“It’s amazing….If you have not heard of Serial, you occupy a very strange niche in culture”
–Alex Blumberg, February 2015
I started to listen to this podcast by October 2015.
Serial told one story – a true murder crime – over the course of an entire season (12 episodes).
Consider this, true crime mystery mixed with entertainment drama, all based on true story with real people and their real opinions and voices. The result is pure anticipation as Sarah Koenig, the host, unfolded the tragedy on each episode.
How did it all begin?
Serial re-traced a murder tragedy in Baltimore, where a missing high school girl body, Hae Min Lee, was found buried with manual strangulation as the cause of death. She was disappeared on January 13 1999 and discovered on February 9 1999. Not long after that, her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, was captivated and charged with first-degree murder without any conclusive evidences. He never got out ever since. His conviction was all based on the testimony of Jay, the key witness who claimed helping Adnan buried the body.
Seems like regular murder story, right?
Someone is definitely lying here, either Adnan or Jay. Is Adnan innocent or did he actually kill Hae? What really happened on that particular January 13?
There are too many things contradicting each other; the cell record, the testimony from friends who knew them, the signal tower, the motive, and so on. They were all so murky and tangled that I took notes, literally. I drew the timeline based on the facts discovered and also from statements said by characters in the story. Later on, I discovered that Serial official website provides listener with documents, maps and more detailed timeline on that day.
Left: Hae Min Lee. Right: Adnan Syed.
What's so great?
I must say Serial podcast was my biggest finding on 2015, it was a different and new experience to me, totally unlike any movies i’ve watched nor any books i’ve read. I would never imagine that audio reporting could be this compelling.
I consider myself as one of the devoted listener. I dug through the internet to find any new report, affidavit, anything that keep me updated with the story. I listened to the whole season, twice.
How could an audio story keep me engaged this way?
Bravo to Sarah and the production team, really. You may have an interesting dead-end narration, but how you retell it so captivatingly is another thing. Serial master those two.
The team strategically divided the narrative into 12 chapters. Each chapter walked us through the tragedy smoothly and sprinkled details with some twist here and there. At one point, I was pretty sure Adnan is innocent and I held onto that belief firmly. Then, a few minutes later, Sarah or some other people revealed another information that shook what I had set in mind about Adnan; he is guilty and so manipulative. This doubt come and goes many times throughout the entire season.
Serial is also one those elite-level podcast out there, backed by some of the most talented people in radio. Random group of people could easily create podcast, but only few podcasts can deliver such depth quality reporting.
This is not an easy job. Serial itself spent 1 year in development to investigate, hunt down people from the past, being as nosy as possible to extract notable impression and truth from many people involved. I can’t even imagine the countless hour of discussion and heavy-editing the team must have spent since this case revolves around real people with feeling and life.
Moreover, one of the subtle yet significant aspect from Serial are…the amazing theme music by Nick Thorburn and the haunting score by Mark Henry Phillips. They all set the right tone and mood for the narrative; some score is so dark and solitary which leave you nothing but feeling sympathetic for Hae and Adnan, once loving couple who lost their youth instantly; some score has twisted melody and just perfect creating suspenseful mood at just the right moments.
My favorite? The opening theme music.
Serial has finished its season 2 (investigating new case: Bowe Bergdahl), and while it turned out to be a huge disappointment, I still hope the team will get back on their feet for season 3.
Meanwhile, Jay has finally spoken out about the case and how Serial affected his life this past year. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him too.
I know podcast is not everyone cup of tea. I’ve been recommending Serial to many of my friends relentlessly and the majority of them turned it down almost immediately. Nevertheless, I would still highly suggest everyone to at least try to listen to its first episode. Trust me, it’s worth it.