I recommend season 2 of the podcast Serial. Today, accompanied by an email heralding the show’s return, episode 1 slipped onto my phone, made a modest ‘ping’ and quietly waited for me to drop everything and go for a podcast walk (walking or menial tasks are the best activities to undertake when podcast listening.)
If you haven’t heard of Serial you probably don’t know much about podcasts in general, in which case I direct you to this post: https://ithinkyouwouldlikethis.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/podcasts/ And I say that because last year Serial Season One made a hefty dent in traditional media’s dominance. It took podcasting into the mainstream and was being discussed on radio, television and in newspapers. Its popularity was so unprecedented that it left podophiles like myself torn between celebrating the fact that everyone else has finally cottoned on to how great podcasting is, and being a snooty hipster about it “I liked podcasts before Serial. You’re late to the show, Barack.”
And now, a recap.
PREVIOUSLY ON SERIAL:
Serial Season One followed the case of Adnan Syed, who is currently serving a life time sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The two were at high school together in Baltimore when Hae disappeared on 13th January 1999. She was found a month later in a city park. She had been strangled.
Ever since he was first convicted back in 1999 at the age of 17, Adnan has always maintained that he is innocent. Serial re-examined the evidence, spoke to witnesses, uncovered new evidence, and attempted to decipher the mystery surrounding the case. This was all presented in 12 weekly episodes. They were produced with the same audio wizardry that parent show This American Life is renowned for, and presented by This American Life staff member Sarah Koenig. The phone calls between Sarah and Adnan were the core of the show – Adnan had his chance to tell his side of the story, and a friendly rapport was built between the two. The listeners found themselves in Koenig’s place – charmed by Adnan’s sincerity, yet constantly aware that he might be a murderer.
When Season One ended there was only one question on everyone’s minds: what’s Season Two going to be about?
Today we found out.
Season Two is following the case of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was imprisoned by the Taliban for 5 years. Soon after he was released (in return for the release of five Taliban detainees in Guantanamo Bay) questions arose about his capture: was he a deserter? A defector? A traitor? Those questions continue to be asked, as he is currently awaiting a decision on whether his case will go before a court martial.
This story seems like the perfect choice for Serial. It expands on the scope of Season One as it’s focusing on a case which is already a national story, is still on going, and which will also have to include scrutiny of the American military and the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, it still has a central character who is being given the opportunity to tell their side of the story. It seems daft for me to try and explain it when Koenig does a far better job of it in the episode itself. Despite being an audio podcast, the imagery she conjures creates pictures far more vivid than the majority of TV shows.
It’s important that the story is still best suited to podcasting as a medium. Season Two also centres around phone calls – this time they’re between Bergdahl and screenwriter Mark Boal. Boal, who wrote films such as The Hurt Locker, has about 25 hours’ worth of recorded phone calls between the two of them. These were conducted as research for Boal’s upcoming film about the case, and he approached the Serial team to see if they would be interested in hearing them. I was initially worried that this would mean that this change in dynamic might alter Koenig’s engagement with the story, and therefore the listeners’. I am relieved that this isn’t in the case, Koenig still plays a key role in commenting on the recorded conversations, talking to Boal, and interviewing other contributors. I am always impressed by the intercutting of different voices that documentary pieces like Serial achieve. In theory the various interruptions should be jarring and confusing, but it always flows so naturally. Koenig fits seamleslly into the mix and continues to guide the listeners on their journey through the dense stacks of information.
Season Two is shaping up to be just as exciting and unique as the first. Now grab a listening device and go for a podwalk.