S-Town (podcast)

Chris recommended that I listen to S-Town, a true crime podcast–at least that’s my understanding. I’m going to write some thoughts/notes about it here. I listened to the first episode, and I think Mitchell would find this interesting, and Don could, too.

In the first episode, a reporter, Brian Reed, tells about an email he got from a guy named John from a small town in Alabama (what John refers to as “Shit town”). John’s writing to talk about crimes committed and covered up in his town. He’s fed up with it. Anyway, this correspondence goes on for a while, and eventually the reporter talks on the phone with John. Here are some thoughts on John and Episode 1:

1. John’s in his late 40s, takes care of his mom, who has Alzheimer’s. (I’m not sure if he works or what kind of job he has). Before I say more, I should put in spoiler warning. In my view, you should discover for yourself what I’m about to say. With that…My first impression of John is that he’s a lonely, redneck guy–the type that might not socially awkward and weird. Some of this may be true, but what becomes apparent to me is that John is an intelligent, probably well-read person. He made me think how locals who speak pidgin, who are highly intelligent and well-read, with interest and opinions that one would associate with someone who attended an Ivy League school. Because of the pidgin–or in John’s case, the southern accent (in addition to coming from small town in Alabama), one might think he’s not very well-educated. This appealed to me.

2. Another thought that came to me fairly quickly: John’s making this up, partly because he’s lonely. He’s a smart guy, in a small Alabama town. In a conversation, John mentions that he has almost no one to talk to, not about things that would interest him, anyway. But he and Reed really hit it off, so it’s easy for me to believe that John wants to keep the relationship going.

6 Responses to “S-Town (podcast)”


  1. don

    Reid,

    I’ve listened to all the Serial podcast (three seasons) thus far, and liked them all. I’m not sure if you will like them including S-town. If I had to guess, I would have guessed that you would have liked Season Two the best which is the episode on Bowe Bergdahl, the guy on the news recently, but even then I probably wouldn’t have recommended it. I won’t say anything more about S-town in case you get agitated that it’s a spoiler even though it may not be.

  2. Reid

    I finished episode 2, and I’m liking it so far. Some quick thoughts:

    1. Scene in the tatoo parlor immediately made me think of Charles Portis.

    2. Overall, the storytelling and writing in this is excellent, very literary. It’s also far more than a true-crime story. In fact, I’d say that’s selling this short and even misleading.

    (I’ll try to check out the other podcasts later.)

  3. Reid

    Up to episode 5 now. Some thoughts:

    1. If storytelling on the radio can be considered great art, this would be a good candidate for this. In film, one sign of a masterpiece is the way various components are used masterfully, individually and collectively. For example, the writing, acting, cinematography, music, sound may be terrific by itself, but the way these components work together to form a cohesive whole is often what sets a cinematic masterpiece a part from good films. This may be going overboard, but this series has that type of quality for me.

    2. I kinda got bored with the secondary plot that emerges, but the series got more interesting when it reveals more about one of the main characters. The points of interest, for me, isn’t the mystery or crime story element, but the people and their relationships. Or, to put it another way: the mystery of people is really the most interesting part of the series.

  4. don

    The first two seasons of Serial is not like S-Town, so there is a good chance you will be disappointed. The first two seasons are more like 20-20 or 48 Hours (the TV show not the movie).

  5. Reid

    Thanks for the response. I was about to ask you how Serial compares to S-Town. I might give one of them a shot, but I’m less enthusiastic now.

    What made you think I wouldn’t like S-Town? (Not to say that it was obvious that I would like this–I don’t think it would be obvious.)

  6. Reid

    Notes on Episode 6 and 7

    (spoilers)

    1. Ep. 6 was sad and poignant. It’s interesting how strictly audio interviews can bring a stronger sense of intimacy. Without the visual, it’s almost as if the listener is crouching closer to the subjects, getting deeper into what they’re saying.

    2. The series makes me think of a good Errol Morris documentary (including some of the music that they use)–one of his film character portrait films. A part of me feels like this is better than anything Morris has done. (To be fair, the series is close to seven hours, so they have a much larger canvas to work with.)

    3. The last episode felt more like an epilogue almost and felt a little disappointing. This is especially true if you’re expecting a good ending of a novel or mainstream movie. In real life, there aren’t neat and/or satisfying endings. With that in mind, the ending was pretty good.

    4. Maybe I missed the answer, but one mystery remains: why did John become so hateful towards his town? Maybe there is a relatively banal answer for this, but I would have liked to have seen this question explored a lot more.

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