(This has spoilers. Obviously. If you are nitpicky about that kind of thing, probably best not to read this just yet.)
MAJOR CONFESSION HERE: I like Serial. I think that it is, without question, one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in recent memory.
I am not alone in that, and I think there’s two big reasons why that is: drama by the ton and great storytelling. Additionally, it has something for everybody: people who enjoy the hardcore sleuthing can find communities of people dedicated to sifting through the evidence and drawing conclusions on their own; casual listeners can let Sarah Koenig, the journalist relaying the story, do all the work and listen in while she ruminates, agonizes, and waffles over every piece of evidence that she and her team uncovers. Koenig is a key part of the story not simply because we are seeing all of this through her eyes, but because she does not allow herself to be edited into some perfect figure who is “just about the facts, ma’am”. There are moments where her naïveté gets completely blown up, and she just sits back and says, “damn, I really screwed up on that one”.
It is a complete story and podcast, even if it is not perfect. But what does perfection look like when you are revisiting a fifteen-year old murder where the individuals who are involved are still alive and actively dealing with those memories…and their consequences? How do you tell a perfect story about a murder when the victim’s family refuses to be a part of the production? And most importantly, how do you tell a perfect story about a judicial process that was far from that standard? The defense did not interview key alibis in addition to engaging in some of the most unhelpful cross-examination I have ever heard, and the prosecution and police force put together a case that relied on barely tenuous evidence and racial priming against this seventeen-year old kid from an immigrant community. Where can you make a perfect story out of all that?
And yet, Serial still manages to tell a very compelling story about teenagers who were caught up (justly or unjustly, depending on your view of Adnan Syed) in a horrific murder, in a city that is no stranger to that particular crime, be it real or fiction. But in a world where instant reaction to incomplete events and social media-driven journalism has become the rule rather than the exception, the backlash was bound to come eventually.
I just thought that it would be more….substantive.