Undisclosed, podcast review: Serial gripped us but this retread is biased and dreary

The podcast offers no new evidence on the case, just varying theories based on a set of timelines already presented in Serial

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The Independent Culture

"We are not journalists or podcasters," began Undisclosed. "We are three lawyers who are interested in the minute details of the case of the State vs Adnan Syed."

Yes, that Adnan Syed. If you followed the US podcast Serial last autumn, you’ll know all about the high-school student who was convicted and jailed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee 15 years ago. You might also recall the name Rabia Chaudry, who is one of the aforementioned lawyers and was the person who alerted the journalist  and Serial presenter Sarah Koenig to Adnan's conviction for murder – a murder Chaudry believed that Adnan didn’t commit.

Undisclosed is in fact a Serial retread that is backed by the Adnan Syed Trust, a legal defence fund established by friends and by “concerned citizens” no doubt drawn to the cause after hearing Serial.

Chaudry has known Adnan since she was 13. He was her younger brother’s best friend and her family remains close to his family. So whereas Koenig was an impartial observer trying to cut through the circumstances, the geography and the personalities surrounding Hae’s death to get at the truth (though she never came to a definitive conclusion), by contrast Chaudry’s bias here is clear. Undisclosed is essentially  one long plea for Adnan’s innocence.

It also goes over much of the same ground as Serial, pondering the movements of Adnan on the day of the murder, the final hours of Hae and the veracity of various witness statements.

There is the question of alibis – for instance Adnan was supposed to have killed Hae at 2.36pm, but was allegedly spotted in school at 2.45pm. There are also the phone calls, the car journeys, the swift exchanges and the longer conversations, each of them disputable in some way.

The latest episode – there have been three so far, if you don’t count the various addendums – focuses on Jay, the man who supposedly helped Adnan bury Hae’s body and later confessed to the police.

Jay has so far given seven versions of events – via four police interviews, two trial testimonies and one recent online interview – and they’re not exactly consistent. And so began an hour-long process, with the help of excerpts of police interviews, of sifting through these varying accounts.

 

Chaudry and her co- presenters, attorneys Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, were thorough alright, though the overwhelming sense  was that we’ve been here before, only with a much more skilled host.

At the start of Undisclosed, Chaudry makes clear that this project shouldn’t be compared to Serial, though, given that it relies on our knowledge of Koenig’s investigation to make sense, how can it not?

Of course, Undisclosed is an amateur operation and so we can perhaps forgive the sound (which is tinny), the wonky narrative and that Chaudry and her co-hosts talk too fast.

More problematic is the fact that it offers no new evidence on the case, just varying theories based on a set of timelines already presented in Serial.

And while Chaudry has been clear about her bias, so it would be wrong for her to sit there and weep at the injustice of it all, what made Serial so engaging was Koenig’s own frustration, her self-doubt and her emotional involvement.

She also knew a thing or two about telling stories. Without this, Undisclosed makes for dreary listening and may well prove counterproductive. It’s in Chaudry and Adnan’s interest to keep the narrative alive, but with podcasts like this we may stop caring altogether.

@Twitter.com/FionaSturges

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