Fall television has taken over once again; most shows are now into the first quarter of their season, and we are getting to know a good idea about what will unfold in each. Whether you’re hung up on figuring out ‘whodunnit’ on How to get Away With Murder, or you prefer the anxiety attack that every Sunday night brings you when you turn on The Walking Dead, you can’t deny that Fall television brings about the best entertainment of the year.
Especially so, thanks to the dubbed TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday) and the aforementioned How to get Away With Murder, Scandal, and Shonda’s long standing hit, Grey’s Anatomy all in one very dramatic night of television. But there is one other aspect of Thursday that has viewers, or perhaps I should say listeners, entranced week in and week out: the podcast, Serial.
The podcast, Serial, revolves around the supposedly closed case of Adnan Syed, and the murder that he purportedly committed on ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The podcast is driven weekly by journalist Sarah Koenig, who is trying to get to the bottom of a case that has too many holes in it to be considered as cut-and-dry, as it seemed to have been in 1999 when all of this was taking place. Basically, it is a case that has informally been reopened, and has captivated audiences in a way that prime-time drama simply cannot.
I won’t say too much more about the plot; I’ll let you experience that for yourselves. What I will say is that the podcast will go on for as long as it needs to, until the story, in its entirety (or to its greatest extent), is told. Justice will either have been served already, or retribution will be found.
What makes Serial one of the best dramas to be followed this year is that it has something that other shows cannot match: raw reality. This isn’t Jersey Shore reality, where the script had basically been written before the cast had been found. No, this is a story that has no script, because it hasn’t been written, and won’t be fully written until it’s over. That element of surprise, or the unknown, that even the creator the program doesn’t know what will happen, is what makes it so entertaining and harrowing at the same time.
Suspense, mixed with this uneasy, almost awkward feeling of listening to someone’s life be potentially changed forever, makes Serial stand out from the rest. I said it was harrowing because the podcast is pulling at our own minds, and making us question elements of the criminal justice system that may or not be working. How many people have been wrongly convicted, and subsequently released, years later, on new evidence that was a) overlooked for whatever reason, be it negligence or corruption, and b) just not there in the first place to be analysed. It’s a scary thought, and one that could influence someone’s life, like Adnan’s, forever.
Serial brings these problems with the system to the forefront with Koenig’s attempt to bring this story to an airtight close. Is he really guilty, or has he actually been done an injustice? Everything changes when the people are real. No one’s life will truly change if it turns out that Annalise Keating’s husband really did kill Lila Stangard; we may have longstanding bets going on that he did or not (mine being that he did, FYI), but with Serial, it doesn’t feel at all the same. Sure, there’s an element of guilty pleasure in that we’re oddly entertained by a real life case that has the potential to be reopened. It’s the stuff that we look forward to seeing in crime dramas all year. Do we look forward to this, though? Do we look forward to either exposing a serious flaw at the justice system that cost a man half of his life in prison, or exposing Lee’s family to more pain from a case that they thought was closed? When it’s real life there are things like that kind of make us do a double take and think a bit more empathetically.
Serial is an excellent podcast and idea – there can be no denying that. One way or another, I feel that audiences will discover what truly happened. But one question remains with me: how many other people out there have a case like this one, and when, if ever, is their story going to be told?
featured image from serial