Twice-monthly radio host Cecil gives community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, the place ‘where every conspiracy theory is true’. It is an anthology comedic horror series (the kind that has monsters and paranormal activity, but is not scary). Each episode has the same format: the radio host welcomes his listeners with a troubling intro and then reports on a strange event (the main part), interspersed with recurring radio segments like traffic or the children’s fun fact science corner (side dishes). When the story is at its peak, it is time for ‘the weather’ (a music number), after which the issue is resolved and Cecil tells how they narrowly escaped whatever was happening. Good night, Night Vale. Good night.
As I think for many people, Welcome to Night Vale is the podcast that brought me into podcasts. In fact, it was Lotte who recommended it to me, repeatedly. Until finally I listened to the pilot episode on YouTube (first time podcast listener right there). After 5 minutes, I was sold. The way this podcast makes the absurd and the unsettling mundane is wonderful. I’ll give one example from the pilot (paraphrased):
‘The city council announces the opening of a new dog park. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park. Do NOT approach them. Do NOT approach the dog park. Do not look at the dog park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you.’
I stepped in, I think, during the second year of this show, maybe even a little bit earlier. Since then, I have dutifully listened to every episode. I went to two live shows and follow/have followed much of the other work of creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. I think you might call me a fan.
Yet, the charm of Welcome to Night Vale has worn off a little bit for me. I do still ‘like’ the episodes, but I rarely ‘love’ them. I find myself melancholically looking back at the first seasons, when the world felt fresh, the humor unexpected and the characters new and exciting and strange.
The podcast started with stand-alone episodes, but as the podcast grew, the world developed and an overarching story was woven through the episodes. I loved that! Unfortunately, at some point the creators chose to go to an anthology format. Although I understand the choice – I think it makes sense for the format, the popularity (it is easier to just start listening with the latest episode), and I can imagine it makes it easier for the creators to do other things while still making Night Vale ‘in between’ – but for me, the overarching story deepened the show considerably.
Nevertheless, every two weeks Night Vale keeps entertaining me with its strange stories and beautiful cast of characters. And as long as the episodes keep coming, I will listen.
Favourite episode: ‘A Story About You’.
Shout out to: John Peters (you know, the farmer?), the man that is not short and the man that is not tall, (doppelgänger) Dana, Hiram McDaniels the five-headed dragon, the angels called Erica and The House That Doesn’t Exist. It seems like it exists, like, it’s just right there when you look at it, and it’s between two other identical houses, so it would make more sense for it to be there than not. But it does not exist.
I started listening to Welcome to Night Vale when it was big on Tumblr. Yeah.
I was part of the WTNV fandom back when it was at its peak. I went to their first international Live Show, though I must admit that by the time they returned for a second tour, I had fallen somewhat out of my listening habit.
I haven’t listened to any of the more recent episodes, but that really doesn’t matter for this review. If your question is “should I listen to Welcome to Night Vale” the answer is an unequivocal “yes”.
Writing this, I feel tempted to go back and relisten to the show, as I’m finding myself at a loss for words to describe how great WTNV is. I won’t do that, because I know that if I start one episode, I’ll just want to keep listening. This show is deeply atmospheric and weird, with narration by Cecil Baldwin that is perfect for the calm yet weird tone of the podcast.
The most important thing to remember when starting this show is to start at the first episode. In each episode, you learn a little more about Night Vale and its inhabitants. Sometimes it makes sense in a weird way, and other times things will come completely out of the left field.
If somehow you haven’t listened to Welcome to Night Vale yet, and you’re looking for a new show to dive into, give the first episode a listen. I promise you will not be disappointed.