What’s the Deal with Serial?

Chances are high that at some point in the last year, either you or someone you know has hopped onto the Serial bandwagon and hung on for dear life. What you may not know is that even though it’s incredibly well done, Serial is only one of hundreds of podcasts that cover a vast spectrum of topics. There are a lot of them out there, and so I’m here writing this column to tell you what the good ones are, and what’s been going on in them.

However, since Serial is the one we can most easily point out as rising to podcast fame, I’m going to use this week to provide a brief introduction to the series for those who don’t know much about it.

Season One
While reporters are not technically detectives, oftentimes they cover a lot of the same ground. Sarah Koenig of This American Life embarked on just that when she began researching the case involving Adnan Syed. Now a 35 year old man, Syed has spent over a decade in prison after being convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 Baltimore. However, he has always maintained that he did not commit the crime. In a series of 12 episodes, Koenig talks to Syed, experts and witnesses who were there on the day of Lee’s disappearance in order to answer the question, what really happened on January 13th, 1999?

Both engrossing and maddeningly thought-provoking, it’s no shocker that this is the podcast that captured so many people’s attention. But aside from simply having an engrossing story, it’s important to remember that Serial is talking about real people in a real case, and therefore not only provides a privy eye into investigative reporting, but also alights upon real problems in the criminal justice system.

When you get to the end of Serial and inevitably start craving for more, check out Undisclosed. This is a podcast that concerns the same case, but is not affiliated with This American Life. Rabia Chaudry, who is both the host of Undisclosed as well as the person who initially brought the case to the attention of Sarah Koenig, is clear from the get-go that this series is independent of Serial. Undisclosed also seeks the truth about January 13th, 1999, but as the older sister of Syed’s close friend and a believer in his innocence, she is far from unbiased. Chaudry is an attorney, and in this podcast she and her affiliates submerge themselves in the gritty details of the case from a detailed, legal perspective.

Season Two
The beginning of the second season of Serial is less riveting, but just as thought provoking. Whereas season one dealt with a case that almost no one outside of Baltimore had ever heard of, in season two Koenig takes on the highly publicized case of Bowe Bergdahl, a United States soldier who walked away from his unit back in 2009, and was consequently captured and held by the Taliban for about five years. In this podcast, now four episodes deep, Koenig’s listeners don’t wonder ‘did he do it?’ We know he did. Instead we ask, why did he do it?

And that’s the deal with Serial; it is definitely worth the listen. Next week we will look at some other well done podcasts. Happy listening!