“Welcome to Night Vale” is a Creepy, Insightful Trip
“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”
So begins the delightfully strange pilot episode of the wildly popular “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast.
First released in June of 2012, “Welcome to Night Vale” is a bimonthly podcast set up in the form of a news broadcast from Night Vale Community Radio in the fictional town of Night Vale.
Located somewhere in the southwestern United States, Night Vale is a town where the strange and surreal become facts of every day life, and mountains don’t exist. Lights hover above the local Arby’s, an off-limits dog park is home to mysterious hooded figures, the sheriff’s “Secret Police” are not all that secret, and a five-headed dragon is a serious mayoral candidate in this little town.
Hosted by Cecil Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin), the Night Vale Community Radio program provides insight into the happenings of the town and its residents.
The show is set up in the form of a radio broadcast with news, sports, traffic, community calendar and weather sections, among others.
The weather section is extremely popular due to the fact that the weather is always a song by different musicians every week, and allows lesser-known artists to reach a wide audience. Careful listeners may even notice that, more often than not, the song reflects what happened in the episode in some way.
The podcast also features the occasional advertisement from “sponsors” that listeners will recognize from their daily lives, such as Coca-Cola or Taco Bell
While each episode tends to have its own plot – for example, the second episode, “Glow Cloud,” details the arrival of an ominous glowing cloud in Night Vale and how the town’s residents deal with it – there are some long-term story arcs that play out in multiple episodes. One of these major story arcs has to deal with StrexCorp, the corporation that owns Night Vale’s rival city of Desert Bluffs, and its attempt to influence Night Vale.
The show contains a wide array of secondary characters that appear off and on throughout the series. Some of these include: John Peterson, you know, the farmer: Outgoing Mayor Pamela Winchell: Steve Carlsberg, Cecil’s nemesis and brother-in-law: and the Man in the Tan Jacket. Sometimes, the listeners themselves become the center of the episode’s plot, such as in the immersive episode “A Story About You,” in which Cecil is directly speaking to each listener and not the “listeners” of Night Vale.
“Welcome to Night Vale” also features a wide array of guest actors for some recurring characters, including Dylan Marron as Carlos the Scientist; Jackson Publick as Hiriam McDaniels, a five-headed dragon accused of insurance fraud and candidate for mayor; and Mara Wilson (of “Matilda” fame) as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, another of Night Vale’s mayoral candidates.
The show is full of strange, surreal and sometimes creepy stories and characters. But it’s also extremely insightful at times, both in the way the plots seem to draw connections to our world and in some of the lines spoken by Cecil. One of my personal favorites is Cecil’s sign-off for the fourth episode, “PTA Meeting:”
“Coming up next, stay tuned for our one-hour special, “Morse Code for Trumpet Quintets.” And listeners, Night Vale is an ancient place, full of history and secrets…as we were reminded today. But it is also a place of the present moment, full of life, and of us. If you can hear my voice speaking live, then you know: we are not history yet. We are happening now. How miraculous is that? Goodnight, listeners. Goodnight.”
This is just one example of how seamlessly “Welcome to Night Vale” blends the absurd with truly insightful comments, seeing as this episode had to do with the PTA meeting causing a rift in the space-time continuum, which released prehistoric creatures into the town’s rec center.
The sound quality of the podcast is excellent, and the podcast has better continuity and character development than some TV shows I’ve seen. One of the best things about “Welcome to Night Vale” is that there is very limited, if any, description of the characters. This has allowed fans to visualize the characters however they choose, and the show’s writers and producers, Jeffery Cranor and Joseph Fink, are careful not to spoil that element for fans.
“Welcome to Night Vale” is usually released on the first and fifteenth of each month. The show currently has 55 episodes, with three live shows available for download as well, with another one expected to be released in early 2015. Each episode typically runs around thirty minutes, with the live shows running closer to an hour.
Seeing as Halloween is just around the corner, there’s no better time than now to start listening in. And while you’re at it, check out the official “Welcome to Night Vale” Twitter account for tweets that follow the show’s writing style. They’re often brief, and would fit in perfectly at the end of each show’s credits where the “Today’s Proverb” section is. An example of a Night Vale proverb is: “Does the carpet match the drapes? No, it doesn’t. You’re the worst interior decorator. Please leave my home.”
If you’re a fan of “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” H.P. Lovecraft and the dark wit of Lemony Snicket (or anything bizarre and surreal, for that matter), this podcast is for you. At times creepy, witty, humorous and philosophical, “Welcome to Night Vale” is a show that will both entertain you and make you think.