Last weekend the girlfriend introduced me to Serial – a weekly true life murder mystery podcast currently in its seventh week. Serial reopens a 15-year-old investigation into the 1999 strangling death of a Baltimore high school student and her ex boyfriend who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder. Each episode is between 30 – 50min long, during which time Sarah Koenig takes the listener through the case. She speaks to key witnesses, the convicted ex boyfriend, she pulls apart the evidence, and pokes holes in testimonies. Apple says Serial is the most popular podcast of all time, reaching the 5 million download and steams mark quicker than any other. The best description I’ve read of Serial compared it to bankruptcy – you fall into it slowly at first, and then all at once.
That’s exactly how I got into Serial. We listened to the first 6 episodes over two days. I paid vague attention during the first, enjoying more the fact that I could just lie there with my eyes shut and listen to something rather than watch a screen. By the third episode I was questioning stories, pointing fingers, and changing sides with every new revelation.
The thing about Serial is, it’s actually quite boring. It would never work as a book, its often quite drawn out, and as a movie it’d have to get quite the Hollywood treatment to bulk it up. Serials beauty lies in the mundane though. In the small inconsistencies Koenig focuses on, in the boring recreation of the events of the night in question. The small things missed 15 years ago, that now seem so glaringly obvious.
The series flows in realtime – or damn close to it, meaning the remaining episodes are not finished, and the ending has not been decided, it goes wherever the leads take Koening. They aren’t pre-recorded and released weekly like TV series. Each week Koening brings to light new discoveries, new recordings of conversations she’s had with witnesses or Jay – the ex, and shares her thoughts on whodunnit.
The podcast isn’t all you have to go on though. The Serial website is populated with extra material. Letters, pictures, cell records, maps, etc, all from the evidence files and Koening’s own work and that of her team.
If you’re a fan of true life crime stories, give Serial a go. You aren’t subjected to multiple repeated edits and recaps and bad acting, and then 20-minute long Discovery DSTV ads advertising the channel you’re already on. There’s a short MailChimp ad in the beginning, then all you have to do is listen.
Like the stories my folks used to tell about their weekly radio shows that the family would gather round and listen to, I’ll be stuck to my speaker come next Thursday. Click here for the podcasts, then tell me who you think did it.