The last few weeks I’ve been listening to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, knowing very little about it other than what I could conceivably guess based on the title. As it turns out, even there I was mostly wrong. I assumed it was a story about a dark fantasy place, which I was correct about, but I also expected a continuous story along the lines of a typical web comic such as Homestuck. (I have not read Homestuck, but am more or less familiar with the premis.) Instead, Welcome to Night Vale is written in episodes with the intent that one can simply jump in and listen with no context required. So, what is it? Well, it’s a Lovecraftian comedy—a radio news broadcast from the fictional town of Night Vale.
Before I jump in, though, I have one thing I need to say: It should be Nightvale, damnit. One word! I have no logical argument to back that up, it just looks more aesthetically pleasing like that! (Also, it’s annoying to have to write Night Vale, because it’s more work, and I am as a matter of course opinionated against the reason it is more work to write.)
Because my job allows me to listen to podcasts all day, I get through audio content very quickly, so even upon learning I could start wherever, I of course began with Episode 1, and have just finished (with episode 130) today). To summarize, the podcast most frequently takes the form of a (bi)weekly news broadcast in the town of Night Vale. The news is often related to creepy things, such as SCP objects or Lovecraftian horrors. I would liken Night Vale to a “modern day Innsmouth”. The radio host, Cecil Palmer, never really acknowledges the dangerous horrors this town seems to have a very long and deep history with, and thus the combination of the eldritch combined with a lack of logical concern creates a humorous show.
Overall, it’s pretty solid. I’ll admit the punchlines are rarely amazing. I probably laughed out loud about once every 10 hours of content. Not bad, I suppose, given that I’m alone and at work during that time. Nonetheless, the humor is consistently amusing. I’ll say that one thing the podcast does very well is remain consistent with the information it gives you, even if it’s all over the place. A small factoid about a minor character will suddenly become important three years (real time) later, and you’ll find out that it was actually because of X all along! It seems clever, but really I would bet that it’s importance was decided later. It’s done flawlessly, though, and it surprises me how much of a “knowable” ecosystem Night Vale eventually becomes after a time. It transitions from random factoids about a place you’ve never heard of to characters and people with rich histories interacting based on events that did or did not happen long ago in the podcast. And even if you didn’t see that episode, it doesn’t matter because it’ll explain that history when it becomes relevant.
Of course, the podcast isn’t without fault. In my opinion, it has three. The first is that there are characters and events I actively dislike, so whenever they’re given stage time I get frustrated. (I’m also not a fan of it whe it leans more towards radio play, where other actors are involved. I prefer the episodes of just radio broadcast and host. No guests, no phone calls, no live investigations. In fact, the character I liked the least becomes mayor of the city at some point! That was pretty disheartening.
The second major downfall is that by nature of what this podcast is, the punchlines can get pretty predictable. Even if you don’t know what the exact joke will be, you start to be able to sniff the setup a mile away, which does sort of kill the fun of the experience.
Lastly, for every 25 minute episode, there is probably 6 minutes I skip. The first 2 or so are self-promotion/sponsors, the middle chunk is a 3 minute song that is, almost always, terrible. and the last minute is more self-promotion. It’s annoying because the easiest way for me to skip on Castbox is by 30 second chunks, and I listen on 1.4x speed, so when I was listening to the podcast, I would literally have to pull out my phone every 10ish minutes to press “Skip ahead 30s” a bunch of times. I can’t imagine other people would have major issue with this in particular, but in my specific circumstance, it was quite annoying. Nothing like the hour long podcasts I’m used to that have a single 30 second ad in the middle or at the end.
What I will say, though, is that as time goes on the episodes become two or three-parters, so you eventually get stories that take an hour of content to see the completion of. I do like that, because it gives me something to attach to and it gives the sense that bigger things are afoot.