So, I have a confession. . .I don’t care if Adnan, the “subject’ of the blockbuster podcast SERIAL, did it. Well, that’s not true, I mean, I care, because a young woman was murdered and a young man may be wrongfully incarcerated, and I care about these facts in as much as I care, generally, about murder and wrongful incarceration. But, even after listening intently to every single episode of SERIAL, I don’t think about Adnan and Hae any more than I think of any other victim and alleged murderer. I’m sounding callous, I know, but it’s part of my point. I may be alone in this, but, I didn’t like SERIAL. (I’m ducking so let those arrows fly now.)
I should say that I so admire how SERIAL convinced millions of Americans to consider podcasts as a source of thrilling, moving and meaningful listening. I applaud Sarah Koenig and her team for their hard work, determination, accessibility and presentation. They tried mightily to lead their listeners into and through a complicated story without digressing into procedure or preaching about policy. I sincerely hope a flood of brilliant podcasts take over the hearts and minds of listeners in SERIAL’s wake.
However, I’m utterly disappointed by SERIAL. Not just because they couldn’t commit to a definitive ending. Not just because they relied on the wishy-washy, who can ever know, what’s the truth, it’s impossible to say ending that defines moral inquisitiveness these days. And let’s face it, looking into a murder case is a moral pursuit. I’m disappointed that they put this story on the air. I imagine the idea of unfurling an investigative piece in something like “real time” for listeners sounded genius when they pitched it. It worked for Woodward and Bernstein, in a way. But executing the story that way — serializing it as it happens — is not unlike Congress appointing a special prosecutor to look into, say, Whitewater. The expectations and costs are high, the pressure to find something is even higher. In a better, less time-is-money world, the SERIAL team would have investigated and reported the entire story, and then asked and answered these questions, “have we found anything out? Have we taken the listener down a road and then abandoned them in the middle of nowhere? What can we advance in this story, anything?” I wish they had had the option to not air any of it because frankly, I was mad, sad and betrayed by that ending. So. . .you just don’t know? You did all of that work, mapping cell phone towers, back timing and front timing and retiming car trips, digging up cell phone records, pitching the case to innocence project lawyers, consulting experts of all kinds and yet you don’t know anything more definitive now than anyone did when Adnan went to jail?
We can’t all be Errol Morris. I get that. But, if you are going to be an investigative documentarian, you risk finding nothing. . .like when a special prosecutor says, “sorry, no conspiracy. I spent your money and my time looking into this, and, I didn’t find anything.” Oh well. But not oh well. Good for SERIAL for trying, bad for listeners because SERIAL felt they had to air their findings. They had spent time and money and had to air something. And bad for listeners to be driven down that road and then left in the middle of nowhere.