Review | Serial's New "S-Town" Podcast
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S-Town Podcast Review

21 Apr Review | Serial’s “S-Town” Podcast

Podcasts seem to be going through a bit of a surge in popularity in recent times. It’s odd, because they are by no means a new thing.

Technology is pretty far evolved beyond sitting and simply listening to a show. In fact, podcasts recall a time before TV was accessible (shock horror) when people used to sit and listen to the “wireless” for a leisure activity.

Yet, despite the huge popularity of video content, there is something in the humble podcast that holds an attraction still.

Perhaps it’s the relief and liberation from staring at a screen for a couple of hours. Perhaps it’s the way they engage our minds and imaginations to a level TV doesn’t. Or perhaps it’s the way that just listening to something allows us to unwind in a way TV cannot.

I made my first foray into the world of podcasts a couple of weeks ago after reading about “S-Town” in The Guardian. Yes, S-Town an American podcast was, and is, so popular that it was covered in a British newspaper.

Investigating into the unsolved murder of a high school kid in a small town in Alabama, Woodstock or S-Town ( meaning Shit-town), I was very curious from the onset.

S-Town takes the form of a binge-able, Netflix-style seven episodes or “chapters” as they are named, that were released all at once. The makers of the podcast, Serial, have pretty much revolutionised podcasts with “S-Town.”

Hosted by American journalist, Brian Reed, although S-Town begins with an investigation into an unsolved murder, it evolves far beyond this taking gripping yet wholly unexpected directions.

Although you are at first intrigued by the murder mystery element, what gets you hooked on S-Town is a curiosity to find out more about this Alabama town, its inhabitants and most importantly, the man who made the call to journalist Brian Reed about the unsolved murder, John B. McLemore.

I’m pretty much hooked on any show, novel, movie, or now, PODCAST that involves the classic plot of a stranger travelling to a small town that’s a bit weird, has some quirky inhabitants and is attempting to get a sense of the place. This is exactly what you get in S-Town.

After emailing back and forth for a few months about the unsolved murder case, Brian Reed decided to travel to S-Town and meet with John.

We learn that his journey to John’s place has to be done with co-ordinates because John doesn’t actually have a proper address. And after driving up and down, what I imagine to be dusty, derelict roads fenced by endless fields (Children of the Korn-esque) Brian eventually catches a glimpse of a house with three chimneys down an easily missed, narrow lane.

What I loved about S-Town was the way it exercised your imagination. With Reed’s descriptions alone, I was building up my own sense of what John’s house and this small town in Alabama is like. Perhaps mostly bolstered by TV shows I’ve watched set in small town, southern America.

Nonetheless, this imaginative element really brings the show to life, and the vivid ways in which I could see S-Town through words alone is a testament to how skillfully this podcast is knitted together.

Brian’s real-life correspondence with John and other members of the S-Town community through phone calls that span a couple of years, add a layer of reality to a show that at many points can feel like fiction.

Weaving through larger themes such as horology (the study of time) and John’s quirky past-time of fixing and making clocks (oh and building a MAZE in his back yard), add a more meaningful layer to the show.

Conjecturing, and deftly moving between different stances and opinions on John and the circumstances in S-Town, Brian Reed succeeds in illuminating just how hard it can be to fully understand human beings. He gives us a lot to think about.

His personal experience in S-Town and the rapport he builds with John over the course of the show also aids in building an emotional investment in the story. Netflix-style opening and closing music, and sound effects throughout, only aid in heightening the experience of listening to this podcast.

I’ve now been finished S-Town for roughly about 2 weeks and I still really miss having it in my life. I’ve started listening to season 1 of Serial, which is all about the mysterious murder of a high school girl in Baltimore in 1999.

While it’s undoubtedly very gripping, Season 1 definitely is lacking in that certain something that S-Town has. It’s hard to place my thumb on what it is but if I were to make a stab at it I would say it’s the wholly unique setting and very unique characters that you feel connected to in the course of the show. I’m just not getting that in Season 1. Which is fine. S-Town is very unique.

None of my friends have listened to S-Town so I have no one to talk to about it, which has been kinda maddening. I’ve been reading up all about it since and just needed to tell other people about it.

 So, you should go and listen to S-Town right now. You can thank me later.

Have you listened to S-Town? Have you listened to any amazing podcasts you would recommend? I’m a bit obsessed now!

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