Editor’s note: This is one installment in a ten-part March Madness series. These rankings were voted on by The Daily Californian arts & entertainment staff.
As podcasts gain momentum, so does the subgenre of true crime podcasts. The latter was instrumental in the general increase of podcast popularity. The breakout hit of 2014’s, “Serial” received rave reviews from critics and was immensely successful among mainstream audiences. David Carr of the New York Times referred to it as the first of breakout podcast hits. So it’s no surprise that “Serial” made it to the final round of The Daily Californian’s March Madness. It is, however, notable that “My Favorite Murder” ultimately beat it for the top spot.
Starting with 16 different choices of true crime podcasts, it is clear the subgenre has taken off, with various podcasters taking on many different formats and angles to the topic of true crime. For example, “Small Town Murder” hones in on, as its title suggests, one crime per episode in a small town, while “Happy Face” takes on a serialized structure to tell the story of a woman who found out her father was a serial killer.
Before the final round, “Serial” was pitted against “Crime Junkie,” while “My Favorite Murder” was up against “Casefile.” “Crime Junkie” is hosted by self-described crime junkie, Ashley Flowers, who talks about the crime she is currently obsessing over each week. This podcast centers itself on the idea of obsessing over true crime, putting forward a connecting point between podcaster and listener right away. While other true crime podcasts market themselves on telling a story absent of host personality, “Crime Junkie” does the opposite, proving that true crime can be conversational.
“Casefile” is one of those aforementioned crime podcasts that keeps the presence of the host merely as a narrator. Their episodes are driven by a narrative marked by its absorbing nature — one to make you forget the individual telling the story rather than connect with them.
Both routes are effective for the genre and are represented in the finalists, “Serial” and “My Favorite Murder.” “Serial,” while the presence of the host is vital, places the story center stage. Meanwhile, “My Favorite Murder” relies on its hosts’ conversations, driven by their own interests and opinions.
“Serial” takes on one story — a single crime — and exposes all the small details of a complicated situation that could otherwise easily become a shocking headline on a news page. Listeners get to walk through it, alongside the host, inching toward the conclusion at a satisfyingly slow pace.
Meanwhile, through its conversational format, “My Favorite Murder” exposes human interest behind horrid crimes. It is not so much about the crimes itself but rather the people who ardently consume the stories of crimes committed. It’s about reactions to the crime, rather than the actions of the crime.
In the end, the win of “My Favorite Murder” merely emphasizes what drives the overall popularity of the true crime podcast to begin with: the people interested in the story. The one thing that lies behind any structure chosen for the genre is the listener deciding to spend their time immersed in a story of true crime.