Review: “S-Town”


Sky Barratt, Staff Writer

I, along with many others, am a massive fan of “Serial.” “Serial” is one of the first investigative podcasts. Over the past couple of years, Serial has gone through several seasons of immense popularity and most of America seems to have listened to at least season one. A few weeks ago, “This American Life” and “Serial” announced their new podcast, “S-Town.” The short, three minute teaser hit #1 on iTunes charts in no time and remained there even after all seven episodes had been dropped on March 28. Serial fans listened, crossing their fingers that this new investigative podcast would live up to its predecessor. I’m here to tell you my thoughts.

First off, if you decide to listen to this podcast, I have to give a warning. It is chock-full of nearly every bad word on the vast spectrum of language. Chock. Full. Not only this, but there are also a few instances of racial slurs, crude comments, mature stories, and other such things. However, though this isn’t an excuse, it does add to the story in a very necessary way. It helps paint the town and its community, contributing immensely to the story and the man it’s centered around in a very organic way. It was in no way used as a shock factor.

The podcast begins when a man named John- an Alabama man with a thick Southern twang, an antagonistic attitude, wide knowledge of plant’s latin names, and a tendency to begin telling very spontaneous and strange stories- emails “This American Life” complaining about his little “S-Town”: Woodstock, Alabama, where historic buildings disappear overnight and Walmarts that contribute to the rising obesity and poverty levels levels replace them. He says that the son of a wealthy man even murdered a boy, openly brags about it, and no one- not even the corrupt police department where one of the officers pulls over and assaults women- have done anything about it. So Brian Reed, who works for “This American Life,” went to Woodstock to investigate. The story which began as a murder investigation quickly leads to another death and an entirely different kind of story.

The podcast was incredible. It was immersive and vivid. Reed did an incredible job of painting the story in a way that felt very fluid, supplying the listeners with thoughts and emotions at each turn before carefully leading them to the next act. He didn’t feel like a man behind a microphone, but like the lungs or the synapses of the story. His ability to discern emotions and meanings from people, presenting them before the listeners cleanly was unparalleled. Every word he used added to the vibe of the story effortlessly with a carefully chosen connotation. He effectively blends his own personality into the story, making it evident but not overpowering, ensuring that it doesn’t change the facts or override the story. It all flowed incredibly and I cannot praise this aspect enough.

The story was rich, changing from one thing to another and back again in heartstopping (my heart literally missed a beat before frantically speeding up) moments. It showed the listeners layer upon layer of this town and its complexities, including the people that live in it and their intricate juxtapositions. They would go from racist, antagonistic, and cold-hearted one second to almost considerate and thoughtful the next.

Overall, it was intriguing. I found myself having listened to the whole thing in almost no time. I was binge listening to it in the same way I would binge watch shows on Netflix. I can even go so far to say that this podcast topped Serial, not just reviewing a case, but living it and watching it grow and transform. However, unlike Serial, this turns out to be more than just a murder mystery…