‘Serial’: Captivating Listeners with a ‘Whodunnit’ Case

Young love. A broken heart. Murder.static_squarespace-3-1038x253

This is the centralized theme of “Serial,” a weekly podcast hosted and co-created by Sarah Koenig, a staff producer of the television and radio program “This American Life.” Season 1 of “Serial,” which premiered in October 2014 and spanned 12 episodes, explores the possible wrongful life-sentencing of Adnan Syed, then 18, for the January 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, who had broken up with him two months prior to her death.

The podcast in its entirety is like a big game of “Clue.” Listeners are taken on a journey with Koenig through Baltimore, Maryland to uncover all of the facts in the murder case, including key players, eye witnesses, missing vehicles, the location of the body and more.

Adnan Syed, left, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, right.
Adnan Syed, left, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, right.

Though the website dedicated to the podcast has pictures of documents and the people involved in the case, listeners are forced to pay attention to Koenig’s narration and the interviews with attorneys, police tapes and Syed himself because there is no direct visual component to go along with it. The listener must use his or her imagination to picture the scene of the crime and how events unfolded that day.

The story is consistent, with a different aspect or component being added or explored with every episode. Much like Pavlov’s salivating dog experiment, hearing the beginning notes of the “Serial” theme song gets listeners prepared for another episode, ready to hear what other part of the story is coming next. The music, combined with Koenig’s narration and uncovering of the details, made the podcast feel like an actual show, as opposed to what could have been a dry rendition of facts and interviews.

Sarah Koenig is the host and co-creator of "Serial." Photo credit: WBEZ Chicago
Sarah Koenig is the host and co-creator of “Serial.” Photo credit: WBEZ Chicago

Koenig’s personality as an insightful reporter was quite evident, and the audience definitely came along with her to find out anything and everything about the case. The audience also learned more than they would have — about the people and the different accounts of what happened — than if they were to just read an article about the murder or watch a television broadcast on it.

With more than 68 million downloads in total for the first season, “Serial” has gotten picked up for a second season, set to air in 2015. Since the end of the new episodes, which ultimately do not explain who committed the crime — simply just all of the information necessary for the case — Syed has been granted an appeal in his case, which will be held in June.

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