'Serial': Everything to Know About Season 3

Courtesy of Serial Productions
'Serial' reporters Emmanuel Dzotsi and Sarah Koenig

The third season of the popular podcast returned Thursday with new episodes exploring the Cleveland criminal court system.

Sarah Koenig's hit podcast Serial is back and on a new case — or more accurately, cases.

The first two episodes of Serial's highly anticipated season three, which follows the ins and outs of Cleveland's criminal court system, dropped Thursday morning. The premiere marks the end of an 18-month hiatus for the podcast, which has been credited with raising awareness about the podcast medium during its first season. The Hollywood Reporter took an early listen for a sneak peek into what's in store for the new installments. 

The Plot

In the first episode, titled "A Bar Fight Walks Into the Justice Center," Koenig's familiar voice introduces listeners to the everyday whir and politics of Cleveland's justice center, before delving into a specific case.

That case follows a young woman charged with assaulting a police officer during a bar fight. In typical Serial fashion, Koenig interviews multiple involved parties — the defendant, the defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney and more — with different perspectives on the situation, while inserting her own opinions. The bar case is the first of many Cleveland legal scuffles Koenig promises to cover over the course of the season.

Why the Cleveland Criminal Court System?

Listeners who have been with Serial since the beginning know that the first season followed Adnan Syed who, in high school, was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed's trial, as evidenced by the podcast, was lengthy and murky.

But, as Koenig states at the top of season three, such a dramatic case is also unusual. In order to get a broader look into America's criminal justice system, Koenig says she wanted to go more common and mundane, which led her to Cleveland.

Changes to the Podcast

New season, new intro. Koenig welcomes listeners to the latest season by adopting the podcast's familiar "one story, told week by week" tagline, with a season-specific twist. "From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it's Serial," Koenig says. "One courthouse, told week by week."

The alteration reflects a switch in the podcast's format. Instead of following a single case over multiple episodes, each entry in season three tackles a new scenario. Additionally, This American Life's Emmanuel Dzotsi joins Koenig as a co-reporter in the new season.

What's Ahead on the Season

Throughout the first episode, Koenig introduces several potential plot threads to be picked up in later installments, the most prominent being an investigation into the racial politics of Cleveland's judicial system, both from within and without.

Koenig also hints at an exploration into the justice system's internal ethics with regard to conflicts of interest between courthouse staff and defendants.

Is It as Addictive as Season One? 

For those who like a faster pace, probably. Each episode is dedicated to telling the full story of a new case, from the climax to the resolution — something listeners had to wait months for during the first season — but that also means that there's less at stake in each case.