By Sean Ray | a&e editor
Spawned by the creators of the ever-popular “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Alice Isn’t Dead” is a brand new podcast, airing its first episode last Tuesday, about the travels of an unnamed truck driver (Jasika Nicole) searching for her previously presumed dead wife, Alice, who left her for unknown reasons.
The podcast takes the framing device of the driver speaking into her truck’s radio, making a very one-sided conversation with Alice while driving through the heartland of America. Much of this conversation consists of the driver’s philosophical musings and observations, as well as tales of the driver’s encounters with the Thistle Man, a bizarre, inhuman creature that seems to be stalking her.
While it may sound like “Alice” is taking on similar themes of “Night Vale,” with paranormal encounters in a seemingly mundane setting, the podcast handles them in a much different manner than its predecessor. There is no humor in “Alice,” opting instead for straight terror. Many scenes are scary in a real way, with fantastically frightening accompanying music that would fit into any horror movie or TV show.
Furthermore, the supernatural seems to be much less overt in “Alice.” Many of the creepy things encountered by the driver are not explicitly paranormal in nature. Even the teleporting, cannibalistic Thistle Man may only be a figment of the main character’s imagination, given that he does not appear to be noticed by anyone except the driver and the people he directly interacts with.
While this may sound like a reach, the theory is more plausible once one hears the driver speak. It is clear she is not mentally well, often having very sudden changes in her mood, or turning on her radio to say strange sentences that do not seem to mean anything. An example of this occurs in the first episode when the driver switches on the radio to randomly declare her hatred for Alice, with no explanation or follow-up.
The show also uses the fact the driver is speaking on a radio to great effect. She will suddenly cut out of conversation as she tries to swerve through traffic, or lose her train of thought as she tries to follow the correct directions. Moments when she is huddled in her vehicle, scared out of her mind, are made all the more poignant when the listener realizes they cannot hear her engine, meaning she is not fleeing from the problem.
“Alice” is a surprisingly different beast from “Night Vale,” bringing a greater focus on character and a developing story line. It is not made clear why Alice left her wife, why the driver thought her spouse was dead or why the driver decided the best way to search for Alice was by driving trucks cross-country. The relationship between the two women is not even made clear in the first episode itself, their marital status only revealed on the show’s web page. Listeners do not even know the name of their main character.
In fact, it would appear “Alice” is less inspired by “Night Vale,” and more like a bizarre cross between “Serial,” another wildly successful podcast, and the TV show “Twin Peaks,” which also used questionably supernatural events. The show is even broken up into seasons, much like “Serial,” with the first 10 episodes making up the first season.
Meanwhile, “Night Vale” has no seasons, airing episodes twice every month. The seasonal structure may allow for “Alice” to have a more solid plot, as its writers are not under constant pressure to create a whole new episode every two weeks.
It will be interesting to see where “Alice Isn’t Dead” will go with its plot, and even if it will succeed in the long run. Jeffery Craynor and Joseph Fink have created a clear departure from “Night Vale,” and not all of that show’s fans will be able to make the transition to “Alice” and its serious plot lines.
Still, for fans of horror or mystery stories, “Alice” is definitely worth a listen. It is frightening, intriguing and surprisingly deep in the messages it is trying to get across, with hints of spousal abuse and inner evils. New episodes will be released every Tuesday through July 12.