So. The next of the Night Vale Presents shows, I thought I'd best give this one a go based on its pedigree. I won't be reviewing Welcome To Night Vale on the site, because I listened to the first fifteen or so a few years back, and have no great desire to re-visit after I eventually got bored. Instead, let's see what they've been up to in the meantime (other than Alice Isn't Dead).
Dane has run away from various responsibilities to hide in Cleveland, in Ohio, and has found something relatively close to honest employment working at the Pepper Heights Zoo, which is mostly famous for its Zebra, Zoe. Unfortunately, Zoe's not the most child-friendly animal, having recently stamped to death a young boy.
This leads us into the overarching plot (I think?) of trying to save Zoe from either being sold off to a less reputable zoo, or being turned into stripy glue. There are a collection of ways the city is trying to collect the money needed to achieve this, including the "Night of a Thousand Zoes" (an equoid themed drag night), door to door cookie selling by creepy (not actually) Girl Scouts, and a telethon.
All of which is set against the backdrop of the blurring between Dane's waking life and his surrealist dreams, meaning he (and the listener) tend to get confused whether any given event is meant to be happening, or just another imagining.
This does not help it to be interesting. Other people's dreams are famously boring, and the rather confusing nature of this show gives it the same problem. Sure, maybe he's running through the streets and dealing with an odd scenario in which everyone is unexpectedly rude, but if that's really only a dream, does it actually matter?
It's a shame, because the production of this is wildly impressive. The voices are strong (Dane especially is an excellent storyteller), there's a frankly brilliant score interwoven with full musical interludes and songs, and you can't slide a knife between the edges of the edits. The "acid trip" song (you'll know it if you get to it), I could listen to as a standalone track (and did, while proofing this). Hell, the most recent episode, the "Holiday Hoopla", is practically a musical, with a delightful number of setpieces. I've got absolutely no idea what relation it's meant to bear to the rest of the series though.
I was also more pleased than I expected to see Dane's BDSM-y relationship with his recent paramour Luke (even if the genders aren't quite my interest, it's nice to see a power dynamic of sorts). But again, these are moments of structure that you have to sift through waves of absurd action to find. It just doesn't hang together in an enticing manner.
I want to like it, I really do. And I might find myself pulling out some of the songs for separate enjoyment, without all of the nonsensical plotting around them. But the podcast itself? I'm leaving it.