It's no secret that the world has always loved a good true crime story, but we learned just how much we all love a good whodunnit in 2014, when Sarah Koenig's podcast, Serial, went viral. The podcast focused on the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee and the postulated wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed. Now, nearly four years later, HBO has taken a swing at giving Adnan's story a visual component with The Case Against Adnan Syed, which digs even deeper into the story that caught the world's brief but impassioned attention.
If you were a fan of the original podcast, you may know that Syed sought a retrial (based on ineffective assistance of counsel), which he was originally granted, but that decision was later overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals on March 8, 2019. After years of constant push and pull over whether Syed will get another day in court, it's beginning to look a lot like he may never get the retrial he's seeking. According to The Case Against Adnan Syed's director Amy Berg, that is a reality she was very aware of when she began creating the docuseries.
"The word on the street is that there won't ever be another trial because there really, at this point 20 years later, I don't know what kind of case could be built because the evidence is just not sufficient at this point," Berg told TV Guide at the Television Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year. "So I would have to say that maybe this series is the trial that he will never get. ... There was a PCR hearing which Adnan — his team — won, and the state has appealed that win [...], so he's had two courts now that have said that the state did not adequately prove that the crime was done the way that they said it was done ... but he still is in prison."
Given that this is a self-proclaimed retrial (in the court of public opinion at least), it's easier to understand how that mentality affected the way The Case Against Adnan Syed told the story of Hae Min Lee's murder. To a certain degree, the series does attempt to poke holes in evidence against Syed under the supposition that he is innocent of the crime he's been convicted of.
"I always remained open that if I found out anything about Adnan and his involvement in the case, I would not shy away from that because obviously I wanted to find the truth," Berg said. "But if you're looking at the case, and there are problems with the case, then you sort of have a certain slant on it because it seems kind of like our justice system is supposed to work in a certain way and it didn't really work in this case. Even the people who think that he did it have problems with the way the state presented their case. ... Let's say that it didn't happen the way the state said it happened after school, 2:35 p.m. on January 13. Then there are so many possibilities as to what could have happened to her that day, and it just kind of opens it up in a way that everything needs to connect to make it work out. And it doesn't. It actually doesn't connect."
Making a case in favor of Adnan's innocence is one thing, but everyone who's ever watched or read or heard a true crime story knows that, at the end of the day, we're all after one thing: to find the real killer. Now, in Adnan's case, not only is that probably not remotely possible, it's not even likely that we'll get the emotional payoff of seeing him freed.
"It raises the bar, for sure, because you definitely don't want to just retread everything that's already out there," Berg said. "So I wanted to try to stay away from Reddit and try to tell my own story but also be mindful of the important events that people want to know about."
For what it's worth, Berg promised that the fourth and final episode of the docuseries is where a lot of the story she set out to tell comes together with some evidence she says will "blow your mind." While that evidence won't #FreeAdnan, it may at least change a few hearts and minds.
The final installment of The Case Against Adnan Syed airs Sunday, March 31 at 9/8c on HBO.