Video Games". Copyright blockades seem to be a non-issue, or at least more lax in these episodes, so the video games can be shown on screen. An odd subversion on non video game related episodes, which often censor the games from being shown on screen (by blurring the screens).
  • Promotion to Parent: Unique, one of the subjects of "I'm Supporting My Family", took it upon herself to take care of her three younger sisters after their mother died.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: The episode "I Don't Trust My Partner" ends on an unexpectedly depressing note with the second couple, Shawny and Nikki. After the couple seemed to have improved their troubled relationship and moved into an apartment they picked out together, mere months later, Shawny suddenly died from a hernia issue, in his early twenties. Nikki went into a period of deep mourning and eventually looked to Christianity for comfort. For a series that hardly travels beyond a Bittersweet Ending, that was a punch to the gut.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: The episode "I'm A Single Parent" had a young woman raising her younger siblings alone after their mother committed suicide. While dealing with that and her rebellious teenaged sister, she has started dating a guy and by the end of the episode they were getting serious. In an update to her story a few years later, not only did they end up getting married, but she and her siblings moved to another state with his family and now are doing much better financially and emotionally than before. They also showcased their beautiful home and a portrait of their blended family.