Life Tech Serial: the gripping podcast everyone is talking about

Serial: the gripping podcast everyone is talking about

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Every so often, a retro concept once confined to history makes a comeback.

Vinyl records, boy bands and shoulder pads have all benefitted from this phenomenon and now radio serials are back.

• Plugged in: the best new podcasts

Enter the aptly-named Serial, a podcast prodigy hailed as a kind of True Detective for your ears.

Convicted murderer Adnan Syed. Photo: Serial
Convicted murderer Adnan Syed. Photo: Serial

A real-life crime story told in weekly instalments, it is the modern equivalent of around one million listeners worldwide crowding around the wireless like the good old days.

The show is unique, addictive and utterly captivating and you need to get on board.

Here’s why. 

The story is awesome … and true

Serial is the exploration of a murder from 15 years ago. The people featured in the podcast – through phone interviews, prison chats, letters and observations – are all real.

The case centres on the January 13, 1999 murder of Maryland schoolgirl Hae Min Lee. The discovery of Hae’s strangled body leads investigators on a path straight to her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.

With no obvious alibi for the time of her murder, Adnan was charged and given a life sentence. There was one witness – Adnan’s best friend Jay – but Adnan has always maintained his innocence and some things just don’t add up.

Did he do it? We don’t know, but we damn sure want to find out.

Which leads us to the show’s next great feature …

The narrator is an expert storyteller

Sarah Koenig is the senior sleuth, narrator and creator of the show, sharing her experience as she digs deep into a murder case more than a decade old. As a protagonist, she is equal parts strength and warmth.

Narrator Sarah Koenig. Photo: Serial
Serial creator Sarah Koenig. Photo: Serial

Koenig clearly has a soft spot for “brown-eyed” Adnan, as well as a passion for detective work and a way of working through complex details that’s surprisingly easy to follow. Her work is thorough and she weaves a delicate web – using court documents, interviews with friends and family, social commentary, audio tapes and handwritten letters.

As she puts it: “For the last year, I’ve spent every day trying to figure out where a high-school kid was for an hour after school one day in 1999.”

Trust us, you won’t fall off the plot bandwagon or get bored with Koenig at the helm.

It’s got strong credentials

Serial is brought to you by the team behind This American Life, the cult weekly radio show that features insightful, moving and polarising stories from all walks of American life. 

The masterminds are, obviously, TAL producer Koenig, along with co-executive producer Julie Snyder and beloved TAL host Ira Glass.

The soundtrack is killer

All the action is set against the audio backdrop of a tense alt-rock score from Canadian indie muso Nick Thorburn of the band Islands. It’s got a creepy, hypnotic American Beauty vibe updated for 2014.

The Serial soundtrack.
The Serial soundtrack.

The music is so great that Thorburn has released a 15-track soundtrack for the show only six episodes into its run. You can stream it on Soundcloud or buy it on iTunes.

It will turn you into an amateur sleuth

Perhaps the most compelling element of Serial is the fact that it’s nearly all happening in real time. As Koenig discovers details, so do you – the journalist and her team are still putting together the program week to week. There is also a very real risk that the case will never truly be solved and the leads will run out.

This potential for a dead end has encouraged a legion of amateur sleuths to take to their internet and join Koenig is her search for justice.

The Reddit thread on the series is particular absorbing – Redditors have unearthed videos, photos and court documents to create some pretty compelling theories that you wont hear on the podcast.

Of the show’s potential for disaster, Koenig is unflinchingly honest.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever be at peace with what we find or that there will be a definitive verdict. I’m not going to pick a side just because I’m supposed to for a Hollywood ending,” she told Atlantic magazine.

“But the goal is to figure it out. I hope I do. But I’m not forcing it. You all might be really disappointed! Who knows?”

Start your Serial journey here

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