Beware of this review. This review is known to leap off the pages of this propaganda-laden newspaper and attack innocent bystanders. Hooded vigilantes may be on the hunt for this review at this very moment, so do not be alarmed when you lose consciousness in an alleyway. If you have consumed some sort of substance with sodium in the last two hours, this whole page may look like blocks of text with pictures here and there. In fact, this page is a beautiful painting of a group of time-travelers from the ‘50s—the 2150s—enjoying a lazy Sunday at the park. Normal operating hours will resume momentarily.
“Welcome to Night Vale” opens with this line: “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” It is a difficult show to describe without sounding insane, so I thought it was best to embrace it.
The first paragraph is an accurate indication of the tone and the type of tales in the series. The series is an audio-only podcast. Podcasts are, in my own words, radio programs distributed digitally on demand. Due to the low costs of producing and distributing podcasts, there are countless podcasts on topics ranging from politics, video games, comics, fashion or just friends talking into a microphone for an hour or so.
The stories are done similarly to a normal news program, but the content of “Welcome to Night Vale” is anything but normal. The news, announcements and advertisements from the desert town somewhere in Southwestern United States are best described as a mix between NPR, “Twin Peaks” (the show, not the restaurant), Stephen King and every conspiracy theory and myth come alive. Night Vale is a town where almost anything happens – as long as “they” want you to know about it. It is a town where dog parks are dangerous and should not be entered, the old lady down the block says that a host of angels helped her with household chores, and the newly opened Night Vale Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area does not have actual water due to the town’s desert location.
A large part of the charm of this show stems from Cecil, the voice behind this radio program from the (thankfully fictional) town of Night Vale. The mundane, almost boring delivery of the surreal, absurd and just plain weird events around town creates an incredible atmosphere. The cleverness of the writing and its delivery make Night Vale a locale you simultaneously want to destroy and experience.
The show is not a show with random, out-of-context pieces stitched crudely together. An overarching storyline starts forming as the series progresses. There are recurring characters and locations. The humor comes from both the surrealism and the callbacks found in later episodes. There is even an interesting dynamic between Cecil and Carlos, a newly arrived scientist who wants to investigate the events in Night Vale. Cecil, from the start, is open with his adoration for Carlos on the radio. Their relationship is one of the few portrayals of a homosexual relationship that does not feel forced or gimmicky—though they cannot escape the word “strange” since everyone turns into dark energy clouds during their first date.
“Welcome to Night Vale” is a unique experience, if nothing else. It may not be everybody’s cup of uranium-grade tea but those who enjoy their visit in Night Vale may not ever want to leave.