Ira Glass’ ‘This American Life’ is, with room for discussion, the best podcast available on digital subscription services. It’s certainly one the most successful podcasts in terms of raw numbers. The folks running the This American Life page boast getting a million downloads per episode regularly. The Wiki page for the show lists a typical episode attaining an average of 750,000 downloads as of March 2012. Stitcher and iTunes both have the show often listed in their number one slot. Many podcasts use the show’s template as their starting point. Simply put, it’s a big deal. So it’s why podcast listeners all over eagerly anticipated a spinoff show called ‘Serial’ after it was announced.
Serial arrived in October of 2014 and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Koenig and Julie Snyder, both vets from the This American Life team, produce the show together. The show currently covers story of Adnan Syed, who Koenig leans toward believing that he have been wrongly convicted in 1999 of killing Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend. The show made number one on the iTunes list even before its official launch. The iTunesCharts.net page is currently showing the top listing belonging to Serial and, surprisingly, a podcast about the show in Slate’s Serial Spoiler Specials as the third on the list. A show about a show being that popular says something. Not only are people downloading the show in large numbers, but they’re investing personal time thinking about, talking about, and bouncing their theories about the eventual story conclusion. There are huge reddit holes to fall into, if you want to spend the time.
The subject matter is a big reason of the show’s success. Each week, we’re along for a ride into the lives of Adnan and his high school classmates. Involving young love, intrigue, death, and the hope of a possible retribution of wrongly convicted young man the podcast treads topics that are compelling and engrossing. The show does a good job of voicing doubts that the listener likely has while trying to make sense of the evidence and lack there of. But saying that the show’s topics are its only reasons for success would be shortchanging the skill of the people involved. Sarah Koenig deftly initiates tough questions while making it clear she’s not robotic enough to do so without some conclusions of her own. Listeners feel involved in the investigation. The show is also expertly edited, always feeling like transitions and sound clips are crisp and meaningful. One of the best parts of the show that can go overlooked is the subtle way the soundtrack provides a sometimes haunting backdrop, its notes reminding the listener that something is just a bit off.
This concepts combine for a lingering feeling of an unsatiated search to know more. You’ll want to keep coming back to the next week’s episode to participate in some small way with the thrilling ride. I know that I’m looking forward to my download next week.
You can find the podcast and details here.