Few podcasts have been able to make the leap from indie obsession to achieve mainstream mass success. But 2013’s Serial by This American Life was able to do just that. The concept was simple: investigate a murder that just didn’t add up. A high school teenager was murdered in Baltimore, her jealous ex-boyfriend the only logical suspect. Yet carefully gleaned evidence obtained by a curious outsider (enter Koenig) and great investigative storytelling was enough to get millions of listeners to doubt the seemingly obvious guilty verdict.
And hence, a cultural phenomenon was born. It was the series that made Podcasts accessible and approachable to the masses, no longer just a media outlet reserved for the niche “alternative”.
What came next was an entire movement to free Adnon Sayed from prison, and an audience eager and waiting for round two from the show’s creators. But the second series from the producers of Serial, following an AWOL soldier in the Middle East, fell flat, and left many fans to brush Serial off as a one-hit wonder.
That was 2015. Fast forward now to April 2017, as the team from Serial and This American Life release another story-driven investigative show called S-Town. Less a criminal investigation and more a character study on a curious clock repairman from Alabama, S-Town has a more empathetic energy to it. It tugs at your heartstrings, as its narrator, Brain Reed, attempts to understand the ever complex John B. McLemore from the perspective of a journalist and a friend. It captures the world and workings of one lower-class Alabama community as a microcosm for thousands of similar fringe cities and towns nationwide. It evokes a an addictive curiosity just like it’s hit successor before it, but this time due to its empathetic undercurrent. It’s sad, it’s beautiful, and it’s the best yet from the team behind Serial and This American Life.
Check it out here or stream it for free on iTunes.