Serial: The Seriously Addicting Mystery Podcast

The happenings of January 13th, 1999 may have been just an ordinary afternoon for some, but they changed the life of Adnan Syed forever. This was the day that Hae Min Lee, a hopeful high school senior with a promising future, was brutally murdered and her body disposed of in Baltimore’s infamous Leakin Park. Adnan, her ex-boyfriend, is currently serving a life sentence for the crime, despite many questionable details in the 15 year-old investigation.
The happenings of January 13th, 1999 may have been just an ordinary afternoon for some, but they changed the life of Adnan Syed forever. This was the day that Hae Min Lee, a hopeful high school senior with a promising future, was brutally murdered and her body disposed of in Baltimore’s infamous Leakin Park. Adnan, her ex-boyfriend, is currently serving a life sentence for the crime, despite many questionable details in the 15 year-old investigation.

While this situation may seem like the perfect plot for a mystery novel, “Serial”, narrated by Sarah Koenig, is actually a non-fictional investigation revealed week by week through podcast. The show carefully analyzes the facts and speculations of the 15 year-old murder, from the dynamics of Hae and Adnan’s relationship, to the prosecutor’s proposed timeline of events that afternoon, to the suspicious number of calls on Adnan’s cell phone that day. The podcast format allows for the inclusion of police interviews of key suspects, conversations with Adnan and Hae’s old friends, and even phone calls with Adnan himself. As details of the murder are revealed bit by bit, listeners will hang onto every word and may even find themselves strangely invested in the case.

“Serial” is a show unlike any other that, according to iTunes, has quickly climbed the charts to become the most-downloaded podcast of all time. With its quirky theme music and touches of humor, it is seriously addicting for listeners everywhere and provides a unique contrast to the traditional mystery novel or audiobook. Because the episodes are only 30-45 minutes in length, they are easy to squeeze in during a busy day and do not demand a large amount of mental effort or focus.

By far, the best part of “Serial” is the depth of the character analysis. Adnan, a Pakistani high school student and a devout Muslim, is the central focus of the show yet remains morally ambiguous. At one moment, Adnan seems completely relatable—the honors student and caring boyfriend completely incapable of violence or murder. Contrastingly, Adnan’s lack of alibi for the time of the murder, risk of Muslim beliefs for his relationship with Hae, and rebellious tendencies all point to something much more sinister. Adnan’s friend Jay, the prosecution’s star witness, is shrouded in the same level of mystery and moral-uncertainty. From the interview with the janitor who found Hae’s body, to question and answer sessions with friends of both Adnan and Hae, every interaction is so carefully analyzed and presented that the tragic situation is truly brought to life.

While the show is an intriguing listen for all, it also evokes several questions of ethics and podcasting. For instance, is it morally acceptable to make a convicted killer the star of a radio show? Additionally, Hae’s family members went through the grieving process 15 years ago and are now forced to relive an emotionally devastating situation as it is publicized episode by episode for the world to see. As new episodes are rolled out every week, the listener is challenged to consider these questions and ultimately, analyze the competencies and shortcomings of the American judicial system.

“No one could ever come with any type of proof or anecdote or anything to ever say that I was ever mad at her, that I was ever angry with her, that I ever threatened her. That’s the only thing I can really hold onto,” says Adnan in episode one of “Serial.” So, is Adnan Syed the vengeance-filled ex-boyfriend that the state of New Hampshire prosecution believes he is, or a well-meaning teenager trapped in the wrong situation at the wrong time? Only time can reveal the answer.


Katrina San Nicolas

While I love math and science, writing for the newspaper gives my life balance and allows me to meet lots of great new people. I am a Chemical Engineering major and I am also involved in Alpha Phi Omega (APO) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). When I am free from my studies, I enjoy traveling with my family, jogging, and baking. If you have an article idea or know of an event or person on campus that should be featured, let me know!


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