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Friday, December 15, 2017

By Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Season up, servers down.

That appeared to be the case briefly Thursday morning when the first episode of the second season of the hit podcast Serial was posted without advance fanfare on the show’s website.

As has been widely speculated, the episode deals with the travails of former U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, charged with deserting the Army in Afghanistan in June 2009. For the first time in the media, Bergdahl tells his own story, a complicated tale that morphed from a missing persons case into a returning soldier story into a political lightning rod.

The episode, available at serialpodcast.org and through other channels, puts the Bergdahl story in context, including a quote from presidential candidate Donald Trump saying, “In the old days deserters were shot.”

Attempts to access the episode on the show’s website in its first hours, across several devices, were at first rebuffed, suggesting massive interest. But that situation didn’t last and the website soon delivered the episode smoothly.

The episode begins with excerpts from Bergdahl’s 25 taped hours of conversation with screenwriter Mark Boal, one of the filmmakers behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Their essence is that Bergdahl thinks of himself, first, as a whistleblower hoping to alert higher-ups to leadership he considered “dangerous.”

“I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing,” like a movie character, listeners hear Bergdahl telling Boal. “I saw things falling apart as far as my command goes.”

It has been reported that Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow have been working on a movie about Bergdahl. Boal’s production company shared its tapes with Serial and is a partner in Season 2, host Sarah Koenig says.

Serial comes from This American Life and WBEZ-FM 91.5 in Chicago. The show’s premise is that it examines one story in detail, week by week, like an old-time radio serial. Season 1, which became the first podcast popular enough to merit parody on Saturday Night Live, reinvestigated a murder case involving high-school students in Baltimore.

Serial is also available on Pandora, iTunes and other podcasting outlets.

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Photo: United States Army via Wikimedia Commons