By Sandy Grossman
It’s tough for me to recommend “Dreamboy,” the latest podcast from production studio Night Vale Presents. Although they have a stellar track record, one that includes some great fictional content like “Welcome to Nightvale” and “Alice Isn’t Dead,” vouching for a first episode alone is always risky. It’s really impossible to say whether or not the series will stick the landing. I can say for certain, however, that “Dreamboy” is a singular work, one whose pilot certainly deserves some attention even if the subsequent episodes prove unable to hold it.
The series centers on Dane, a New York musician who has decided to take some time off from his struggling career and stay at his friend’s place in Cleveland. He’s tired, he tells us — “like, existentially tired.” He’s also a bit pretentious and, as the show thus far consists entirely of his first-person narration, so is much of “Dreamboy”’s prose. While he never got on my nerves, others may find him excessively twee.
Not too long after arriving in town, Dane gets a job at the local zoo and things take a strange turn. Or rather, things continue to take strange turns. From beginning to end, the half-hour episode is awash in an unnerving atmosphere that serves to effectively defamiliarize its audience with even the most mundane aspects of our main character’s day-to-day existence. Trips to the grocery store or walks to work are described with a surprisingly original, compelling style and underscored by the show’s truly incredible soundtrack. The tunes range from 50s bubblegum pop to foreboding synth soundscapes, a unique mix that fits this unique production. Each piece works in tandem with the sound effects and voice work to breath life into the story being told.
I’ll be disappointed if the series never amounts to anything but a tone piece, as much as I’ve professed my love for its tone. “Welcome to Nightvale” never really managed to grab my attention. While I love the concept of packaging cosmic horror as a series of banal radio dispatches, the way the show prioritised its unsettling mood to the exclusion of all else, particularly in its early episodes, didn’t gel with me. Co-creators Dane Terry and Ellie Heyman clearly took inspiration from “Nightvale” when crafting “Dreamboy”’s aesthetic, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll strike out on their own narrative path going forward. After a first episode as promising as this one, I’m hoping that they do.