Review: ‘S-Town’ Raises the Bar for Podcasts

Artwork by Valero Doval

You’ve probably heard of Serial, the popular podcast from This American Life. Conceived and hosted by Sag Harbor’s own Sarah Koenig, the weekly show brought the podcast format into the mainstream with its gripping storytelling and exciting premise: a true story, investigated and explored over several weeks and months. The first season of Serial focused on the murder of small-town Maryland teen Hae Min Lee, and whether or not Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime, was actually guilty or not. Koenig and the podcast didn’t offer any easy answers, which frustrated some, but the show was a hit for finding a compelling real-life story and exploring different sides and angles. Now, Koenig and the team behind Serial have launched a new podcast, S-Town, a brilliant new series that builds on Serial’s foundation and eclipses it, telling a story of a small town in America filled with big secrets that is suspenseful, mysterious and surprisingly personal.

While looking for potential stories to tell on This American Life, producer Brian Reed receives an email from John B. McLemore, a listener from Woodstock, Alabama. McLemore has reason to believe that a boy from a wealthy local family has gotten away with murder, and thinks Reed should look into it. When Reed decides to investigate, he gets to know the eccentric McLemore, a horologist and clock restorer who lives on a large piece of land with his elderly mother. To spoil what happens next would be criminal, but just when the story seems to be going in a similar direction as Serial, the narrative takes a shocking turn that opens up several new mysteries and sends Reed on a personal journey that nobody could have ever expected.

Hosted by Reed and filled with interviews, S-Town is well-paced and consistently exciting. From the very beginning, S-Town is swarming with colorful characters—real people—with spellbinding stories to tell. McLemore himself is a fascinating subject with a mind, Reed quickly learns, that is as complicated and challenging as a Rubik’s Cube. Reed is an excellent host; his clear and concise storytelling is at once approachable and very literary.

With seven hourlong episodes released at once, S-Town can be completed in a few listens. Don’t miss this mature, touching, surprising and riveting story. S-Town is available on iTunes, Google Play and at

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