Feb 26, 2014

[Podcasts] Welcome to Night Vale

I've never really gotten into the whole podcast thing - I guess it stems from (1) not owning any iDevices, (2) never really getting into portable MP3 players, and (3) not knowing how to drive. And while I could totally listen to a podcast during my regular commute to and from work every day, I feel that would distract me too much potential pickpockets and other petty thieves that are rather common in public transportation in Metro Manila.

But I've been hearing various discussions referencing Welcome to Night Vale more than a few times over the years and a recent PBS Idea Channel episode about the show really got me curious enough to give it a go. And I have to admit, this is now officially my first ever podcast that I'm actually committed to - apart from my own weird attempts at podcasting some years ago.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor as voiced by Cecil Baldwin, who portrays the host of a community radio program. Night Vale itself is a fictional desert town where a number of strange things seem to take place pretty much all the time.

Every 20+ minute episode is presented as a regular radio program broadcasting from the small desert town of Night Town. In that regard, the focus on the broadcast seems pretty mundane on the surface - community calendar updates, press releases from the city council and "weather reports" (which are actually individual songs from a different independent artist every episode) make up the broadcasts on a bi-weekly basis. The announcer, also named Cecil, reports the news of note around Night vale in a pretty consistent, calm tone for the most part. Thus on the surface this could be a horribly boring program.

But it is Night Vale itself that is fascinating and almost disturbing at times. With each new episode, we get a glimpse of other aspects of Night Vale life and the strange occurrences there. One example involves the hooded figures that seem to gather at the dog park - but remember that you should never, ever go to the dog park. Don't even think about it. Or there was the day that the glow cloud came to town and just floated all over the place while looking for a place to settle down and raise offspring. ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD.

It's strange to me that the podcast is positioned as a comedy, since it's not exactly the laugh-out-loud kind of funny, but perhaps more the "well that's rather unusual" kind of humor. Cecil seems almost emotionally detached from almost most events in the town no matter how many interns are sent to their deaths trying to get a statement or something.

Comedy or not, the podcast's narrative that slowly builds a greater and greater mental image of the town of Night Vale is the biggest draw of the show. It's like every single possible episode of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits has somehow become real within Night Vale, but everyone just does their best to get by. I mean come on, a bunch of folks die when a passenger airplane is temporarily transported to pass through a school basketball practice and Cecil's only concern is whether or not this will delay them further? Cecil himself fears the station management and does not even have an idea of what they look like!

All this ties into the central mythos of the show, and elements introduced in each episode have a chance of returning at a later date as things develop further. And this gradual world-building is pretty fascinating - especially since it largely relies on your imagination in giving Cecil's words visual correlations, even if only in our minds. And in this sense the show is amazingly clever and more than worth listening to.

I don't even know if I can rate this program. I guess you're either going to love it or not get it and give up. It's that sort of weirdness that resonates with a good segment of the population but totally doesn't do it for the rest of the population. So if you've gotten this far in the review and still feel curious about the program, then there's a good chance you're going to enjoy it as well.

A seriously, stop thinking about the dog park.
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