No, a new breakfast trend has not suddenly taken over Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and all of your friends’ Thursdays. Serial, not to be confused with its homonym, “cereal,” is a relatively new podcast series from the creators of the supremely popular NPR program This American Life. Besides its name, the weekly downloadable podcast, which investigates the 1999 murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee, is in no way similar to your favourite no-hassle breakfast food. But there are many, many ways in which it is vastly superior.
1. Most cereals – the tasty kinds, anyway – are loaded with sugar; when mixed with milk, they transform into a delightful sugar soup. While there’s nothing sweet about Serial, it’s arguably more satisfying. Each week, host Sarah Koenig dives headfirst into a different aspect of this fascinating case, in which Adnan Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Lee. Host Sarah Koenig plays detective, pouring over court hearings and evidence and interviewing witnesses that were ignored in the initial investigation. Chew on that.
2. Is it any surprise most cereals lack substance? Look who’s pumping ’em out: huge mega corporations. Who’s behind Serial? Koenig and co-creator Julie Snyder are Peabody Award-winning producers of This American Life, with TAL host Ira Glass as the show’s editorial advisor.
3. You know what’s not great on the go? Cereal. You know what is? Serial. Consider your options: sloshing a bowl of Os onto your freshly-pressed suit in stop-and-go traffic or 45 minutes of completely engrossing testimony, interviews and first-hand reporting guaranteed to make your commute fly.
4. Bingeing on Serial will leave you curious and hungry for more, with acute pangs of awareness of your own personal biases (Do you believe Jay? Or Adnan? Or what is the deal with Aisha?); bingeing on cereal will leave you in sweatpants and with a stomach ache.
5. Sarah Koenig is, quite obviously, a much more relatable (not to mention, real) life-sized mascot than the hyper-energetic cartoon animals and mystical creatures obsessed with fruity loops, sugar-covered flakes and a pot of gold that’s actually full of marshmallows (a terrible deal, if you think about it). As the narrator, she’s a trustworthy guide through her investigation but she’s always open about where her sympathies (spoiler alert: maybe mistakenly) lie.
6. That doesn’t mean Serial is without an adorable animal sidekick. In the ad for Mail Chimp, an email marketing service and sole sponsor of the show, that runs at the start of every episode, a woman mispronounces the company’s title as “Mail Kimp.” #MailKimp is now synonymous with the show, even sparking its own meme, and so is Mail Chimp’s cute primate mascot.
8. This all isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have it’s critics. Some say that it glorifies the murder of a teen girl, ignores the victim and involves inappropriate depictions of race (the only recurring character not of a racial minority is the white reporter, Sarah Koenig). This has opened up a healthy discussion around the genre of true-crime reporting and journalistic ethics. When was the last time your bowl of cereal did that?
9. Likewise, a bowl of cereal has never been so effective in letting you place yourself in the role of a perhaps mistakenly convicted murderer. (A chocolate-thirsty vampire, perhaps, but that’s about as far as it ever went.) Can you remember every move you made yesterday? A week ago? Six weeks ago? What lengths would you go to prove your innocence?
10. And while you may have a favourite cereal, the loyalty that accompanies your breakfast of choice is far exceeded by Serial fandom. The online community is vast and intense, using Reddit to discuss theories (ranging from plausible to flat out bonkers), offer personal stories and generally obsess over the case and the way it’s told. There’s even a podcast to discuss the podcast. Not even the kids in the commercials liked the Trix rabbit.
11. Most importantly, while the main function of cereal is to be a super-fast and easy way to get your breakfast on, the great thing about Serial and the sensation around it is how it proves that, contrary to popular belief, people actually are hungry for long-form, thoroughly investigated stories – and they’re willing to wait a week for each new instalment. It’s a ground-breaking show that will likely breed copycats and may even change the way radio works forever. Cereal can’t even last five minutes without getting soggy. Case closed.