Barring luddites, hermits, and the faint of heart, virtually everyone in America has at least heard of Serial, the runaway hit podcast in which This American Life alum Sarah Koenig dissects the circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee. The true crime nail-biter follows Koenig as she investigates the murder case, which was closed 15 years ago when Lee’s ex-boyfriend was convicted and sent to prison, where he remains today. If you don’t listen to it yourself, you’re probably just on the brink of giving into the peer pressure from your coworkers to just catch up already, gosh, there aren’t that many episodes, get with the times, man.
As you lay in supplies to fuel your eighth marathon binge-listen of America’s latest obsession, don’t just sweep any grocery shelf into your cart. Like Adnan and moral ambiguity, or Jay and hair dye, some things just go together. To help you channel your fervor into food, we’ve carefully chosen a selection of breakfast cereal — true crime podcasts are anticipated the way Saturday morning cartoons once were (R.I.P.), so we might as well carry the menu over — for each episode, so read on for your definitive guide to Serial cereal pairings.
Episode 1: The Alibi
This episode is our introduction to this season’s story, as well as host Sarah Koenig, so we know we’re going to need something that’ll hook us right away. As we listen to Koenig interrogate various teenagers about their whereabouts, one can’t help but think about the dire consequences that can result from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Was Adnan’s alibi difficult to corroborate because he intentionally made it so? Or was it just bad luck that such a charming young man got caught up in a grisly murder?
Cereal: Lucky Charms.
Episode 2: The Breakup
Ah, young love… followed by the requisite heartbreak, followed by, allegedly, murder. This episode dives into Hae and Adnan’s star-crossed relationship, complete with sneaking around and lying to parents. When Hae broke it off, was Adnan upset enough to commit premeditated murder? Maybe he should have just opened a pint of ice cream and listened to some Fall Out Boy.
Cereal: Ice Cream Cones Cereal
Episode 3: Leakin Park
This episode gets a little crazy. As we listen with bated breath to the circumstances under which Hae’s body was eventually found, it becomes clear that this was never going to be a cut-and-dry case. In honor of the gentleman who uncovered the gruesome crime scene, enjoy a classic cereal without any milk (i.e., naked), which may help the more weak-stomached listeners block out the gory details with the loud crunch of this childhood snack.
Cereal: Cheerios, dry.
Episode 4: Inconsistencies
Things start to get especially murky in this episode as we flesh out Jay’s story — wait, make that stories, plural. He can’t seem to keep his facts straight, but phone records seem to correspond to the key points in his description of the day in question. Then again, if Jay were telling the truth, wouldn’t there be fewer inconsistencies in his testimony?
Cereal: Choose either Cocoa Krispies with regular milk or Rice Krispies with chocolate milk — the results may look similar, but in the end, you must pick a side.
Episode 5: Route Talk
Road trip! Koenig and producer Dana Chivvis attempt to recreate the trip Adnan would have had to have taken between Woodlawn High School and Best Buy in just 21 minutes, as would have been the case if Jay were telling the truth about his and Adnan’s movements during that fateful afternoon. Ominously, Koenig and Chivvis are unable to make it in the required time; a minor quibble, or a major derailment of the prosecution’s case? Let’s just hope the test run wasn’t slowed down by the distraction of a rumbling tummy — remember, kids, always pack a snack.
Cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk and Cereal Bar, for portable snacking in the car. You may be able to see what makes Cinnamon Toast Crunch so delicious, but can you see who’s telling the truth in the search for Hae Min Lee’s killer?
Episode 6: The Case Against Adnan Syed
Episode 6 gets down and dirty with the details — or lack thereof. The actual physical evidence against Adnan is frustratingly ambiguous (big surprise there), consisting of a partial palm-print and a few fingerprints that don’t really imply anything except that he had been in Hae’s car — which he had, many times, over the course of their relationship. Then there’s the suspicious phone call and an unasked-for ally; who can we trust? What evidence might have been lost to poor legal practice?
Cereal: Frosted Flakes. You can trust this cereal, which has already been dusted for prints — with sugar!
Episode 7: The Opposite of the Prosecution
In this episode, Koenig calls in some reinforcements to help guide her through the quagmire the case has become. Deirdre Enright, who successfully defended her client in a case that seems eerily similar to Adnan’s, is enthusiastic about vindicating wrongfully accused defendants. They discuss Don, Hae’s new boyfriend and a potentially overlooked suspect, and consider whether racial prejudice was at play in the trial.
Cereal: Shredded Wheat, to help us digest new information even as past theories crumble to dust before our very eyes.
Episode 8: The Deal with Jay
Ah, finally, an in-depth look at the most puzzling enigma at the center of this case, a man known simply as Jay. Jay is described by friends and classmates as more than just a streetwise drug dealer; he was a unique, self-possessed kid who wasn’t afraid to be different in a neighborhood where most teenagers strove to fit in rather than stand out. Was he telling the truth about helping Adnan cover up the murder? Why would he have gotten involved in the first place if that were the case? If it didn’t happen that way, why would he lie about it? Was he protecting someone?
Cereal: Alpha-Bits. Just keep rearranging the letters with a spoon until something makes sense in your life, for once.
Episode 9: To Be Suspected
In this episode, we get to hear how Adnan really felt during the whole tragic mess, from the first phone call from the police all the way through the trial. It is at this point that the horror of this situation sinks in even further; if Adnan is telling the truth, an innocent man has had his youth stolen from him, and in the wake of the tragic death of a woman he loved, to boot. If he is the murderer, though, he’s managed to hoodwink dozens of family and friends — and now, the millions who are following his story.
Cereal: Trix. Is Adnan a murderer in disguise, lying to the world like the thieving Trix rabbit? Or is he just a kid who got in the way of the real culprit?
***SPOILER ALERT: Episode 10 (air date: 12/4) below***
Episode 10: The Best Defense is a Good Defense
Juries are made up of people, and people bring preconceptions to every decision they make. Were there anti-Muslim biases at work in Adnan’s original trial, and were they intentionally encouraged by the prosecution? Did defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez throw the case, get distracted, or, to be blunt, “blow it”? Those questions, compounded by the “magic information” Gutierrez did manage to get out of Jay, spur even more doubt about the legitimacy of that life-changing trial.
Cereal: Hearty oatmeal. It’s going to be a long ride; you’d better fuel up and settle in, because it’s far from over.
In January, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will decide Adnan’s fate in a second appeal, potentially his last chance at freedom.