Entertainment served with a legal twist is an interesting subject of debate among attorneys. Knowing the intricacies of the law, it can be difficult for some to see past the shortcuts that films and television shows take in the name of quality drama. I, too, have changed the channel after one too many evidentiary snafus on “Law & Order.” (I give a pass, however, to my guilty pleasure, “The Good Wife,” which still holds my attention despite its somewhat (read: extremely) unrealistic representation of the practice of law.) But sometimes a film or television show really nails it and delivers a quality depiction of the legal system.
The subject of today’s blog won’t be found on your television or at the movie theater, however. You can actually find it right on your smartphone. I present to you the Serial podcast, which, in this blogger’s humble opinion, happens to be the most engrossing portrayal of a criminal case since HBO’s “The Wire.” (Sorry, “True Detective.” I keep it local.) Here’s the thing: there are no actors, no special effects, and no visuals. The story is told by the actual people involved in the case and it is delivered entirely without pictures. (Yes, this Generation J.D. blogger is touting a form of entertainment that has been around since before the television was invented.)
Serial, as its name suggests, is a serialized weekly show, which follows one nonfiction story over the course of a whole season. The story for the first season of Serial involves the 1999 murder of a Baltimore County high school student, Hae Min Lee, and the eventual conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and producer on the popular radio show “This American Life,” Serial unravels different details of the case every episode. Each week, Koenig weaves audio tapes from the trial with her own interviews of Syed and other witnesses, along with descriptions of other pieces of evidence from the court file. Her attention to detail is astonishing, especially because she is able to dive into the minutia of the case without ever losing the listener.
Besides the fact that it is an expertly crafted show, Serial also has a local flare to it. Listen to it, and you are bound to hear the name of a local judge, lawyer or crime reporter with whom you are familiar, not to mention several Maryland landmarks. For totally engulfed listeners (like me), Serial even offers a place on its website that collects visuals discussed in the story (maps, photos, timelines, pertinent documents) as well as a space for additional intriguing details of the story that it can’t fit into each episode.
I am not alone in my appreciation for this show. Serial counts among its admirers The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and comedian Patton Oswalt, to name just a few. There is even a subreddit dedicated to Serial on the social networking service Reddit.
So, if you are looking for something new to sink your teeth into, I encourage you to seek out Serial. I, like the host of the show, have not made up my mind about whether Adnan Syed is innocent or guilty. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think in the comments!
(Note: I purposefully did not patronize readers in this post by explaining what a podcast was, but for the uninitiated, Serial offers a helpful tutorial explaining what a podcast is and how to get one.)