Is ‘Serial’ The Beginning Of A New Podcast Era?

Above: The 'Serial' podcast has broken iTunes record for fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads and streams
Above: The 'Serial' podcast has broken iTunes record for fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads and streams

If you haven’t already been following the podcast, Serial, then you are behind. Nine episodes behind (as of Thursday November 20th), to be exact. But once you listen to the first episode, you will be addicted, and the rest will fly by. Here is everything you need to know before you get on your computer and download Serial.

Serial, is a podcast series that premiered on October 3rd, already at number 1 on iTunes. Narrated by This American Life producer, Sarah Koenig, the first season tells the story of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, high school student, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. Koenig has been investigating the possibility that Adnan didn’t actually commit the crime, and presenting her findings, along with the timeline of the case in weekly episodes. The true crime genre, and podcast investigative reporting style have proven to be a huge success.

Although this season’s genre is under the true crime umbrella, Koenig describes the series as “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things.” The premise of telling the story of a crime, and the people involved is reminiscent of late night episodes of Dateline, and The First 48. The suspense of a true story broken up into weekly episodes keeps listeners addicted from the beginning.

Producer, Ira Glass, introduced the series as a spinoff of his own show, This American Life, and said “we want to give you the same experience you get from a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story, and no pictures.” There may be no visual aspect, but the important part, the suspense, is there in spades.

Of course, anything that becomes this popular is going to be a target for critics, and Serial is no exception. The main problem critics of the series have is the issue of “white privilege.” Sarah Koenig, being white, is bound to have some biases when reporting on a crime involved children of immigrant parents. She may show her biases when she buys into certain stereotypes, but she works hard to report the facts, while portraying who the people involved actually are, beyond their race.

A Reddit user claiming to be the Hae Min Lee’s younger brother has posted a message criticizing Serial for sensationalizing his sister’s murder. Although his identity can’t be confirmed, he also posted a Facebook message he received from Koenig asking for an interview to include in the podcast. He chose to ignore her request, and instead condemned the podcast, saying, “To me, it’s real life. To you listeners, it’s another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI.”

Since its debut, Serial has broken the iTunes record for fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads and streams. Podcasts are a growing medium, and one that advertisers have only begun to consider as a viable revenue option. But while it may seem like another source of entertainment, we have to keep in mind that Hae Min Lee was a real person, and someone did murder her in cold blood. Hopefully, after all the controversy, the real success of this season of Serial will be to help discover the truth about what happened to her. 

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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