If you’re planning on spending any portion of the holiday season with the older generation of your family (or your significant other’s family, or a friend’s family, or whoever, you get it), you’ve probably already considered some of the current goings-on in pop culture you may have to explain and/or contextualize to a less plugged-in legion of relatives that are eager to be in the know. “What is this Sony business?” they might ask. “Is Seth Rogen really in league with the government?” someone might inquire. “What is a Nicki Minaj?” a person might pipe in. “Did you like that Angelina Jolie movie?” might come up, too.
“And what is a podcast?”
Even if you’re not a podcast person, 2014 was a good year to become one, if not just an easy one (and a neat, quick entry point into a pop cultural flashpoint). The allure of a podcast is simultaneously specific and wide-ranging: you can come up with a podcast that chronicles anything (we here at Film School Rejects even have our very own podcast about movies, shockingly enough) and it can get as minutiae-specific and niche-heavy as it (or, more precisely, you) wants to be. There is a podcast out there for everyone, from something as general as “movies” to something as specific as “finding the perfect yarn”). This is the year, however, that most people – even previously non-podcast people – fell in love with one specific podcast: Serial.
“What is this Serial thing?” your Aunt May asks.
It’s easy enough to explain a podcast like Serial to a podcast neophyte without getting too technical – it’s like a radio show! on the Internet! about something! – but things might get a bit more muddy when you get into the technical aspects of actually accessing it. Even me, a person who works on the Internet, is most comfortable downloading podcasts from the web using the “Podcasts” app on my iPhone (and, yes, I should really get better about this, but there it is).
But what if Serial was something more seemingly understandable and easily accessible? Like, perhaps, a television show?
Saturday Night Live spoofed Serial this weekend with their “Christmas Serial” sketch, which imagined two things: that the second season of Serial was dedicated to exploring the myth of Santa Claus (in this case, “Kris Kringle”) and that Serial was suddenly a television show. The sketch was so dead on – from Cecily Strong’s inflections as host Sarah Koenig to an attempt to recreate Kris’ flying routes by building a sleigh from scratch – that it was very nearly not funny. But it did allow us to imagine what Serial the hypothetical television show would be like (again, that’s how spookily accurate this sketch was, even when it was working with the Santa fairy tale as its base). Take a look:
If you’re an existing fan of Serial, you may have been tempted to do what I did while watching the sketch: close your eyes. Do it! Really! Because the result will be a visual piece of entertainment that works on a purely auditory level. (Hey, like a podcast!)
Serial, it seems, would make one hell of a television series (and if that isn’t the strangest takeaway from an SNL sketch this year, so be it). Taken down to its tacks, the first season of Serial was a series about true crime. The television landscape is just lousy with those, from enduring Dateline specials to niche properties like My Strange Criminal Addiction. Although we don’t yet know what these second season of Serial will cover – host Koenig has, from the start, made that clear – it seems fair to speculate that it will most likely be a crime series again.
There’s also the question of the immediacy afforded to the podcast. Unlike a television series, Serial’s episodes were not already recorded and ready to go, this wasn’t a pre-recorded series slotted into its appropriate schedule. By the time Koenig and company had reached the back half of their season, current events had wedged their way inside, and each episode at least started off with an update. An actual update! Serial is entertainment made for the immediacy of the Internet and the accessibility of current events, even if a teensy TV version looks (and sounds) good enough to consume via the small screen.
Then again, we’d sort of watch anything that has to do with Serial, no matter our preferred method of consumption (personal vote: podcast for life).