Thoughts about Serial

It seems as if everyone in my Twitter timeline is raving about Serial. Serial is an American podcast about a possible miscarriage of justice. Episode 1 describes itself thus:

It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

I’ve listened to 6 of the 50-minute episodes now – so clearly it must be doing something right. And yet, I don’t have the same passion about it, the same addiction about it that most people do.

There are plenty of things to like. Oddly, we don’t tend to use the term ‘sound design’ in radio, but it sounds fantastic. It’s very well mixed and edited, the original music is haunting, presenter Sarah Koenig has an easy-on-the-ear voice and a personable style.

And yet something is missing. Perhaps I’ve not been paying close enough attention, listening whilst doing other things, last night listening at 4am because I couldn’t sleep, and Koenig’s voice is almost as soothing a narcotic as a radio programme in Burmese. Or it could be because of the things that are not there; you’d expect heart-wrenching, tear-jerking testimony from the murder victim’s family, and that’s missing. It’s oddly dispassionate, almost matter-of-fact in the way material is covered. Sarah Koenig is no John Sweeney – the tempo and tone of her voice rarely changes much, you can’t imagine her losing her temper and railing against the injustice of it all.

Possibly (and I’m not quite up-to-date yet) this is because she just doesn’t know herself. And neither do I. As a slightly casual listener, who hasn’t read through the paperwork, I’m thinking at this point that this probably wasn’t a miscarriage of justice. Clearly something doesn’t add up in this case, but I’m far from convinced of Adnan’s innocence.

I am, however, convinced by the Serial web site. It is beautiful to look at, clear, it responds to mobile devices, the audio player is really well-designed, and I have fallen in love with the headline font, Sackers Gothic, beautifully serious, very, very North American. Perfect.

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