We all like podcasts now. We like when Radiolab bleep bloops about the secret colors between colors. We like it when Mark Maron gets through his first ten minutes of talking about his garage. And we like it when Terry Gross says a thing, anything really. But could podcasts be something other than just awesome interviews, or PBS-like explorations of stuff with neat music? Serial, it seemed, proved that they could.
The first season of Serial was to podcasts what Wizard of Oz was to movies. It made us all open our eyes and say, “Holy shit. This is what’s next.” We lived and breathed the story of Adnan Syed, even though we didn’t experience it with our eyes at all. We all patted our ears, thinking, you’re a good sense organ too, you know? We all even listened to a program in our cars at the same time, like old timey people listening to War of the Worlds.
Serial season 1 was so good that it made murder mystery TV shows seem lacking because the stories weren’t real things we could stalk on Reddit for four hours after work. Now the question we’re all asking is, can season 2 keep the momentum going? What pressure!
The new season popped up randomly today, sliding onto our podcast apps without fanfare. What? Sarah Koenig is back? And MailChimp hasn’t bothered to make a new ad and we have to listen to that kid calling it “Mailkimp” still? Amazing!!
This season doesn’t cover another niche, racially-charged murder mystery brought to Sarah via a good friend. Instead, the story is an already huge one, brought to her (kinda) by a major screenwriter, Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). She’s in famous-er company now, that’s for sure. Boal has been interviewing former captive / possible deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and has hours and hours of tapes of him telling his story. These interviews were done in prep for a movie he’s making with Hurt Locker/Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow.
This made pause a tic. If I were making a movie and doing a bunch of research to tell a huge story, the last thing I would do is call up the most famous podcast in America and say, “Hey, do you want to take all this work I’ve done and tell the story first?” But that’s just me. Having Sarah Koenig get the whole nation obsessively following every element of this story is probably a great way to hype people up for your movie. So yeah, I guess that makes sense.
Anyway, Season 2 Episode 1 definitely showed that Sarah Koenig’s storytelling style can make all kinds of stories equally captivating. Describing the story on her hands here, she compares it to a children’s book called Zoom, which starts with a close up of red zags only to reveal a rooster, only to reveal children looking at a rooster, only to reveal they are toys, etc. etc. etc. This way of teeing up a story adds an element of magic realism to what’s on hand, making us sense there’s going to be many sides to this tale.
I’m not going to speculate what I think is really going on with Bowe Bergdahl, or what Sarah will find out, or what her blind spot is in this whole situation, because I’m horribly underqualified compared to the thousands of people who’ve spent all night researching this. I will say I’m curious to see if mental illness plays a role in explaining this story.
Season 2 promises to make the average American look more deeply at our relationship with the middle east, and our relationship with our own Army. That is a topic I didn’t expect, but it definitely won’t be boring. The upward momentum continues.
P.S. Sarah, you can take my suggestion to investigate Brittany Murphy’s death for Season 3. Thank you.