The Midnight Gospel on Netflix follows Clancy – voiced by Duncan Trussell – as he visits different planets and alternate Earths to interview the inhabitants for his space podcast. The show uses audio from genuine conversations off Trussell’s own podcast, so each episode provides us with stimulating philosophical conversation and fascinating visuals. Produced by the creator of Adventure Time, and described as an ‘eclectic middle ground between podcast and cartoon’, it deals with themes of magic, meditation, forgiveness, spiritualism, mortality, drug use, transcendence and existentialism in the format of an adult animated series.
Released on the 20th April a couple of years ago, its psychedelic nature is perhaps not completely accidental. Seriously thought-provoking dialogue runs alongside irreverent imagery that usually ends apocalyptically (and also usually with Clancy stealing a pair of shoes.) This in itself is deliberate – Trussell discusses the ‘intentionality’ behind the preposterous, seemingly unrelated visuals, that often overlie relaxed and conversational audio. For example, Anne Lamott (as Sarah, a giant hybrid deer-dog) calmly elaborates on her lack of fear towards death in Episode 2 as she’s wheeled to the industrial meat grinder run by a bunch of killer clowns.
It can be potentially shocking for viewers as they’re thrown into this hyper-fictionalised world, but despite the blurred lines between calm debate and almost hallucinatory visuals that frequently result in a feeling of sensory overload, this is where the show truly outdoes other philosophical TV. At times when the dialogue can become heavy, the increasingly unexpected cartoon twists introduce a comedic aspect – so independent from each other that the discussion and action can sometimes be enjoyed as completely separate shows! Episode 3 shows Clancy travelling to a flooded planet called ‘Ass Cream’, where he meets a fish-man named Darryl and Darryl’s crew of cats aboard their ship. As they attempt to travel across a section of the world covered in ice, Darryl (Damien Echols) discusses the effects of his stint in prison and how it allowed him to redefine the term ‘magic’ in Buddhist terms, as opposed to the Western ideas that focus on enlightenment within one lifetime. He explains the connection between meditation and achieving magic, and how the Bible ‘when read correctly’ can be understood as magic.
It’s impossible not to notice the shift in tone from the more light-hearted first few episodes to the emotionally intense second half. The season concludes with an overwhelmingly touching exploration of grief, and what it is to be present, when Clancy unexpectedly meets his mother and is taken on a journey of reconciliation and acceptance with her cancer diagnosis. Duncan Trussell’s own mother, Deneen Fendig, recorded the audio for this episode three weeks before she passed away in 2013. The personal is felt here more than ever, as Clancy’s mother is the only character throughout the show to keep her real-life name, and she greets Clancy as Duncan on his arrival.
They discuss his life and her impending death with a gripping combination of compassion and frankness. Deneen acknowledges death as the spirit departing the physical, but emphasises the permanence of love in the face of death; the death of her physical body does not mean the death of her and her son’s love for each other. The thematic permanence of love over physical death seems to hold a deep resonance for Trussell. “For me, one of the odd things about losing a mother is that we don’t,” he says. “Their bodies are gone, but I still have my mum. She’s in me. She’s in my DNA, and she’s in me.”
Midnight Gospel manages to combine meditative, often humorous, conversations with richly metaphorical visuals throughout. While the theme of death is prevalent, with the penultimate episode featuring an interview with death herself, the fundamental message that viewers are left with is a sense of something bigger than us – that with the power to transcend even the inevitability of death. One single universal consciousness of which we are just a part of.
“My guru says everything’s perfect,” Trussell says. “And it’s one of the great teachings that maybe takes lifetimes to understand. The thing that I don’t understand, but that is real, and that we were trying to get across in that [final] episode is that it is perfect. It is beautiful. But it can also be catastrophic simultaneously. And maybe a human life is just going between those channels, until finally we begin to learn how to choose which one we want to tune into.”
The Midnight Gospel is currently available on Netflix UK. Image by Okan Caliskan on Pixabay.