NPR's "This American Life" spinoff podcast "Serial" has had over 5 million downloads as people have tuned into Serial over the past few months.
December 12, 2014

I first heard NPR new show Serial on the air, in my car, not as a Podcast. NPR made it fairly plain that if you wanted to hear the rest of the story, you'd have to listen to it online.

NPR is fairly addictive for me. Like most people who've fallen in love with talk radio, it's a milestone of adulthood you never really wanted to reach: The day you actually like and prefer NPR or talk radio, even over the "oldies" or "old school" radio station.

If you like NPR, you've had the experience of sitting in the car hoping a story will end before your next appointment or heading into or back to work. Or you've driven the long way home, or an extra block or two, hoping to have the satisfying experience of ending a story as you reach your destination.

But this serial turned all that on its head. Serial, it seems, has been the equivalent of a rock star standing on stage and screaming, (well, it's NPR, so loudly whispering), DO YOU WANT MORE?!

As it turns out, we do. NPR's This American Life spinoff podcast has had over 5 million downloads as people have tuned into Serial over the past few months, wondering along with Sarah Koenig, if Adnan Syed actually killed his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

And, as Stephen Colbert wants to know: Did that girl ever figure out how to pronounce "Mail Chimp." Mail Chimp has been the show's stalwart sponsor, an easy name for us American's to pronounce, but phonetically, it appears to be a challenge for folks learning English. That has been almost as much as a revelation as the show itself and seems to have given a few million more folks a new respect for the daunting task of mastering a new language and empathy for those learning our own.

I have been listening to Serial l but the jury is still out on whether I like it or not. It's been confusing and I can't say I've followed every moment of it closely. I'm usually doing something else while listening. Playing Text Twist 2 or doing dishes.

Also, once I've heard an episode, I'm done with it. Things I really like, I tend to replay. But I heard the first broadcast on air and I think it's more of a habit for me to seek out the ending of NPR broadcasts online. Serial has just been the longest story it's taken me, or them, to finish. I will say that if it turns out that Adnan really did kill Hae (pronounced "Hey"), it will probably be the most disappointing thing I've heard since learning about Bill Cosby allegedly drugging and raping people.

In spite of myself, I suppose I've picked a side. I wish the episodes were more concise, but giving Koenig the benefit of the doubt, I think that's exactly the feeling she wishes to engender: ambiguity. If so, Koenigh has done a masterful job.

Still, I think like most people listening to Serial, I've picked a moment where I decided that I either believe or disbelieve in Adnan's innocence. The moment I decided to believe him is when he becomes angry about his case for the first time.

A lot of people who are connected to the case as either witnesses or members of the community where the murder took place think Adnan is innocent. In their recollection, he was such "a nice guy" that, instinctively, they just don't think he could have done killed anyone. Adnan, rather than being heartened by the fact that so many people have such a good opinion of him, become audibly frustrated.

Adnan says he would rather be "innocent" because the facts and evidence of his case prove that he is, not because people think "he's a nice guy."

I feel exactly the same way.

If you would like to check out the Serial podcast, you can start with Episode One here.

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