Photo: Courtesy of This American Life.
If you're already a podcast fan, odds are you spent the weekend getting hooked on Serial and telling all your friends to get hooked on Serial. If you're not into podcasts yet, this is the reason you should be.
The new This American Life spin-off tackles one story a season. With a new, free episode every Thursday, season 1 follows reporter Sarah Koenig deep into the mysterious tale of Adnan Syed. Accused of killing his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, back in 1999, Syed has been in prison for the last 15 years.
Lee's murder was particularly gruesome: Her body was found in a Baltimore park, strangled and buried in a shallow grave. From the start, Syed maintained his innocence, claiming he had no reason to kill her. Friends and family corroborate he had no ill will toward Lee, with whom he was still friends. Furthermore, Syed was an exceptional kid — a golden boy, even. He got good grades, volunteered at his family's mosque, and had a solid group of other good-kid friends. Listening to his conversations with Koenig, recorded via collect calls from a maximum-security prison, Syed does come across as sincere and rational.
But, Koenig's investigation exposed a host of new questions, with every answer more perplexing than the last. With each new episode of Serial, we meet new voices, pick up more clues, and come closer to answering the question at hand. Koenig tracks down Asia, a friend of Syed's who provided him with an alibi, but never made it to the trial. Then, another friend Jay completely negates her story. We even hear from Lee, as Koenig shares curious excerpts from the deceased's diary, chronicling her relationship with Syed in girlish, gushing prose.
One of these people is lying. One of these people has been lying for a very long time. Who is it?
Perhaps, even more thrilling is that no one knows yet — not even the Koenig. "Sarah is still reporting on this story," producer Julie Snyder tells us. "It is very much alive."
The first episodes cover information Koenig gathered in the last four to six months, but as the season progresses, there is very little lag time between investigation and reporting.
"Every time we write a new episode it effects the episode coming after it," says Snyder. The team is aiming for approximately 10 or 11 episodes, but the resolution remains mysterious. "It's a little unclear as to where it will all lead us. We have a general idea, but we don't completely know how it's going to end."
That's what makes Serial so thrilling. It's a potent combination of investigative reporting, crafted storytelling, and the unknown. All we can be certain of is that 15 years ago a teenager was killed, and another one went to prison. Someone knows the truth, but he or she is not telling. Now that thousands of people are listening, will they finally speak up?
"Nothing is etched in stone," says Snyder. "That's for sure."