Unmissable: Why I’m one of many addicted to This American podcast – Serial

Serial podcast

Serial podcast - Credit: Archant

I’ve never been known for my rebellious tendencies, but this week I’ve decided to well and truly break the rules.

It’s time to forget about the telly, put down the remote control and pick up a generic MP3 player. Let’s talk about podcasts, well in fact one particular podcast that’s topping the iTunes chart and proving incredibly addictive listening for millions of people around the world.

For many years the team behind the This American Life radio show and podcasts has been building up an army of devoted listeners, with countless downloads of the 500-plus shows.

It’s a vast back catalogue which I recommend you dip into, packed with unusual and unlikely stories from – you guessed it – American everyday life.

But what started originally as a spin-off side project for one of its producers – an experiment in “audio storytelling” – has in fact gained more attention - particularly over here - than its long-running big brother.


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Serial, the first episode of which was released both under its own name and as one of This American Life’s weekly downloads, is only nine weeks old but has become something of a phenomenon and broken new ground.

Each week a new episode is released offering a new chapter in a gripping investigation into a 15-year-old murder case from Baltimore, Maryland.

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Adnan Syed is currently serving life plus 30 years for murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee and dumping the body in woodland.

A conversation with a friend prompted This American Life’s excellent journalist Sarah Koenig to look into the case, and after a year of investigation the fruits of her labours are now being unveiled, week by week, in stunningly original and jaw-droppingly tense fashion.

After each episode of interviews, analysis, discussion and conversation with witnesses, investigators, friends and family of those directly involved in the case, and of course phone calls from prison from Adnan himself, you are left with a completely different perspective on a case that just a few days before, you thought you had sussed.

The way Koenig and her team have constructed this, in a Dickensian serial style, is groundbreaking in that although the work was carried out over 12 months, each week she edits the final podcast just a few days before its release.

This week was the ninth episode – they’re all free (thanks to some relatively unobtrusive sponsorship) and available through iTunes, the Serial website or through various other download services.

There’s even a brilliant “no offence” video “especially for older people” featuring This American Life host Ira Glass and 85-year-old Mary to help show how easy it is to download and listen to a podcast.

Koenig has said that she expects it to wrap up after 12 editions of this particular subject before moving onto a new topic, but the soaraway success of Adnan and Hae’s story surely means this will be extended or at least revisited further down the line.

And there’s even talk that the case against Adnan will be explored again by the legal system in the US. Surely with millions having their own take on the circumstances, albeit one that fluctuates from week to week, it would be one of the most high-profile reopened investigations of recent years.

Serial is the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads ever, according to Apple, and its record-breaking run shows no signs of slowing down as it builds into a climax over Christmas.

It is very American, very thorough and uses quite a lot of legal jargon at times, but if you’re the sort of person who was addicted to The Wire, the peerless Baltimore-set crime drama of the mid-noughties, then this is for you.

In fact it’s for anyone; anyone who likes a good story, well told, with weekly cliffhangers that make you think, discuss, revisit, ruminate and at the end of it all just yearn for the next episode.

Serial is well and truly making its mark on the digital airwaves and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

n What do you think? Are you addicted to Serial? Let me know by emailing elliot.furniss@archant.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @Elliot_Furniss.

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