I didn’t like S-Town. There, I said it. Let me start off by saying that I really wanted to like S-Town. I was utterly fascinated with the masterpiece Sarah Koenig created when it came to Serial, the trial of Adnan Syed, and the murder of Hae Min Lee. I’ve also always been a fan of This American Life. So when S-Town was released, and it was the only thing people were talking about, I figured it had to be great. Oh how I wish they were right…
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
It turns out, S-Town isn’t about a murder or true crime at all. Instead, it’s about the life of John B. McLemore, a brilliant, reclusive, and eccentric 49 year old man, cursed with crippling depression, stuck in a small town of Alabama. Or, rather, ‘Shit-Town, Alabama’ as John B. describes the town he’s lived in his entire life, with his mother.
John B. gets in touch with Brian Reed (a producer of This American Life) under the false allegations over a murder that occurred in John’s hometown. By the second (or third?) episode, it becomes clear that said murder never actually happened. John B. simply wanted to connect with Reed. Despite this trickery, Reed still continues to keep in touch with John B., learning more and more about his life — he really is an interesting man!
John B. commits suicide, and Reed begins to dig deep at some ‘secrets’ and ‘mysteries’ John B. left behind. For the next four (or five?) episodes, we listen to people bicker over John’s property and assets. A potential treasure hunt. We learn about John’s best friend / father-like relationship with a twenty-six year old with three children from three mothers. We learn how John B. built his wealth and fortune, why he became a tatted up shut-in with pierced nipples who cares for over twenty stray dogs. And that is it!
WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT
I strongly believe this could have been turned into a two part series on This American Life, at best, rather than it’s over seven / eight hour series. So much of this series could have been filtered out, and just felt like drivel. For starters, I didn’t find it enjoyable in the least to listen to two parties argue and bicker over a dead mans property or possessions.
John B. was definitely an interesting character, and I’m not saying his life wasn’t worth being talked about, but droning on and on for 7 chapters? At first, it was interesting. It was! I’ll give it that, albeit a little cooky, and then when the ‘twist’ that was revealed (that being John’s suicide), I was annoyed.
It also felt deeply personal to listen about a dead mans challenges with his sexuality, manic-depression, and very private dating life. It spun off in so many different directions, that at many points I wasn’t quite sure where Reed was trying to take us. And I still don’t, to be honest.
WHAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN
Reed was a very empathetic journalist, I’ll give him that. I think Reed had a wonderful gift, that being, he’s able to connect with the people he interviews — they open up to him, which is beautiful. I definitely appreciate all of Reed’s hard work this story took, several years in the making. But I didn’t think there was much of story to be told.
I believe this story could have been told, and spun, a bit differently. Rather than start off with how he got to know John (misleading us with a murder), and then ‘shocking us’ with a twist (John B. just committed suicide), and then driveling on about John’s life, relationships, sexuality, money, career, hobbies, etc., it could have been sold as the following —
‘Hey guys, here’s a seven part series about John. B McLemore’s life. Sadly, he chose to end his life at the age of 49 due to a severe case of manic-depression. I personally got to know John B. over the last few years of his life, and here is why he is one of the most interesting and fascinating men I know…’
By chapter 5 I was pretty underwhelmed with the entire thing. But I decided to push through. I wish I could un-listen to it. Maybe I’m alone here, and missed something, but I just couldn’t get into it. I tried really hard, I did. Am I alone here? Did you love it?