Though one of the defining characteristics of “The Golden Age” of television is that standout serialized storytelling no longer belongs exclusively to cable providers, it’s hard to argue that HBO hasn’t maintained its status at the top of the class. With a reputation forged on the critical acclaim of David Simon’s The Wire, hardened through six seasons of The Sopranos, and now emboldened by the most successful fantasy adaption since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, HBO has gone from strength to strength.
Recent acquisitions to network’s programming imply they have a vested interest in not just providing the shows that people want to see, but creating shows that people will go out of their way to follow. There was little surprise when rumors surfaced suggesting the company was even considering an adaption of popular podcast Serial — but after the company found themselves at the epicenter of their true crime phenomenon with The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, talk of an adaption seems to have died down. It’s hard not to wonder if Serial’s potential for adaptation has just been jinxed.
A riveting exercise in suspense, The Jinx is a six-part documentary series directed by Andrew Jarecki that examines the sprawling narrative surrounding billionaire and murder suspect Robert Durst. It’s a series that throws the police narrative and Durst’s side-by-side and actively asks the audience to scrutinize his version of events. Like Serial, it’s structured episodically and deconstructs both the crimes of which Durst is accused and the realities of the justice system which will decide his fate. However, unlike Serial, The Jinx ultimately reaches a powerful — albeit unexpected — conclusion that leaves viewers with a sense of closure that it’s impossible not to describe as jaw-dropping.
The final unscripted moments of The Jinx haven’t just gone above and beyond the aims of Serial’s investigation; they’ve also unleashed a pandora’s box of questions surrounding the rumored-adaption of the Serial podcast.
The first season of Serial opened with a warning by Sarah Koenig that her investigation may ultimately amount to nothing, and that her search for answers or justice might be one that ends with disappointment rather than catharsis. In spite of this disclaimer, many fans felt cheated and let down when the season concluded on a more open-ended note. I doubt those feelings have softened in the wake of The Jinx’s demonstration that true crime and resolution don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Others, including Warner Bros and TriStar, are rumored to be in the mix when it comes to producing a Serial adaption, although the approach to such a project is still entirely unclear. Would an adaption of Serial re-create the arrest of Adnan or dramatize Koenig’s own investigation into the case? Would it be a documentary in the style of The Jinx? Could it manifest as a fictional drama about a podcast-based crime investigation unit? If you treat the original podcast as an audio-documentary, is there even any new ground left to cover?
There are so many unknowns when it comes to the Serial adaption, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario where it ends on a note that overshadows The Jinx. The biggest advantage that The Jinx has over Serial is that it was able to tackle its biggest suspect, Robert Durst, head-on. Serial has to go through its entire first season before interviews and first-hand accounts of events surrounding its person-of-interest, Jay, even emerge. Serial’s next outing, visual or otherwise, may need to move on from delineating innocence from guilt and delve further into the rich ambiguity that exists in between.