Serial—Seriously addicting

I know I’m coming to the Serial podcast party 11 weeks late, but better late than never, right? And after listening to just the first podcast, I know I’m hooked.

What is Serial? From its website:

Serial is a new podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial will follow one story – a true story – over the course of a whole season. We’ll follow the plot and characters wherever they take us and we won’t know what happens at the end of the story until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we’ll bring you the latest chapter, so it’s important to listen in order, starting with Episode 1.

I’ve been seeing mentions of this podcast off an on over the last few weeks, from Facebook status updates of friends and acquaintances, direct raves of the series at a party, to an article in The Globe and Mail, to headlines on news aggregators regarding the podcast that I didn’t click on. Finally, Sarah Koening’s appearance on the Colbert Report on Dec 11 (starts at 14:55) tipped me over the curiosity’s edge and I listened to the first podcast.

I know I’ve only listened to one episode so far, but these are the reasons I already know I’ll be hooked, and why I suspect many others are addicted too:

  1. It is a murder mystery, and I love mysteries. Whether it is a novel, TV procedural dramas (Castle, Elementary, Law & Order, CSI), miniseries (all 3 series of Sherlock, The Bletchley Circle), a teen drama with a mystery at its core (Veronica Mars), or movies (The Usual Suspects, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), there is something very satisfying about reaching the conclusion of the piece, finding out whodunit, and feeling like order will be restored because truth won out over evil intents.
  2. However, the murder covered in Serial is a true crime story, and there is a real life at stake. The way the crime is laid out, it seems like it is plausible for the truth to be found, if we could only muster up the sleuthing and deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes. It may not live up to the expected narrative where the truth will emerge at the end of the season. But I will listen, and hope, to find out.
  3. As a podcast, it is essentially a radio show, but without the limitations of needing to be at a certain time (scheduled airing) or place (within the broadcast range of the radio station). This means that even though I am late to the party, I can still partake in the series in the order it was meant to, and not miss out on an episode.
  4. Also as a radio show, I am forced to listen. There are no visuals to distract, and if I don’t give it my attention I miss things. (thankfully it is easy to rewind if I do miss something). Stories well told by voice are powerful, and they seem to resonate in me, probably stemming from eons ago where humans survived generation by generation through lessons learned through stories around the campfire. Even if the stories now are of slices of Canadiana. Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe is an example of this…it can seem hokey at times, but then there are stories that bring me close to tears, and then laughter, all within minutes.
  5. And finally, most importantly, I can tell Sarah Koening and her team are masterful storytellers, as would be expected from the team at This American Life. And just like around the campfire, I am compelled to listen.
    • A great opening sequence that underscores our fallible memories, and the implications of that for trying to establish an alibi, draws me in. I start to identify with the accused/convicted’s inability to remember events exactly.
    • Further roadblocks are set up: lack of electronic devices to give an electronic record of movements (i.e. text messages, cell use, security monitors), unlucky lack of procedures (no attendance taken at track practice, library computer signout done on paper), a lack of forensic evidence, and most disturbingly, an indication that the defence lawyer may not have done her best job to defend.
    • There is hope though: A potential witness might be able to provide an alibi; the testimony from friends and the convicted himself make it hard to believe he is a killer.
    • Use of the recordings of the people actually involved in the story. This is not acting, this is real life. You can hear their trepidation, their weariness, their doubts, and their hope.
    • Koening makes the story personal. She shares how she reacts, how she has doubts, shares her excitement at breaking a lead. She is invested in this story, and the passion/fascination comes through. I definitely respond to this.

I know there is a whole subreddit now established on Reddit devoted to this case, trying to do their best to be Sherlock and help solve the case. I am going to avoid it so I can experience the podcast unadulterated. And hopefully I can make it through the first 11 episodes before the last one of the season publishes next Thursday, Dec 18. Whatever the result is, they have definitely a tough act to follow for Season 2, but I will give a listen to whatever they come up with.