Sarah Koenig

TIME TO TALK SERIAL

Whether you’re an avid NPR listener or not, you have to have heard about Serial in the past several weeks. If you really haven’t, read this. 

The podcast is a break off of the very popular This American Life, which as the title suggests, is a radio show that chronicles different stories from American subjects within different topics. There are hundreds of incredibly compelling episodes of TAL, and Serial has been very much the same.

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Sarah Koenig

The first “season” of Serial has been about a murder trial. In Baltimore in 1999, a 17 year old kid named Adnan was sent to jail for life for the murder of his ex girlfriend Hae Min Lee. His family, who’s been fighting for 15 years that he was wrongfully accused and the victim of an inadequate lawyer and a botched trial, contacted a reporter from This American Life to see if there was anything she could do in terms of looking into his case. Journalist Sarah Koenig did that, and then some.

Over the course of the last year, and subsequently the last 10 weeks in podcast form, she’s taken apart every bit of this story and trial, putting everyone and everything under the microscope it wasn’t under in the early 2000’s. The drama, lies, and prejudice in this case runs deep, and even as Sarah talks to the friends and people involved there’s one thing remains clear – can anyone really know what happened on one normal high school day 15 years ago?

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One thing that’s happened, which it seems like neither Sarah nor Adnan’s family expected, is the podcast has completely exploded. Likely a result of word-of-mouth (and possibly from just me specifically, because I have told every single person I know to listen to it), Serial hit 5 million downloads and broke podcast records before Sarah and her team could turn their heads, and for better or worse has one of the most intense Reddit threads known to man.

So if you’re a Serial listener at this point you might know what I’m talking about. And if you’re not, START. It’s free!

Theres a few interesting things about Serial that I wanted to discuss, but I will indicate any spoilers just in case.

  1. Serial makes me feel like I’m consuming media in the 1930’s – every Thursday I’m glued to the radio (read: my iPhone) listening to an audio story. I feel like I’m living in the days before TV, where all you had were audio recordings and music to move a story, and Serial does it brilliantly. Well written and suspenseful, you feel like you’re watching an episode of 20-20 but only in your ears. It’s without a doubt the coolest media I’ve consumed this year, and so original for this day and age.
  2. Serial makes everyone think they’re a detective – whether you’re taking the whole thing way too seriously (i.e. conducting your own investigations, making your own podcast about the podcast) or not (just having regular debates with your friends) Serial makes you feel like you’re a detective. Time will tell whether it amounts to anything other than frustration for the family members of the people involved in the case (including the murder victim), but I can’t say it hasn’t made for some interesting conversation in the last few weeks. Which leads me to..
  3. Serial has made me realize how awful and insane our legal system is – **possible spoilers** there have been so many phone interviews with Adnan from jail, where he talks about how as a 17 year old kid, he assumed that the legal system of America had everything under control, and he thought even his being convicted would “work itself out.” Unfortunately in his case, this was not true, and I can’t help but think about the millions of other cases like this, and the hundreds of people in jail for truly being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As someone who doesn’t watch a lot of Law and Order or Cold Case or cop/legal dramas, I haven’t seen anything like this to the point where I’m desensitized to it, and my mind is blown at the (alleged) incompetence and the deviousness of the cops, detectives, lawyers, and courts involved in the case.

Finally, if you are a Serial fan and you’re not reading Rabia’s blog, START. Rabia is the family friend of Adnan who brought the case to Sarah last year, and she’s blogging about each episode and then some. She is obviously not unbiased the way the podcast tries to be, but she shares some supplemental information and documents from the case, as well as her own (oftentimes hilarious) commentary. I linked it above as well, but here it is again. 

I especially liked what she had to say about episode 7, which some of the online commentary, as well as my own friends, called boring or a filler episode. Instead of discussing new information about the criminal proceedings and drama of the story, the episode followed a real lawyer for The Innocence Project as they began to work on Adnan’s case and pour over papers and documents to form their own professional analysis. I found this incredibly interesting, eye opening, and downright necessary, and felt like it was so callous that anyone would be annoyed for the lack of entertainment value. For obvious reasons, Rabia felt the same.

If you’re listening to Serial, let me know! What do you think? How will it all end? What are your theories?

Thanks for reading!

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