Is ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’ Catching on Like ‘Serial’ Did?

When word that an HBO documentary was coming about Serial subject Adnan Syed, we were among those who looking forward to it. After all, a judge had vacated Adnan’s conviction since the release of Serial, and The Case Against Adnan Syed promised new revelations.

Despite the favorable court ruling, Adnan didn’t win a new trial and remains behind bars in 2019. Frankly, the case needed a fresh look, and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg seemed like the one to do it. (Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s longtime friend, serves as the focal point in Berg’s doc.)

After the opening installment, the documentary gave us the impression it could become as addictive as Serial. However, Parts 2 and 3 took so many side-trips into the case’s minutiae that the story has become hard to follow.

That has implications as entertainment and as a tool to bring more exposure to Adnan’s case. Looking at it from both angles, it doesn’t seem like The Case Against Adnan will catch on like Serial did.

A far more tangled web than ‘Serial’

The details pile up in ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed.’ | HBO

As you get caught in the tangled web that Case Against Adnan weaves, you can’t help but recall the simplicity and clarity of Sarah Koenig’s Serial. Koenig and her team managed to dispense with the extraneous details and keep the audience focused on key events.

Given the mountains of evidence in the case, that is no small feat. We get an idea how hard it is watching Rabia move boxes of documents around in the HBO documentary. In Part 3, the data starts to overwhelm the narrative itself.

While the audience sees the inconsistencies in the case, it’s unclear what some of the details have to do with Adnan’s situation today. As we’ve seen from the legal rulings, Baltimore and Maryland state prosecutors will hold onto whatever they can in order to keep Adnan in jail.

With that in mind, it’s not clear why we’d benefit from watching Jay’s ex-girlfriend call him and ask about Adnan. Anyone who knows anything about the case established long ago that Jay is a compulsive liar.

The same goes for watching Rabia sit in a Dunkin’ Donuts after she’s barred from the courtroom. It’s an interesting detail, but we didn’t come for a court drama.

The ratings for ‘Case Against Adnan’ through Part 3

Asia McClain and Rabia Chaudry participate in “The Case of Adnan Syed” panel at the 2019 Winter TCA on February 8, 2019. | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

While cable ratings aren’t what they used to be in the age of always-on-demand TV, they do offer a hint of where a show stands. To that effect, Case Against Adnan has not been a top performer. For the March 24 episode, it captured 458,000 viewers.

Certainly, NCAA March Madness dominated last Sunday night, but the numbers for Showtime’s Billions (790,000 viewers) came in much higher. Part 4 of the HBO doc (its final installment) airs Sunday March 31, so we’ll see if the live audience numbers increase.

Judging by the word of mouth in our sphere, we doubt things will change much. However, we do believe interest in the case will remain high until it comes to a final resolution. (It has a shot at the Supreme Court, but we’re not there yet.)

Berg does some excellent work in this documentary (especially in Part 1) and Part 4 is still to come. However, barring a huge turnaround, we can’t see it catching on the way Serial did years ago.

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