I have a tendency to binge on shows, especially when I get into a show that’s past its first season and then I have to get caught up. That’s how I felt about Serial, a podcast that has been getting hyped online. I decided to finally check it out, after the ninth episode had been released, and I was hooked. I listened to all nine episodes in a weekend whenever I could: before and after work, cooking and eating dinner, washing the dishes after dinner, and driving.
I first heard about Serial on a blog talking about how it has become one of the most compelling crime stories, but it’s not on television. This true crime podcast tells the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, but mostly through the perspective of Adnan Syed, Hae’s ex-boyfriend who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison at the age of eighteen. Serial has become so popular that there have been podcasts that sprang up in order to discuss and dissect each episode, and a detailed subreddit where people have been weighing in.
Sarah Koenig is the host of the show after she was sought out by friends of Adnan. She had written about the attorney who had represented him and was later disbarred. Each week, the show goes over the case details, witnesses, and the trial, including hearing from Adnan himself, who calls Koenig from prison. Koenig has been investigating the case after believing Adnan to be innocent.
Why I Binged
Of course, I had to get caught up since the series will probably be over soon as Koenig has said that it will probably be a dozen episodes. I’m also a huge fan of true crime shows on television. One time, with my two consecutive days off of work, I watched nothing but The First 48, Snapped, and other similar murder shows, to the point that I started having nightmares about murders and finding dead bodies in ditches. That’s when I realized I had a problem and started to limit what I watched, but with Serial, it’s all audio. It’s easier to handle the information of a murder aurally, rather than visually.
I like the show because it’s a whodunit; there’s a mystery that needs to be solved because the truth hasn’t come out. People are lying, whether it’s to protect themselves or others, so it’s hard to know what actually happened. On top of that, the evidence that was used to convict Adnan was mostly circumstantial, and hinged on the testimony of Adnan’s “friend,” Jay. If there was more forensic evidence in the trial, the case would probably be clearer, but it wouldn’t be as big of a mystery.
I also like that the show has taught me more about the judicial system in the U.S., which is frightening to fully consider. I have my doubts about Adnan’s complete innocence, but I also have my doubts about his conviction. Based on the information given in the podcast, I do think there was reasonable doubt in Adnan’s case, and there are different factors that played into this, including the police investigation and Adnan’s attorney not following up with a potential alibi. Then there’s the fact that eyewitness accounts are notoriously faulty and people will lie for no reason, even under oath in court, so it’s hard to imagine when one person’s word against another person can end with someone in prison for life. I feel that showing how the process involving police detectives, prosecutors, and the judicial system work is probably the most important information to be gained from this show for those who are ignorant about it, like myself.
Listeners have made their criticisms known in the form of blogs and podcasts. There’s criticism about the show not being journalistic enough, but it seems to operate in the same way as a television show, trying to create suspense and drawing the audience in. While this is a true story, I see the podcast as entertainment, so this doesn’t really bother me. I’ve also seen someone criticize Koenig for having a racial bias in the way she portrays the people involved, but I don’t really see this so much, especially after the episode solely about Jay. Koenig interviews those who knew Jay, which paints a picture that isn’t a stereotype. Then there was the episode that brought in the Innocence Project to look at Adnan’s case, which didn’t really provide any new information on the case. I’ll admit that it wasn’t as exciting, but it does show the process that Koenig is going through in her investigation.
The one criticism that I really have about the show is something that isn’t really that bad, because it could be a reflection of how the listener is feeling, but just bothers me sometimes. From the start, Koenig is on Adnan’s side, but does have her moments where she’s a little skeptical of Adnan’s innocence. It’s pretty clear, even when she does question him about that day Hae was murdered and he doesn’t have an answer, that Adnan is being portrayed as someone who has been wronged, whether it’s because he is actually innocent, or because of the justice system. I don’t know how Koenig’s involvement with the story will end, but what if she is being duped by Adnan? It’s been made clear that it’s highly unlikely that Adnan is a sociopath, but he seems emotionally intelligent, and Koenig doesn’t seem to be skeptical enough because Adnan seems like such a nice guy. Then again, this is yet another reason to keep listening to the podcast because it adds another layer to the mystery.
Podcasts about the Podcast
Unfortunately, there won’t be a new episode this week due to Thanksgiving, so I devoted a day listening to the podcasts discussing Serial, which really validated my feelings on the case. I hate to throw out any accusations because I haven’t looked at any of the case documents online, all I know is the information presented in the show, and this involves real lives being lost. However, it’s nice to hear discussions that explore the differing opinions and possible explanations of the case, as well as what things people think are important. Listening to podcasts like The Serial Serial and Slate’s Serial Spoiler Specials, have further stimulated my interest and have helped to fill the hole left by having to wait two weeks for the next episode of Serial.