The hit podcast Serial has returned (just about — it will start dropping new episodes September 20th), but fans may be a little hesitant to embrace it with as much fervor as in the past. After an unexpected, haunting, dynamic first season that investigated the relatively unknown and controversial case of Adnan Syed, a young man imprisoned for murdering his girlfriend in high school, listeners were hooked to Sarah Koenig‘s reporting and the unfolding of a devastating story without a clear resolution. The second season then widened its focus considerably to the court martial of Bowe Bergdahl, a very well-known case. It wasn’t that Season 2 was bad, necessarily, it just didn’t feel like the intimate experience of Season 1. Season 2 felt more like a traditional NPR episode of This American Life, or perhaps another series that reports on others’ reporting rather than having us follow alongside their own investigation.
Since the success of Serial‘s first season, a number of really engrossing, limited-run, crime-focused podcasts have followed, from Dirty John to S-Town to In the Dark. For Serial to regain interest and an audience again, it needs to learn from those that first learned from it: go back to something small, unknown, and deeply compelling.
According to a press release, that seems like what Serial Season 3 might be attempting. The overall scope is large — the criminal justice system — but it immediately starts narrowing that down to a city (Cleveland) and “ordinary,” individual stories (some of which will take one episodes, others of which will span multiple hours). Koenig will also be joined by a co-host, reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi. The pair “spent more than a year there, looking at small criminal cases like weed possession and disorderly conduct, all the way up to the most serious felonies. They documented how justice is calculated – the manipulations, the distortions, the justifications, the gap between what people did and what they were punished for.”
Ira Glass, who hosts the radio show This American Life and serves as an editor for Serial, says of the new season: “I love how hard it is, what they’re doing this season, how big the target is, that it’s the entire system. Even listening to early drafts, which is basically just Sarah reading the scripts to a bunch of us over Skype and playing quotes off her computer, I had this dumbass fanboy ‘OMG it’s Serial!’ feeling, just totally caught up in the characters and what happened to them, and in Sarah’s deeply Serial-ish super-methodical, annoyingly well-reasoned investigation into the deeper truths that underlie all the stories.”
Serial will return September 20th via Pandora (for free, via an exclusive streaming partnership), but you can listen to a preview of the new season below: