Regular listeners of Ira Glass’ This American Life were treated a couple of weeks ago to a special episode, “The Alibi,” that — in television terms — acted as something of a backdoor pilot, introducing TAL’s spin-off, Serial, the most exciting and best new drama of the fall.
I’m not being hyperbolic about that, either. It’s flat-out terrific. With all the new and returning television shows this fall, nothing has been as gripping, engrossing, and compelling as Serial, which takes one story and tells it over numerous episodes (the first story will be told in 12 episodes). After one episode, I was hooked. After two episodes, I was obsessed. After three episodes, I was devastated because I’d have to wait another week to hear the fourth installment.
Hosted by the voice crush of my dreams, Sarah Koenig, the first series in Serial takes us through the mysterious real-life murder of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee in 1999. Hae Min’s ex- boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime and is currently serving life in prison for it, but something doesn’t sit right about conviction. A lot of somethings, in fact.
This story has everything, too. Star-crossed lovers of different religions. Adnan was a Muslim honor-roll student. Their parents never knew they were seeing and sleeping with each other because they were not allowed to date. The focal point of the mystery is a small, half-hour window of time on a Wednesday in January of 1999, when Adnan apparently kidnapped and killed his ex. Despite no physical evidence connecting Adnan to the crime, he was convicted based almost entirely based on the testimony of one witness.
Through the first three episodes — which explore the alibi, the motive, and the discovery of the body — our allegiances to Adnan Syed shift several times. In a way, it’s like the Sundance series, Rectify: Despite the jury conviction, we have no idea if he murdered his ex-girlfriend or not, and for every piece of damning evidence presented, another piece of evidence cuts his way. What is for certain is that Adnan Syed — who provides interviews throughout — is a charming and charismatic person, and while he may ultimately be guilty, we don’t want to think that he is.
Though three episodes, I have no idea where the 12-part series will take us, and I’m not sure that Sarah Koenig even knows. Her, producer Julie Snyder, and overseeing director Ira Glass have been working on this story for the better part of the last year, but they’re still piecing the episodes together. But I absolutely cannot wait for the fourth episode. I can’t wait to see where this true-crime story takes us. In so many ways, it’s the best TV show, the best book, and the best podcast of 2014.