The 'Serial' Podcast & 'The Case Against Adnan Syed' Have At Least One Key Difference

by Rebecca Patton
Syed family/HBO

Over the last few years, HBO has released a string of true crime documentaries, from The Jinx and Mommy Dead and Dearest to the more recent Leaving Neverland. Its newest project will build upon Serial, the hit podcast that captivated much of the country in 2014. The first season of the audio show centered around high school student Hae Min Lee, who was murdered in 1999. Although her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison, he has always maintained his innocence. If you listened to Serial and have been keeping up with his case, you might think you have all the information you can possibly have, but if you compare The Case Against Adnan Syed and Serial, there's at least one huge key difference.

Throughout Serial's first season (subsequent Serial seasons have covered other, unrelated cases), host Sarah Koenig vocalized her personal doubts about the case, spoke to many witnesses, and had countless conversations with Syed himself, whom she regularly phoned at the Maryland Correctional Facility. However, Serial Season 1 ultimately came to an inconclusive ending — after all, it had been about 16 years since Lee died, and many subjects' memories were hazy. "Because you, me, the state of Maryland — based on the information we have before us, I don't believe any one of us can say what really happened to Hae," Koenig concluded in Episode 12 of the podcast.

New developments in the case — including new witness Asia McClain and the disputed credibility of evidence relating to cellphone towers, both discussed in Serial — were enough to grant Syed a retrial in 2016. However, after two appeals by the state, the Baltimore Sun reported on Friday that Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled to uphold Syed's conviction, and that he would not receive a retrial after all. "We are devastated by the Court of Appeals' decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed," Syed's lawyer, Justin Brown, told the Sun in a statement. "Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great."

Barring some very last-minute editing, that won't be included in the docuseries, but what new information will? The most obvious difference is that we'll get to see the case laid out in a visual format. Though many of the details will be the same, the ability to put faces to names will add another layer to the story. Furthermore, according to HBO, the series has been in development since 2015 and presents "new discoveries as well as groundbreaking revelations that challenge the state's case." The network further states the show will feature "exclusive access to Syed, the defense team, the Syed family, friends and teachers of both students, and members of City of Baltimore law enforcement."


Syed family friend Rabia Chaudry, who was the one to first introduce Adnan's case to Koenig, will also be in the series. Chaudry is featured prominently in the trailer alongside private investigator Tyler Maroney. Plus, The Case Against will include an interview with McClain, as well as others who testified in the case. And finally, the show will add an animated element. "Hae Min Lee’s richly detailed teenage diary, charting the emotional journey through her last high school years, is brought to life with voiceover, illustration, and animation," the press release details.

So whether or not The Case Against Adnan Syed proves to be any more conclusive than its 2014 predecessor, it certainly promises to be a riveting, four-episode docuseries that fills in the gaps between Serial's 2014 premiere and present day.