Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why was the second season of Serial such a dud?

Remember how the first season of Serial took everyone by storm? (Well, by "everyone" I mean the kind of everyone who downloads podcasts and reads blogs like this and probably talks about going to New York a lot.)  Remember when all we could talk about was the Nisha call and Mail Kimp?  Heady days.  Even Adnan got in on the action and got himself a new hearing!  Man, if Season 1 was so good, imagine how good Season 2 was gonna be!

WRONG.  Season 2 flopped.  It was the story of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier who left his base in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban and then exchanged for some Guantanamo guys and that made everyone so mad.  Seems like an interesting story, right?  How come it was a big fail when Season 1 was such a hit?  I have some ideas.

1. No mystery

Season 1 was basically a true crime show, and everybody loves Dateline.  There's a murder, and then you think you have it figured out, and then there's a twist, and then there's a payphone at Best Buy or maybe there's not, and now maybe the wrong guy is in jail.  OR IS HE.

In Season 2, on the other hand, a guy walks off a base and gets captured by the Taliban and grievously abused for years and then freed.  It's a compelling story, but there's no mystery.  One of the Taliban doesn't whip off his mask at the end and OH MY GOD IT'S JEFF THAT GUY HE BULLIED IN HIGH SCHOOL!!!!  There are still questions about why Bowe did what he did but it's just fundamentally not as interesting.  We want to know if Colonel Mustard used the lead pipe in the conservatory, not whether Colonel Mustard was internally conflicted about killing Mr. Boddy .

2. Format too unpredictable

Season 1 was released one episode at a time, once a week.  It was nice and predictable, like TV shows or happy hour.  Season 2 started off the same - one episode, roughly the same time every week.  Then suddenly one week here's Sarah Koenig telling us "Oh, whoops, never mind, it's only going to be every other week."  Then one week, "Surprise!  Here's two episodes."  Then none the next week.  Or something.  It killed whatever momentum the show had.  Remember when "Lost" would disappear for a few weeks, then come back for one episode, then vanish for a month, then three more episodes?  Not a model you want to emulate.

3. Too far removed from general experience

Season 1 was relatable because basically everyone's been to high school and everyone's had a high school love and everyone knew some weirdos in high school who might could kill someone.  But in Todays' America, and ESPECIALLY amongst the target demo of Serial, almost no one has been in the Army or been to Afghanistan.  So it's much harder to put yourself in the main character's shoes.

Hopefully they bounce back and get their footing back next season because it can be pretty good when it's done right.


GG said...

I agree with you on all these points, particularly the one-show-every-other-week switch killing the momentum. I also think one of the problems was a lack of a trajectory. I felt like I never knew where she was going with the series, and then suddenly there was just a Strongbad-style "It's over!" with no conclusion or even attempt to tie together the various threads of the story. I actually found many of the episodes interesting, and I'll probably listen to Serial season 3, but I'm surprised by how much they missed the mark this time.

elizabeth said...

I agree as well. I was so amped for this season and then blah, blah, blah. I kept listening thinking that it would become more compelling and suddenly it's over. Whaaaat????

I'm hoping it is just a sophomore slump.

TK said...

GG - Yeah, you're right about the ending. I should have mentioned that.

elizabeth - It's hard to duplicate success, especially when everyone's EXPECTING it. Maybe when the pressure's off it'll get back to form.

Rachel said...

Agreed on all points. Also, there was something weird about the fact she never actually interviewed Bowe, it was all interviews he'd done with the filmmaker.

There wasn't a lot of new information to tease out - it wasn't like Season 1 where all of a sudden Innocence Project was involved and appeals were being written, etc.

I hope Season 3 is another 'case closed/cold case' mystery that they reopen and reexamine.

The Sonia Show said...

I agree with all your points, TK. Plus, it seemed off that she never interviewed Bowe herself and was instead relying on that filmmaker's interview and his thoughts about Bowe.

It became so obvious that Season Two was a dud when she did those two episodes catching us up on Adnan's new trial. I couldn't wait to listen to those episodes. Meanwhile, the final Season Two episode is still sitting on my phone unplayed.

Unknown said...

I agree with your points and have also mentioned to people an expanded "Too far removed from general experience". There was an easy sense, in season 1, of knowing what kind of small town Baltimore was. People made treks out there to see for themselves where Best Buy was in relation to the school. There was a community effort to solve the crime.

Season 2 involves storytelling and that's about it. We're told what happened and why. There's no intrigue. No "did he do it?" He did it, and the "why" wasn't compelling. And there was nothing for us to investigate--no court documents, no trips to Afghanistan, and no advocacy for someone who maybe-maybe not committed a crime.