Review: Welcome to Night Vale

(Originally posted September 1, 2018)

Genre: Radio Broadcast, Weird, Supernatural, Paranormal
Possible Triggers: None
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: Suitable for all audiences

Welcome… to Night Vale.

General: Welcome to Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, is a staple in the podcast story-telling community. It’s a radio broadcast from a small, strange town somewhere in the deserts of America, hosted by Cecil Gerswhin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin) and featuring reports of the daily goings on around town. Normal enough… except these events include an airplane mysteriously appearing in Night Vale High School’s gymnasium during basketball practice, a small town under Lane Five at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, otherworldly lights that appear in the sky above the Arby’s sign…

Perhaps Night Vale isn’t so normal after all.

Don’t you dare tell the residents that, however. As far as they’re all concerned, this is life. No one bats an eye when they see a surveillance van from the Vague, Yet Menacing Government Agency sitting outside their house, or when a mysterious underground subway appears and disappears within the time it takes an episode to start and end. Shape shifting teenager? Oh, that’s just Diane’s boy, Josh. He’s trying to figure things out. It’s street cleaning day? Good god run for your lives, hide, get out of sight, never mind, it’s too late for you.

We see the mysterious town through the eyes of Cecil, who prides himself on being a professional journalist, although his bias is implicit in almost every report – especially if that report includes Carlos the Scientist (voiced by Cranor until the show started going live, at which time they brought in Dylan Marron, explaining the voice difference as a “vocal chord change”), a newcomer to the town and the only one who ever seems to question the oddities surrounding Night Vale. To say Cecil is attracted to him would be an understatement. Carlos’ introduction comes with a speech about his voice (like caramel with oaky tones), his skin (dark and delicate) and his hair (black with a “dignified, if premature, touch of gray at his temples”).

(It’s possible Cecil has a slight crush on Carlos.)

Welcome to Night Vale draws on the traditional aspects of the supernatural/paranormal drama, while adding its own, surreal twist to the matter – no one truly questions anything. There’s a Faceless Old Woman (voice by Mara Wilson) who secretly lives in all your homes, a five-headed dragon named Hiram McDaniels (voiced by Jackson Publick) who somehow passes for Totally Ordinary Human Man Frank Chen, The City Council who speaks in one voice and bails at the first sign of danger – oh, and Station Management. But don’t talk too much about them. They don’t like to be talked about.

While there are overarching arcs throughout seasons, episodes are mostly self-contained, with the standard “there’s a problem, the problem is worse, fix the problem” – although the fix is never explained, as it always happen during the weather (a musical segment from various independent musicians). The time between the climax of the problem and the fix of the problem is varying – while the weather last for three-five minutes, there are some cases where we’ll return to Cecil and he’ll claim two weeks have passed. How is that possible? It’s Night Vale, question nothing.

The show paints a fantastical picture of a small town that is other-worldly yet familiar at the same time. It’s just a normal town with normal town things – a library (but don’t go in there or the librarians will get you), a newspaper (which is going under thanks to bloggers, if editor Leann Hart is to be believed), and of course its beloved radio show (which has an alarming intern mortality rate). Think Twin Peaks or Gravity Falls, but in radio broadcast podcast form.

The story – whether it’s the overall story or the twenty-minute self-contained problem of the week story – is always a fun mystery, and even when the problem is supposedly resolved and the episode ends, it leaves you wanting more. The on-going story-line, meanwhile, has a way of sneaking up on you, then hitting hard.

The writing is fun, zany, creepy, and spine-tingling all at the same time. The way Cecil goes from dark to cheery in the space of a breath leaves you reeling, and his absolutely bewildering, nonsensical lines are as amusing as they are head-turning. Some absolute classics include:

  • “I like my coffee like I like my nights: dark, endless, and impossible to sleep through.”

  • “Kill it with kindness, and if that doesn’t work, kill it with sharp sticks and knives.”

  • “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.”

  • “Confused? At a loss for what to do? Wow, sounds like you’re human. Good Luck.”

Sometimes they’re wise, sometimes they’re meaningless, sometimes they end very from where they begin. There’s really no better way to describe Night Vale.

The characters are well-written and well-voiced, the relationships are wonderful, and getting to watch the characters grow and evolve throughout the series is a joy. The show has grown beyond podcast episodes, having published two original books (both narrated by Cecil Baldwin, of course), focusing on other characters of the strange town who don’t get as much attention in the podcast itself. They’re an enjoyable read, but I recommend listening to them if you want the full Night Vale experience.

Their live shows are also a blast. I was lucky enough to attend their show “All Hail” July 2017, complete with live music for the weather. The show focused on the enigmatic Glow Cloud (by the way there’s a glow could that drops dead animals when it’s angry and is head of the school board), and revealed some deep secrets about the mysterious glowing entity. The live shows are available on their website, and don’t contain any particular spoilers for the show itself. They’re worth dishing out the money for.

Beginner Friendly?: Yes.

LGBTQIA Friendly?: Absolutely

Pay to Listen?: No, but they accept donations and you get stuff for donating.

Length: 15-30 minutes

Overall: WTNV is, in so many ways, a breakthrough podcast. While not exactly the first of its kind, it brought something new and different to the podcasting world. The creators of have gone on to create several different podcasts, which have been successful, of course, but going back to Welcome to Night Vale and their roots is always a joy. Who doesn’t want to see where the magic began?

Rating: 5/5