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Listen to the Serial Podcast. Trust me.

Listen to the Serial Podcast. Trust me.
Drew Troller

So maybe you’re one of the people who is addicted to the new “This American Life” podcast “Serial,” helping it stay at the top of the iTunes podcasts list. Or maybe you’re someone who has heard about this podcast at the office water cooler or at your local Twitter. In either case, you’ve come to the right spot. I get a chance here to catch you up on one of the fall’s biggest pop-culture sensations and answer your question: “So, like, what IS ‘Serial?’”

So, like, what IS “Serial?”

Short answer is that serial is a podcast

Oh, a podcast. Like those radio things?

Well, yeah. It’s an online streaming audio series that follows a reporter from “This American Life” who-

I’ve heard of that show! They do the different stories every week.

Well, normally, yeah, “This American Life” brings its audience a bunch of different stories on one theme that changes every week. For “Serial,” though, one of the correspondents named Sarah Koenig is going through the details of a murder in 1999 where a high school girl was found dead. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was found guilty and is in prison. He says he didn’t do it. So Sarah is going back and digging, and the results of her investigation are rolled out over several months.

Interesting. So is it like a murder-mystery?

Kinda. It busts genre though. In one sense, it’s not a mystery – we know the state of Maryland thinks they got their guy. But there are enough weird details and inconsistencies in the facts Sarah finds to make the audience wonder if we might discover a different truth.

So is this Adnan guy innocent?

Maybe. He’s definitely a prominent part of the show – Sarah talks to him frequently. It’s unclear if she’s going to find convincing evidence of his innocence by the end of the show, though.

Is this Sarah host person trying to prove Adnan guilty, or innocent, or what?

Hard to tell. In fact, a lot of people have been discussing Sarah Koenig’s reliability as an objective narrator and unbiased reporter in various thinkpieces and podcasts.

There are podcasts ABOUT this podcast?

Sure, yeah. Slate magazine has a full panel discussion once a week on Thursdays, the day new episodes are released.

So people are talking about the show?

Oh, definitely. There are essays outlining fan theories about what could have happened, there’s a whole subreddit for discussion and vigilante investigation, and people are saying that “Serial” represents the coming of a second golden age in audio as a medium for pop culture. Oh, and of course the traits of the show have been meme-ified.

I don’t get that meme. Give me the basic details I’d need to catch up.

Well, I’d recommend you go back and listen from the first episode – they’re all available online, and you’re almost guaranteed to binge on them. There have been seven episodes so far. Basic backstory: Hae was Adnan’s girlfriend. They broke up. She went missing. On the day she went missing, Adnan can’t fully account for his whereabouts, and this guy Jay says Adnan killed Hae then had him (Jay) help bury the body. Jay’s story changed several times and there’s some evidence to suggest Adnan was NOT with Hae on the day of her disappearance – or even in the area where her body was found. Still, there’s some evidence that makes him look kinda bad.

Oh, and at the beginning of every episode they have a bunch of people promote the show’s sponsor MailChimp, and one of them mispronounces it as “Mail Kimp.” It’s endearing every time.

Okay, but is this show really as good as everyone says?

I think so. Some episodes are better than others, and it has its issues.

Issues? What’s wrong with it?

Well, like I said, Sarah Koenig has been questioned by some people for what her role is as the host – is she a champion for Adnan’s cause, a skeptic, merely reporting facts? Does she fit into the narrative just by investigating it? And while I love having the production quality of “This American Life” with the depth of several episodes, it feels at times that the long format is a detriment. We’ve heard Sarah say “more on that later” several times, and it can be hours of listening before that thing is mentioned again. We recently had an offshoot episode involving Sarah just talking to a lawyer ABOUT Adnan’s case, and needily asking the lawyer how she’s supposed to feel about Adnan. Still other stuff gets repeated to the point of no longer seeming as interesting as it once was.

How’s the show going to end?

I dunno, actually. It’s unlikely this will end with any giant reveal or Adnan getting out of prison or confession on tape to murder. More likely, we’ll get a long denouement once all the facts are out about the subjective meaning of truth, or how people are mysteries, or we’ll be forced as an audience to reflect on why we NEED a definitive answer. Think about the ending to “Lost” or “True Detective” … you know how you have that friend who defends those endings because “It’s all about the journey?” My money’s on that kind of ending for “Serial.”


Don’t let me scare you off. This show is damn good. Listen to it! It’ll make you feel smarter than a Buzzfeed list, but it’s still easier than actually reading!


In case you don’t otherwise know how to find podcasts, click HERE to access all of the “Serial” episodes that have aired so far.

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