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Arts in Review

Adventures in afro surrealist sci-fi noir satire

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I’ve never actually listened to Welcome to Night Vale. At least, not intently. An episode or two may have made their way into my ears the way most podcasts do, by chance or recommendation, and while I always found its main premise enticing, it’s eluded me thus far. By any rate, I became better acquainted with the work of Welcome to Night Vale creator Joseph Fink after listening to Alice Isn’t Dead, a serialized horror/confessional/Americana podcast written by Fink and distributed on the Night Vale Presents podcast network. Also distributed on this same network, Adventures in New America.

The first episode of Adventures in New America was made available on all major streaming platforms on September 28. At the time of writing, two more episodes have been added and are available to stream.

Written by Tristan Cowen and Stephen Winter, the recently-debuted series presents itself as “A podcast for new Americans in a new and desperate time.” Please, for the love of God, do not let this tagline convince you that the podcast is focused on the kind of political dualism that’s pervaded our daily lives lately. Adventures In New America instead opts to shine light on the larger circumstances of our everyday realities by pitting them against the absurdist background of a society (possibly?) overrun by vampires, and inhabited by a cast of misfits with goals and schemes as off-the-wall as the disjointed narrative structure that the podcast employs.

Taking a page from its surrealist Welcome to Night Vale’s roots, Adventures in New America ties its story together through a central narrative focusing on I.A. (voiced by Winter) a middle-aged man who’s recently received some pretty bad news, and Simon Carr (Paige Gilbert), a thief with an unfortunate streak of good luck. Both Simon and I.A. explore their own relationships throughout the series. (Notably Simon, whose same-sex relationship with an old girlfriend, Serena, is a turning point in the second episode.)

More than taking listeners through the entertaining absurdity of life in a sometimes-apocalyptic, sometimes-mundane future landscape, the story slowly introduces the existence of vampires into its narrative. Out on the fringes, these creatures none of whom we’ve really gotten to meet other than marginally appear as, perhaps, vampires are at their core: as others.

Despite a cast filled with both actors and characters pinned to the corner of society by their struggle through otherness (be it I.A.’s lawlessness and disease, Simon and her love interest Serena’s race and sexuality, or the all-too shadowy monsters lurking in the corners), Adventures in New America never lands with pretension, instead running through some of the most mundane parts of life with abandon, and taking notes on its aesthetic from absurdist films like Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, and blaxploitation films like Superfly and Willie Dynamite.

The social commentary apparent in Adventures in New America, however, never drowns its surrealist, take-it-as-it-comes narrative structure, which, dramatic at times and comedic as others, is sure to keep any listener entertained.

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