Welcome to Night Vale: a review

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When people first mention Welcome to Night Vale shows such as Eerie Indiana or X-files are often thrown around as a basis for newbies to understand what they are letting themselves in for. Now this isn’t a completely strange comparison but it doesn’t quite do the show justice, as it feels more like somebodies turned them up to eleven, gotten completely smashed and tried to read them back to you. You see’ Night Vale’ has supernatural threats and conspiracies like others have bake sales and car jackings. Regularly Night Vale will have such experiences so far past the point of understanding that Fox Mulder would be forced to hide under the covers and weep gently to himself, in fact often the only sane response is to “say nothing and drink to forget” a motto for the show both inside and out.

In fact so strange are the events that will happen to the residents of the small desert town, somewhere in North America, that they take on a very dark humorous tint that sometimes melts away to reveal a terrifying core. All of this is brought to us by the local radio station and their tireless presenter Cecil. The show goes out to the Night Vale area and we are able to snatch a part of that via the magic of podcasts which run on average between twenty and thirty minutes each with only a break for the “weather”. This should perhaps be explained as it is, even for a show regularly dealing with planes materializing inside gymnasiums and dinosaur attacks, downright bizarre and to the best of my knowledge neither broached on the show or outside it the weather is in fact a single music track chosen each week from small indie bands who are able to send their potential tracks in for selection. As I said, why this is, is a mystery though perhaps the least troubling you will come across.

The show typically only stars one man; called Cecil, playing a man called Cecil who will read off listener mail, public notices and play out ads interspersed through the show in a weird metafictional quality that anyone who listens to a number of podcasts will enjoy. This is at its best when they touch upon subjects like audible, a site that shows up on an apparent increasing number of free podcasts available online as backing for said shows. In true Night Vale style however it is taken to a dark place with the idea that you can claim a free audio book by smearing your screen with baby’s blood but often until this point you often wont realise that this is just another part of the show. Of course I should perhaps note that while the show leans on said fourth wall I cannot recall it even breaking through, making it perhaps all the more humorous and morbid.

The episodes lean toward the self-contained format with monsters, entities and such stuff typically only affecting that week’s show, such as the horror of street cleaning day, before being wrapped up and forgotten about. However as the show has progressed more and more characters have returned and beings such as the strange glow cloud has gone from drifting over the town dumping dead animals bodies to joining the P.T.A to running the school board. Despite the absurdity of all this you do actually become somewhat invested in the town and its characters such as Cecils creepy infatuation with resident scientist Carlos and his “perfect hair” and “teeth like military headstones”. This flowery prose only adds not only to the shows character but to Cecil’s as well and helps us to like him when he is so far removed from us in terms of personal realities such as when he is creepily fawning over Carlos taking everything as a return of his love, whilst the scientist is trying desperately to get the message out that there is something wrong with time itself, or when Cecil is calling for a lynch mob to form and drive out of town the man who dared to not only touch but cut Carlos’ hair.

Perhaps one of the best comparisons for Welcome to Night Vale would actually by ‘The Adams Family’ as the residents accept the two headed football players and merely moan when someone would suggest it as against the rules laid out by the NFL or when people like Cecil take delight in the spontaneous combustion and disintegration of someone into a fine white powder as part of a piece of poetry. This also goes for the town around him as well, such as many peoples reluctance to believe in evolution or mountains, though the proof for the second has now reached the point where many will at least admit that there is indeed one mountain and yet many are quick to jump aboard the idea of an underground society ready to attack for apparently looking at them wrong.

The dead pan nature of the show makes it hard to read sometimes such as Cecil’s unnatural attraction to Carols which leaves us wondering if this is something on the part of Cecil, if Carlos is some weird horror twisting the town around him or if the town just sometimes really gets behind new arrivals in an overly enthusiastic way. But this is all part of the shows charm.

I don’t think it will be for everyone but I recommend most of you to give it a try. There isn’t really any limit to jumping on points due to its aforementioned slef contained nature, nor a point where the show “grows the beard” and so I suggest you simply start at the beginning. If your sense of humour or curiosity does not compel you to download the next one straight after then never mind and let it never more cloud your mind. But for everyone else, welcome to a new obsession.

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is available for free on itunes

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