A visit to Night Vale

NightVale_2718653bI think it says something about the nature of Welcome to Night Vale that I had no idea how to start out this column. Do I try for witty and meta like the show itself? Do I just pass as it is rapidly gaining a huge fandom? Or do I just write the column, working from a base assumption that some of you are familiar with it, while others might need some background?

Yeah, lets go what that last one.

For the uninitiated, Welcome to Night Vale is a Podcast produced by Commonplace Books, that takes the form of a community radio show from the small town of Night Vale. That seems simple enough.

Okay, but Night Vale is a place operating in its own reality. All conspiracy theories are true, unnatural horrors are commonplace, and everyday mundane truths (like the existence of mountains) are considered mythical.

Imagine Prairie Home Companion as if it was written by Rod Serling and directed by David Lynch.

Welcome to Night Vale is the brain child of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who write all the episodes (although they have had a few guest writers recently). The show’s single regular performer is Cecil Baldwin, with most episodes having only his performance. Guest actors have recently started appearing, but are infrequent. The show’s theme song, as well as all background music, is performed by the band Disparition.

The show in many ways has a very straight forward format. Each episode is 20 to 30 minutes long, and is basically a new broadcast from Night Vale Community Radio. Our news broadcaster Cecil starts the show with a cryptic statement that ends with him saying “Welcome to Night Vale”. After the theme song Cecil begins the show proper. The first story is the major theme of the episode, usually detailing an event occurring in town that will be revisited several times during the episode. There will also be a word from the sponsor, traffic, community calendar (which fans now know usually foreshadows upcoming episodes), and (of course) the Weather (which is a musical performance from an independent artist).  After the Weather is a final report tying up the episode’s main plot, and Cecil’s signature sign off “Good Night Night Vale, Good Night.” This is followed by credits and a proverb read by an unnamed female voice.

The show has several ongoing storylines related through Cecil’s reports. There is the ongoing mystery of the Man in the Tan Leather jacket whom several people have met, but no one can remember any detail about him except the jacket and his deer skin suitcase full of flies. There is also the upcoming election for the position of Mayor of Night Vale. Mayor Miriam Winchelle has decided to not run again, and two candidates have stepped forward to run. The first is Hiram McDaniels (voiced by Venture Brothers creator Jackson Publick), a character first introduced while being sought by the Sheriff’s secret police. Hiram is an 18 foot five-headed dragon, and his crime? Fraud. The other candidate is The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (voiced by former child star Mara Wilson). She is exactly what she sounds like, you never see her, but she is there. She knows all about you, and thinks that this makes her uniquely qualified to be Mayor.

These are just a small sample of the growing story. But one thing the fans have latched onto is the growing romance between Cecil and Carlos, the leader of a team of scientists who have come to study Night Vale.

At no point is there any mention of the sexual orientation of either Cecil or Carlos. It is just presented as a romance between two people just like you would encounter in real life. In fact the relationship is honestly the most normal thing that ever gets any regular mention in the show. With the exception of the episode detailing their first date, it is normally just a subplot mentioned in passing during the episodes, but the fact that it is very normal has become a favorite subject of the fans.

What makes Welcome to Night Vale stand out is the writing. Fink and Cranor have a very distinct sensibility (as bizarre as it may seem), and it means that you never know what to expect from the show. Be it a mysterious glowing mind controlling cloud that becomes head of the Night Vale school board, or invasion of a tiny race of people leaving under the local bowling alley, Night Vale has a unique voice. And it looks to be inspiring a new generation of podcasters to explore the format of audio drama.

So if you have a taste for the strange, and a half hour to spare now and again, check it out.

And try not to think about the Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives in Your Home, unless you intend to vote for her, in which case I’m sure she won’t mind.