After five episodes, the worst thing that can be said about Serial, a new podcast led by This American Life producer Sarah Koenig, is that the next episode isn't yet online. It will post Thursday. I will listen immediately. If the rest of the inaugural season's episodes were released together, like House of Cards, I'd consume them in one sitting, foregoing sunshine, sleep, and human contact until all episodes were exhausted. That's how I binge-watched much of The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. At the time, I never imagined I'd ever binge-listen to radio.
Now there are four podcasts I can't quit.
Audio aficionados are likely already familiar with This American Life and Radiolab, both of which consistently produce some of America's very best journalism. With their smart phone apps, the full archives are available to stream. Lately, I've also fallen for a remarkable interview-driven podcast, the singular Love+Radio. I've managed to limit myself to a couple of episodes a day from their archives, but only because, like the other podcasts I've mentioned, they produce standalone episodes that encompass the full arc of a particular story.
In contrast, Serial tackles one story over the course of many installments–roughly as many as encompass a season of an HBO drama such as True Detective, the show to which Serial is often compared because the first serial Koenig has tackled is the story of Adnan Syed, a high school student convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Did he do it? Or has he been wrongly jailed for a crime he didn't commit? Each episode is an installment in an ongoing attempt to figure that out.