Why ‘Serial’ Season Two Was Such a Flop

Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

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18 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t alone in finding this season a letdown… So much so I actually gave up about part way through. Not intentionally… I just never felt compelled to listen more and something more desirable was always in the playlist. I think many of your reasons are spot on. Ultimately, season 1 was a Whodunnit of sorts. This was more of a “How do you feel about what we know was done?” And I don’t think I needed 10+ hours of commentary to form that opinion. I spoke with a friend in the military about the case and some of the issues (he had listened to one episode and me about 3-4 at that point) and it was an infinitely more interesting exercise.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    I take two observations from this.

    The first is that Serial went somewhere the market does not like: the realities and moral ambiguities of an actual war. Particularly a war of which politically we have become fatigued. We would rather not think about the war at all, and when we do think about it, we wish it would go away, end, get won already. After all, we are so powerful! Why haven’t we won yet?

    The second observation is that Serial marks a milepost in media. The podcast is for real now. It has had a runaway hit and a fall-flat bust, it lies somewhere between radio and blogs in form but is, for better or worse (and I think mostly for better) a narrative form that is part of the library now.Report

  3. Roland Dodds says:

    I enjoyed this season until I realized it was over. That was it? I felt like I was missing some of the “closer” that the first season provided.

    How “guilty” Bergdahl is of diseration seems an uninteresting debate, but the way this season looked at military recruitment and COIN during the 2000s was interesting and necessary. As @burt-likko mentioned above, we have become fatigued talking about Afghanistan, and as a society, we just don’t want to think back to the war and it repercussions. Which makes it even more maddening that we are actually still fighting this war; it isn’t history yet.Report

  4. j r says:

    I’ll preface this by saying that I have a slight personal connection to the topic of Serial 2. Enough that I can feel myself getting angry when I read the words “Sergeant” Bowe Bergdahl. So, the topic is interesting to me in a way that the Adnan Syed case was not.

    That said, I agree that the second season of Serial doesn’t pack the same punch as the first. I think that your second point is right on. The lack of a whodunit factor accounts for a lot of the difference. And that relates directly to where I differ on the first poing. A big part of why season 1 was more popular than season 2 has to do with the audience’s ability to relate more to the first than the second, but not so much the ability to relate to Syed over Bergdahl.

    Given the demographics of NPR’s core audience, Koenig is more likely the protagonist for most listeners. I would guess that most listeners aren’t so much imagining themselves stuck in prison for a crime they didn’t commit as imagining themselves as a crusading investigative journalist peeling back the layers of a complicated story. In season 2, there’s really not much for Koenig to do, so there’s much less for the audience to invest in her.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    teamed up with Mark Boal (the screenwriter who brought us “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”)

    that’s sufficient explanation for me on why the second season would be sub par.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    A murder has us question whether the accused actually did it and then to wrestle with the questions of such things as “if he didn’t do it, who did?” or “if he did do it, did our system still operate with justice?”

    I mean, the possibility exists that Syed was innocent… also that he was guilty. In that uncertainty, there’s a lot of really rich soil to dig into. I mean, the conclusion of the podcast was that Syed probably should have been acquitted according to our theories of justice but even Koenig herself thinks that, yeah, he could very easily have done it because the circumstantial evidence is creepy as hell.

    Bergdahl’s act was somewhere on the spectrum between “monumentally and catastrophically stupid” and “treason”. The uncertainty that exists in that space is a lot less sexy.Report

  7. Fish says:

    I agree that Season 2 was not as compelling as Season 1, but 2 held my interest because of my military background and because of my relationship with many soldiers who’ve spent time deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe having a military background lends the story a hook for me that isn’t as effective for people who were never active duty…I don’t know.

    Also…and I don’t mean to disparage anyone in uniform in any way with this comment…what Bergdahl did is EXACTLY the kind of thing I could see a young private dreaming up and executing. Soldiers are trained to see themselves as big, powerful warriors capable of incredible things, training which enables them to overcome their fear and throw themselves into dangerous situations which would find the rest of us cowering in pathetic little puddles of terror. But they’re also trained to work as a team, and part of that training is teaching them that a soldier is just part of a greater whole, and that greater whole is more powerful than any one soldier ever could be. Bergdahl seems to have absorbed the first part of that training, but the second bit didn’t seem to stick. Plus, he was a damn NCO and should have outgrown the inflation of the self and the delusions of grandeur that plague many young, inexperienced soldiers.

    And also, I’d pay good money just to hear a full podcast of nothing but Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Wolf telling stories and giving us his opinions on…well, pretty much anything. Crusty old NCO’s like him are worth their weight in gold.Report

  8. Slade the Leveller says:

    I found this article while looking for some background on this post.


    Some interesting reading, and a lot of comments by armchair generals who are ready to line up the firing squad.

    As for Serial, I even lost interest in season 1, so I never got to this one, but it looks interesting from this account. For me, season 1 was another tale of a possible miscarriage of justice, which seem to abound these days. Yet we’re always ready to throw the book at a miscreant in our society. The disconnect is mind-boggling.Report