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Serial Productions

S-Town is a podcast hosted by Brian Reed from Serial Productions, a New York Times company. The story follows a man named John who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks Brian to investigate the son of a wealthy family who's allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But when someone else ends up dead, the search for the truth leads to a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man's life. read less

Our Editor's Take

S-Town is a captivating seven-episode podcast. It brings listeners on an investigative journey through rural Alabama. This podcast is one of the most popular ones of all time. It has had close to 80 million downloads since its 2017 debut.

Brian Reed, the show's host and creator, also helps produce This American Life. The S-Town podcast started thanks to a letter. John B. McLemore was a horologist (clock restorer) who lived in Woodstock, Alabama. He wrote the public radio show to get them to investigate a local murder. He claimed that the murder involved the son of a rich family, and they were able to hide it. As McLemore put it, he said "we have a genu-wine murder" in the town. Reed decided to find out what was going on. This is the result.

The S-Town podcast name came from a profane epithet McLemore had for the town. The show seems at first like it is going to be a true crime podcast similar to Serial, another This American Life production. But as Reed discovers after showing up in Alabama, there was no murder. But the host keeps on poking around the town to see what is going on. Reed also compares McLemore to Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird in being a bizarre character. Meanwhile, McLemore kills himself in 2015 via cyanide. The podcast changes from a murder mystery to an examination of the life and death of an eccentric man.

S-Town has themes such as mental health issues like depression and suicide. It also talks about McLemore's problems as a gay man in the rural South. Other complex topics like poverty and social inequality get discussed. The show wonders if mercury poisoning from the antique clocks McLemore worked on may have been a problem. The show also explores the human relationships woven around these subjects. It makes it all the more compelling.

Reed does an excellent job narrating each episode. Listeners looking for something thought-provoking yet entertaining may enjoy this podcast. Fans of S-Town may also like The Trojan Horse Affair, Reed's other podcast.

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