This episode of Radiolab was originally a Reply All podcast, but it was so good that Jad and Robert decided they also wanted to feature it on Radiolab. Even though that seems like it’s kind of cheating, I can totally understand why.
Sarah Koenig said that season two of her wildly popular podcast Serial would be released in the fall of 2015. Well, with only 21 days left in 2015, and 11 days left in this fall, the first episode arrived this morning at 6:00 am. That little red notification dot on my podcasts app lit up and I, probably like many across the country, felt a little giddy. Finally.
Despite the fact that Sarah Koenig’s style is easy to replicate and poke fun at (as SNL did masterfully last season around this time), there’s really not another podcast quite like it. Season one’s popularity seemed overall welcomed by Koenig, but unexpected. Being associated with This American Life and Ira Glass of course helped it. But it took on a life of its own, and it’s because Sarah told the story of Anyed Syed masterfully. The story was very interesting in and of itself, of course, but her constant “did he or didn’t he” waffling kept us engaged. Also, the complexities of going back fifteen years to a murder case filled with unanswered questions and building the story from the foggy, incomplete, and conflicting memories of students, police officers, friends, and family and official police records made for one captivating story.
The popularity of the show actually started to get in the way of her actual investigation as a reddit community devoted to determining if Syed was guilty or not started to post details of the case that potentially harmed the telling of the story, and more importantly, the people involved.
The overwhelmingly devoted fan base of Serial when asked to donate money so they could produce more seasons seemed to step right up and throw money at Koenig and her production team. She then promised us two more seasons of the podcast, with the second season being released in the fall of 2015.
People wanted to know more. Fans put up with the ambiguity within the podcast, but they wanted something more specific about the release date of its second season and what it would be about. Eventually, a report came out suggesting she was working on the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and exchanged for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay. These reports came out after she was spotted at a military hearing for the ex-prisoner of war.
When journalists poked and probed about their suspicions it seems like Koenig and her staff basically told their fellow journalists to back the heck off and let them do their job. People’s obsession with her podcast was actually affecting her journalism. So her production manager Emily Condon eventually released this statement:
“We’d very much appreciate if fellow journalists would give us some room and not feel the need to attempt to dig into and try to figure out what you think we might be doing, especially since we’re actively reporting stories, and having a bunch of wild speculation out there makes our job reporting harder. Doesn’t feel very menschy. In any case, here’s what I can tell you: The Serial staff is currently working on several things simultaneously: Season 2, Season 3, and some other podcast projects. For now we’re not talking publicly about anything that we’re working on.”
But here we are. Episode one was released today and well, people’s guesses were right. Season two of Serial will be about Bowe Bergdahl.
The formula doesn’t seemed to have been altered much, if at all. I mean, why fix it if it ain’t broke. Same sponsors to greet us. Same, “Mail…kiimp” ad. The theme music has evolved just a bit, a few horns added and the such, but it’s probably just the same enough for people to be happy that overall, not much has changed about the format of the show.
Her storytelling methods haven’t changed either. The setup of the story is familiar to last year, and it seems like we will once again be going back and forth from believing Bergdahl and his story, or thinking it’s all just one big lie, developed over the course of five years in captivity.
Koenig is working in coordination with the screenwriter Mark Boal, famous for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, to help tell Bergdahl’s story. In fact Boal was the one who introduced Koenig to the story. In fact, he had already conducted over 25 hours worth of informal interviews with Bergdahl in hopes of someday making a movie of his story.
This season seems potentially a bit more consequential than last season even because we find out in the first episode that Bergdahl is serving in active duty right now and is currently engaged in clerical duties in San Antonio. It sounds like a ruling is soon to be made about whether his case will go before a court-martial.
The first episode, called “Dustwun,” the military term which stands for “duty status – whereabouts unknown” mostly set the backdrop and introduced us to the basic details regarding Bergdahl’s story. She set us up to be ready to be questioning the story at every turn. Although, this season is a bit different because it’s not going to be a “did he do it?” like was the case of Anyed Syed, but rather this season will be about “why did he do it?” And apparently, like Syed, Bergdahl is confident enough in his story that he’s willing to allow millions of people listen in and make judgments of their own. Judgments that could very well affect his life in significant ways.
Apparently Koenig said in talking with Bergdahl and Boal that the season would be “eight to 10-ish” installments but cautioned that it could change. Where exactly will we be taken by Koenig throughout these 10-ish episodes excites me. But my guess? We’ll end up with more questions than answers.
Because of last season we are better prepared for how Sarah Koenig will tell this story. It seems like she’s got a great one, and she knows it. I’m not concerned at all that it won’t be as great as last year. She knows how to tell a story, and in an age of binge-watching Netflix, she knows how to throw in a last hook to make us eagerly await Thursday mornings for the next installment of the story.