Last week, a judge in Baltimore officially vacated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the 35-year-old whose story gripped a nation. The Serial podcast, which told Syed’s story and explored the murder case of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee 16 years ago, became a cultural phenomenon, igniting an interest not only in the criminal justice system, but the true crime genre itself.
Syed will now receive a new trial.
Though the judge who vacated the sentence said he did not listen to the podcast, he acknowledged how influential it had become. In a statement, he said, “This case represents a unique juncture between the criminal justice system and a phenomenally strong public interest caused by modern media,” though, he also added, “Regardless of the public interest surrounding this case, the court used its best efforts to address the merits of [Syed’s] petition for post-conviction relief like it would in any other case that comes before the court, unfettered by sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion.”
The true crime genre has its critics, and though it can at times walk the line of exploiting public interest in real tragedies and offering journalistic looks at important events, at its best, it can find flaws in the justice system, expose the public to the nuances of criminal investigations and create a larger context for stories beyond just news headlines.
Here’s a look at eight more true crime series to check out if you’re a fan of Serial.
2004’s French documentary miniseries (which also included a 2013 sequel, as well as, another follow-up later this year), garnered international acclaim (including a Peabody Award) for its in-depth look at the mysterious deaths of two women connected to novelist Michael Peterson.
After Peterson’s wife died after falling down the stairs in a freak accident, investigators discovered that years earlier, another women he knew well died in the same way. The series involves twists, legal drama, personal revelations and big questions about the legal system.
It’s a strange story about coincidence, the presumption of innocence and secrets.
The Criminal podcast does more than just give in-depth looks at compelling cases. It examines the social and psychological motivations behind them. The episodes are relatively short (mostly around 20 minutes), but manage to tell compelling stories, in tight, well-written segments.
Instead of being overly sensational or just focusing on the unsavory elements of crimes, each story is more concerned with human nature and what motivates people to act the way they do.
This documentary miniseries from HBO examines the real case of real estate heir Robert Durst, a man who may have used his wealth to avoid being prosecuted for the murders of two women—one of whom was his own wife.
The series will keep you guessing until the very end, which is arguably one of the most insane series finales you’ll ever see. The show was so effective at getting Durst to open up about the murders, that it may have actually changed the outcome of the cases.
O.J.: Made in America
To be fair, ESPN’s acclaimed new five-part documentary series is more than just a true crime investigation. It’s a look at celebrity, race, sports and media in modern American culture. But, at the heart of the series is a crime—one that still captivates America.
At this point, most people are familiar with the O.J. murder case, but instead of just looking at the details of the case and crime, the series creates a greater context for it. It lets viewers examine how our own views about celebrity, race and the media inform our ideas of justice. It’s more than a riveting piece of television; it’s an important piece of history.
The Undisclosed podcast picks up where season one of Serial left off, exploring the case against Adnan Syed. Unlike Serial though, the show isn’t an unbiased exercise in investigative journalism. The podcast—which has become a hit in its own right—features a team of lawyers discussing why they think Syed is innocent, and how they might actually be able to free him.
The team’s work has been so effective, that one of its producers, attorney Susan Simpson, is responsible for finding the evidence that led the judge to recently call for Syed to get a new trial.
Making a Murderer
After serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Steven Avery is exonerated, and sues the sheriff and local officials for millions. Weeks later, he’s arrested again: This time for murder.
Making a Murderer looks at whether Avery actually committed the crime or if he was framed so law enforcement could save their own reputation. It’s one of Netflix’s most addictive series, and will make you question both Avery and law enforcement throughout.
Because this Discovery Channel series is shot in real-time, it doesn’t have the same narrative quality as some of the more carefully crafted series, but it does have its own unique appeal. Instead of breaking down a case as it unfolded over years or decades, Killing Fields is about the day-to-day work of an investigation, and all of the little things that go into reopening a cold case.
Set in swampy Louisiana bayous, the series follows two investigators who are trying to solve the mysterious murder of a young woman nearly 20 years ago. Decades after the case first went cold, the duo tries to use new methods to finally bring her family closure and a killer to justice.
Locked Up Abroad
Though it’s not serialized like many other popular true crime series (each episode is a stand-alone story), Locked Up Abroad is just as addictive. Through first-person storytelling and dramatic (and well done) reenactments, each episode focuses on a real case of someone being arrested, imprisoned or detained in a foreign country.
Though some cases involve minor transgressions or even wrongful detention, the vast majority of stories are of average people who became involved in drug smuggling.
Where the series excels is in its intimate and emotional looks at its subjects (you learn how a seemingly well-adjusted young person could get tricked into smuggling drugs), and its look at the often horrific conditions of jails and prisons in many developing countries.
Editor’s Note: A version of this piece originally ran in a print issue of RELEVANT.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.