Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture – what’s new and old in entertainment.
Back in 2014, the podcast Serial stormed into our culture with its in-depth look at a 1999 murder of a high school student in Baltimore. The podcast revolutionized the form and brought podcasting to the forefront. The first season dominated the iTunes charts, was satirized on Saturday Night Live, and even won a Peabody Award.
Its second season, about Bowe Bergdahl, a US sergeant who went AWOL during the War in Afghanistan, similarly dominated the charts but didn’t reach the heights of season one. Frankly, its unlikely any podcast ever will. The first season of Serial was lightning in a bottle.
But now comes season three, and while it continues to be unlikely anything will ever match the popularity of season one, this third season is even more important. While seasons one and two told the stories of specific, extraordinary cases, season three sets its sights on the mundane. This time, the team at This American Life and Serial took on telling the story of criminal justice in Cleveland over the course of a year. The reporters follow little cases: a bar fight, a drug bust, individuals who break parole. It tells the story of a fractured system: a system where the community doesn’t trust the police. A system where prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges alike are overtaxed and overly reliant on plea deals. A system that determines years of people’s lives, and could affect any of us at any time.
Season three of Serial isn’t as flashy as season one. There isn’t quite as much intrigue week to week. But it is examining the daily workings of criminal justice in America, and shedding light on problems that have been accepted for far too long. It’s investigative reporting at its best, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
You can find episodes of Serial at serialpodcast.org.
I’m Evan Rook.