For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been catching up on a well loved podcast known as “Welcome to Night Vale.” In a nutshell, it’s Sim City as played by several Masters of Horror. But, what’s so unique about Night Vale? Let’s find out. (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.)
Night Vale is a radio show unlike many I’ve encountered. While the faux-radio broadcast format has been done before, this show has a slightly different take. In a sense, the humor of the show is macabre Onion-esque headlines mixed with conspiracy theories and general paranoia. As a result, we get a very quirky dark and dry comedy. The show consists of a wide variety of reports throughout the town. Claims can be made up or completely real… and most of the time they are. To ease the tension or to cut off the broadcast when something goes horribly wrong, Night Vale Radio jumps to breaks via traffic reports, a word from our sponsor, and of course The Weather. For residents of Night Vale, you can easily see the weather report coming from your radio… But for the rest of us, all we get is a nice song, leaving our imaginations to create our weather forecast for the week ahead. Besides that, format is very “Monster of the Week”, with an episodic format involving a new threat each time. However, in more recent episodes, there have been arching plot lines. We’ve seen some in the beginning, but plot arcs have evolved much later on.
The voice of Night Vale Radio is “Cecil Palmer”, a bitter and cynical talk show host driven by his anxieties and curiosities about his town. His counterpart (and his crush), Carlos the Scientist, is an optimistic scholar who wants to learn all in hopes of educating the world. He presents a new challenge or mystery that has popped up in the town usually each episode, with only a bit of continuity between events. More often than not, events will be intercepted by Night Vale’s “Secret Police” as well as the “Sheriff of Night Vale”. Because of this, none of the events ever happened and we should all stop thinking about it. The X-Files freak in me can’t help but love the constant cover-ups that never existed in the first place. So, why are we even talking about non-existent things in the first place, like so-called “Secret Police”? And it’s not just those characters that drive the show, even the minor characters are consistently entertaining. Mayor Winchell will ensure you nothing is ever wrong with Night Vale… ever. But, that hasn’t stopped teams of scientists lead by a particularly suave and handsome scientist from checking out the town’s weirdness. And for the less scientifically inclined, we have oddball loons like the so-called “Apache Tracker”. But, after his antics were said and done, the town prefers to forget him. For the animal lovers in the audience, Khoshekh
is a fan favorite. This hovering feline floats 4 feet off the Night Vale Radio Men’s bathroom, but still will find a place in your heart. Even though he’s a boy, he can give birth to many more floating kittens, complete with poisonous spines.
And it’s not just the protagonist characters that make the show, the antagonists are fantastic too! The aforementioned and totally not real Secret Police go from being a plot device to an obstacle that Cecil has seemed to manage for the most part. Sometimes, these non-existent police agents can even be beneficial when they want. The Hooded Figures of the Dog Park are a fan favorite too. These mysterious beings watch over the wretched dog park, tormenting visitor and scared onlooker alike! Even after making things go crazy in the studio, they still lurk around to cause mischief. That’s not to say that Night Vale isn’t the only community with problems! Desert Bluffs, a town who can’t do anything right, is a plutocratic society driven by PRODUCTIVITY! Their leaders, Strexcorp Synernists Incorporated, want you work hard and believe in a smiling god! The voice of Desert Bluffs is a cheerful creep and Strexcorp associate named “Kevin”. Don’t trust his pleasant demeanor, anything Desert Bluffs is bad vibes all around.
Now, all of this is indeed hard to take in. This is indeed a weird world ripe with mystery and filled with the unexplained and secret. But, unlike most conspiracy fiction, most of the town is akin to Scully and Mulder. It’s pretty refreshing to see an open mind among civilian characters towards the paranormal, but that is an overall theme in Night Vale. Despite its faults, terrifying political regimes, and dangerous supernatural beings; the town is a quirky and progressive society. And while Night Vale is a terrifying place to visit, it’s a world ready to be discovered and deciphered by the brightest and best of the humble little town. So, if you like quirky adventures, dry dark comedy, old timey radio, and the like; Welcome to Night Vale is a show you can certainly appreciate.