“Serial” Is Killer

December 17, 2014

Are you listening to the podcast “Serial” from “This American Life”?serial

No? Then take my advice: Log on to iTunes right now and start downloading.

Yes? Then you likely understand the near-obsession I’m currently experiencing with this excellent show.

I’m writing this post on a lazy Saturday morning while listening to episode 10, and a little panic just swept over my soul as I realized I have only one to go before I’m caught up. On one hand, I’m desperate to see how this thing concludes. On the other, I want it to go on and on. Explore more angles. Talk to more potential witnesses. Create more hypotheses. CLEAR THIS ADNAN’S NAME…if he’s innocent, that is.

Adnan Syed, the subject of NPR's podcast "Serial"At this point, Serial has become such a hot topic in pop culture that writing about how much I love it already feels a bit passé. But this post is less about the popularity of the series, the personalities featured in the show or the murder investigation at its core than it is about my reaction to it.

It wasn’t that long ago I was in elementary school, listening to my “old” teachers talking about the days when their families would gather around the radio to listen to serials of their own. They loved the experience of hanging out with family and friends, totally engrossed in their shows. As I heard their stories, I vividly remember wondering how they could possibly find it tolerable. How could they be entertained by something they could only hear? Didn’t they know how great it was to sit, zombified, in front of a screen?

Yet here I am, totally immersed in this program. From its first minute, I’ve imagined how everybody looks. I’ve traveled through my vision of Maryland’s Leakin Park. I can see the school, the prison, the library, the Best Buy and everything in between.

I’ve listened to host Sarah Koenig (who is amazing) examine everything possible to get to the bottom of whether the convicted murderer is guilty. And it’s been fascinating. In fact, a half-hour ago, just as episode 9 came to a close, it made a sudden turn that took me aback. The mechanical nature of the investigation shifted abruptly, and for the first time we begin to hear about the murder victim. Who she was, what she liked, how smart she was. Instantly she became human, and just as quickly I found myself suffering from ocular moistness. No, I did not cry. But I did feel something. Something really powerful and moving, and it dawned on me that this came from something that is essentially a radio show.

Old Time RadioStorytelling is universal. This is not a new concept. Nor is the concept of entertainment through spoken word. We first experience it in childhood as our parents read Little Golden Books to our curious minds. As we’ve grown up, those stories have taken the form of audiobooks, the radio and now podcasts. So it’s not like “Serial” is a different kind of entertainment.

The difference now — to me, in this moment — is my surprise at how invested I am in the show. How moved I am by it. How it has me sitting in my house on a Saturday morning, staring at the wall, entranced by something I can only hear.

I love it. I want more of it — a lot more. Thirty-some years later, I finally get what those old teachers were talking about, and there’s a piece of me that’s happy I have a chance to experience something similar to what they did all those years ago.