Serial: Better Than Fiction

In 1999, Adnan Syed is arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. In 2000, after a six-week trial, he is condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison. A pretty simple case at first: Hae Min Lee broke up with Adnan not so long before being killed, and a key witness helped him bury the body. Adnan never stopped claiming his innocence, but it’s easy to brush this off as yet another psychopath trying to be released back in the streets so he can torture more innocent people. When you look closer at the case though, which Sarah Koenig does extensively, you realize that there is just something off about it. Week after week, the reporter comes back on every detail, from discussions with Adnan himself and Jay, the main witness, to letters and cell phone towers.
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Podcasts are a type of radio that I actually enjoy listening to. Like most people my age, I grew up surrounded by some iconic radio shows, but that was because my parents listened to them and I just happened to be nearby when they did. Even when I got my own radio in my room, I rarely turned it on. There was just not much for me to tune in on, except for that one radio station that aired old French songs, and I couldn’t even pick it up most of the time. Why do I like podcasts, then? For me, the two crucial differences are that a), a lot of podcasts are about things that I actually care about, like writing or history or the supernatural, and b), they’re on my territory. Put something on the internet and I’ll most likely come across it at some point and check it out, mostly out of curiosity.

That’s what happened with Serial. I am a semi-regular Welcome To The Night Vale listener (I also stalk them on Twitter because I think everything they say is a golden bar of spookiness), and I listen to some nerdy shows from time to time (shoutout to Brent and Morgan Are Huge Nerds). Serial is, however, the first podcast that literally sucked me in.

Maybe it’s Sarah Koenig’s warm, almost addictive voice, maybe it’s the excellent music and sound mixing, but most of all, it’s the Adnan Syed case itself. It is pretty clear after an episode or two that, in fact, nobody knows what happened on the day Hae Min Lee was murdered. With every episode, it seems like we walk along with Koenig, further and further into a foggy place where the simpler things seem, the more complex they are.

Did Adnan do it? Serial asks the question without ever giving the answer, but revealing more and more different paths to a version of the truth, like in a mind-blowing real life game of Clue. Sarah Koenig lays out the facts and thinks out loud with us, while we try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Someone murders a girl on a Wednesday afternoon. The star witness says the murderer called him from a payphone that never existed and that they hung out all afternoon and smoked a lot of weed before burying the body at night. An incriminating phone call places them in the same car, when the supposed killer says he was somewhere else. I’m only giving you broad strokes here, folks, and I’m already diving back into my own thoughts, trying to figure it out.

The story of Adnan Syed is real. Maybe that’s what fascinates me more than anything else about that podcast. Throw away your Agatha Christie books and forget How To Get Away With Murder. The real world is a better storyteller and master of mystery than any of us.

Some say she’s French. Some say she’s a voodoo witch. What is certain is that Anais left her awkward print on all things artsy at one point or another in her life, performing as a singer and a pianist, exhibiting photographs and paintings, and leaving an embarrassing amount of visual proofs of those events on the internet. Anais’ dream is to be an animation writer. She thinks everything should be animated and she is more than half convinced that she is herself a cartoon character. She hopes that one day, Pendleton Ward or Jennifer Lee will read her screenplays and say they’re neat.

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