I first learned about the murder of Hae Min Lee a year ago, laying on a manmade beach in Key West, Florida, and looking out across the blue ocean.
A little morbid listening for a beach day, sure. And it definitely clashed with the Jimmy Buffet vibe of our family vacation. But that was the appeal of “Serial,” the weekly podcast from the creators of “This American Life” and hosted by Sarah Koenig. Once you started listening, you couldn’t stop — no matter the time or place.
This was certainly true for the first season, which revolved around Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend who was convicted for her murder.
Koenig’s storytelling was incredible.
“Serial” is billed as “one story — a true story — over the course of a season,” according to their website. Piece by piece, each week, we learned more and more about Syed’s case.
When the season ended, I, along with millions of other listeners, waited for season two, which we were told would focus on a new story.
We have our new story now. We are five episodes in to the second season, which premiered Dec. 10, 2015. And we are recognizing that podcasts, too, can enter the sophomore slump.
In season two, “Serial” revolves around the case of Bowe Bergdahl, a sergeant in the U.S. Army who disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in June 2009. Bergdahl was captured and imprisoned by the Taliban for five years, before he was released in 2014.
However, he wasn’t celebrated as a POW when he returned home; instead, he was accused of walking off base into enemy territory willingly and called a traitor and deserter by some soldiers in his unit.
Koenig is partnered with Page 1 production company and filmmaker Mark Boal for the second season, and in this relationship, is the first of two main mistakes “Serial” is making.
Koenig does not interview Bergdahl this season. She is granted access to use Bergdahl’s recorded conversations with Boal, which is the first time the public has heard him speak candidly about his capture and reasons for leaving.
These conversations are intriguing, but they are between Boal and Bergdahl, not Koenig interviewing a subject.
In the first season, Koenig spoke to Syed on the phone for hours. We would hear them converse, hear her candid remarks and his answers. This made Syed so much more relatable, since the audience felt a single degree of separation — Koenig.
Now, we are hearing from Koenig about a conversation between two men, neither of whom knew the audience of “Serial” would be listening to their conversations when they were recorded. It doesn’t take away from the power of Bergdahl’s words, or his story, but it does make the story much less accessible for listeners.
The second mistake is the schedule. Koenig announced the podcast was moving to a biweekly schedule, instead of weekly, as it had been all of season one and for the first month of season two.
Each of episode of “Serial” is filled with facts and helps to move the story forward. But the facts don’t matter if you don’t remember them, and frankly I can’t remember things two days later, let alone two weeks.
Koenig said they were doing this because there was just more material coming as they reported, but all this new material means little when I can’t remember where it falls into the story, which is now being dragged out into only an hour long episode every 14 days.
I want to like this season of “Serial.” I’m trying. But Bergdahl’s story seems stale already, and the long breaks between episodes make it very easy to forget about.
And for now, it seems like forgetting might be the best move, at least until the season ends and you can binge-listen to it all at once.