Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Full disclaimer: I don’t like podcasts.

I’m a very visual person, and I find without visual stimulation, it’s more difficult for me to pay attention to purely auditory media like podcasts, plus I get the overwhelming urge to multitask while listening, and that doesn’t work because I can’t really pay attention to the podcast and do something else without missing a huge chunk of the information.

I tried writing an academic paper while listening to an audiobook once, it didn’t end well.

Anyways, basically the only reason I decided to listen to this was because tumblr was blowing up about it, and, as you know, I like jumping on bandwagons, so I decided to give it a go.

For the two of you who haven’t heard of this show, Welcome to Night Vale takes place in the fictional desert town of Night Vale. It is a dystopian society where the City Council is godlike and strange phenomena and the occasional visit by eldritch horrors are commonplace. The show takes the format of a radio show hosted by one Cecil, who covers typical “small town” events (PTA meetings, gossip, government notices) and assorted unusual events (which are, again, commonplace) such as government-controlled pestilences, odd screams coming from the post office, and the fact that the Night Vale Public Library has a fatality rate that is much higher than the national average for libraries, all of it delivered in Cecil’s deadpan voice. It’s a delightful mixture of horror and comedy that reminds me of Fallen London if it were set in a small town in the U.S. (both are very obviously influenced by Lovecraft’s work).

Although Cecil’s has, so far, been the only voice on the show, Night Vale is populated by a colourful cast of characters, including Old Woman Josie, whose home serves as a shelter for local angels (which do not exist according to the City Council) and Carlos, a scientist who comes into town to study seismic activity and ends up investigating strange happenings around town (he also has perfect hair and is perfect). Another character of note is the Apache Tracker, a man of Slavic descent who wears a “huge and cartoonishly inaccurate and offensive Native American headdress” who makes the whole town look “ignorant and racist”. He is rightly called out on his racism every time he makes an appearance in a news story, with Cecil constantly referring to him as an asshole.

Oh, yeah, I don’t think I mentioned this before, but in case it isn’t obvious, Cecil is queer and Carlos is obviously meant to be his love interest.

Carlos is also a POC (Cecil mentions that he has “dark” skin and since his name is Carlos, one can reasonably assume that he is probably Latino). I should also note that one of the angels is black, but the City Council doesn’t acknowledge the existence of angels in general.

I should note that although it is pretty significant that the listener sees Night Vale through the eyes of a queer man, Cecil’s sexuality is not the focus of the show (apart from the expected sighing over his love interest) and no one in town really seems to care.

Negative points are minor and reflect my own personal pet peeves. First of all, I should say that this is as much a horror show as it is a comedy, Cecil isn’t too gruesome when it comes to describing some of the phenomena in the town, but some may find the content a little disturbing at times (or, at least, darkly funny). I’ve also found that sometimes Cecil likes to ramble a bit, which is fine as he has a very nice voice, but does get a little annoying at times. I also don’t particularly care for the weather segments, where they play a song by an indie artist (although I recognize that it probably brings in revenue not only for the show, but the artists as well). I do find that the songs tend to go on a bit too long though.

Anyways, all that aside, Welcome to Night Vale is awesome, and if you are at all interested in horror/comedy mashups or small town living juxtaposed with Lovecraftian horror with a queer narrator/main character, give it a listen. Even if you don’t like podcasts.

You can give it a listen here:

New episodes are on the 1st and 15th of every month.


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