Tag Archives: Mara Wilson

Podcast Review: Welcome to Night Vale

9 Jan

NIGHT-VALE-LOGO-620x620Last year I was looking at pictures from Comic-Con, and I noticed quite a few people, usually fetching young women, dressed as Cecil from something called Welcome to Night Vale. They often sported short blonde hair, button-down shirts and ties, and a purple third eye drawn on their foreheads, but sometimes they looked entirely different. Intrigued, I googled “night vale” and found that it was…a podcast? How were people cosplaying a podcast? I shelved that mystery and went on with my life, until a friend mentioned that he loved this weird little show, which had become the most-downloaded podcast on iTunes. I gave it a shot.

I loved it.

I listened to all the available episodes in the span of two days, and then I loved it a little bit less. Which is not to say that it’s isn’t good, only that its flaws have become more apparent over time. We’re past the honeymoon stage and into the part of the relationship where I get annoyed every time the podcast loads the dishwasher wrong or leaves the seat up.

The most accurate description of Welcome to Night Vale I’ve seen is that it’s like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days crossed with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The format is 20-30 minutes of community radio updates, delivered by Cecil (and voiced by Cecil Baldwin), detailing the strange, macabre, and occasionally absurd goings on in a desert community populated by angels, mysterious lights in the sky, sinister hooded figures, and other oddities. Each episode includes a weather report that is actually an indie music break, an episode-long arc of breaking news, and the ongoing saga of Cecil’s infatuation with perfect, beautiful Carlos and his perfect, beautiful hair.

Cecil Baldwin’s voice is lovely, and he switches between chipper newscaster, portentous voice of doom, and squeeing fangirl with ease. His is typically the only voice we hear, although sometimes guest actors make an appearance. The voice of Carlos was, I admit, a disappointment, but I enjoyed Jasika Nicole (Fringe) as Intern Dana and Mara Wilson (child actress turned writer) as The Faceless Old Woman. The sound design is usually great, with spooky effects and hip incidental music, and though the weather report is hit or miss, it has introduced me to some artists I really like.

I don’t recommend binge-listening to this show, as I did. It’s better savored in small, deliciously weird bites. The writers sometimes get heavy handed with the absurdity, and consuming too many episodes in a row only exacerbates the issue. The host segments before and after the program try too hard to match the tongue-in-cheek weirdness of the show; Joseph Fink, the creator of Night Vale, frequently makes announcements of upcoming live shows and pleas for donations, which is fine, but he does it as if he’s part of the Night Vale universe in a way that grates on me for reasons I can’t explain.

There’s a fine line between horror and parody, and the show sometimes trips and falls flat on its face. Night Vale is at its best when it focuses on a character-driven story rather than being weird for the sake of weirdness. It sometimes meanders into beautifully philosophical asides, and other times it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny. Despite its unevenness, I still look forward to new episodes on the 1st and 15th every month, and I’ll be reviewing Fink’s Night Vale novel when it comes out.

(Source: Welcome to Night Vale is a free podcast available on iTunes)

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