This show shouldn’t exist, but I am so glad that it does.
From the creators of Adventure Time, comes a series of (pleasantly) hallucinatory experiences called The Midnight Gospel. It’s almost impossible to describe succinctly, yet at the same time I debated doing an episode by episode break down for the entire 8 episode show. Maybe if there is a call for that, I will, but right now I want to talk about it in a general sense, because it is very Transient Talky, if I am even aloud to put it that way. It’s something you can watch right now on Netflix, and hopefully the unabashed tangents and weirdness of it all will feel familiar in a sense, especially for regular readers of this blog.
Firstly, The Midnight Gospel is not Adventure Time, but you can still feel the ghosts of Drew Pinsky’s brain child floating about sometimes. This is a whole new beast though, a beast that I have never really come across in media, but now it has me wondering if their formula will become a new sub-genre of hybrid media: the animated podcast.
Ostensibly, that’s all it is. Most of the audio is cut straight from Duncan Trussel’s podcast, and while adding animation to podcast audio isn’t anything new, The Midnight Gospel works as a professional proof-of-concept for this medium’s viability. Anyway, I’m getting away from myself.
So what is the show? More or less, the show is about the adventures of a pink humanoid character in a bath towel (I’m guessing a nod to Douglass Adams) and wizard hat zipping to different realities to have a conversation with a member of that world’s citizenry. It’s wacky, dense, and clever as all hell. Did I mention it was dense? Yeah, really dense. Episode 7 has so many allusions to the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck that I rewatched the entire thing at half speed just to catch all the tiny Easter eggs. That’s just the surface level, but that little layer of illusion is crucial, because the meat of the show is the conversation between the protagonist (Clancy) and his guest. With the trippy visuals already hooking you and quieting down your head, the hosts lead you down a road of life’s deeper questions.
Questions like: What does death look like to you? How do you accept feelings that make you hate yourself? How do you find healthy ways to communicate with the worst parts of yourself? What are we?
Some of it is mind melting even for someone who subscribes and regularly indulges in a lot of Eastern philosophy. Despite the jarring format of the show, everything works in tandem to disarm the viewer and go on a philosophical journey in their own head. The phrase “I didn’t know I had permission” gets said several times throughout the show, and that seems to be the entire ethos of the program. The Midnight Gospel gives us permission to address some huge questions on our own accord; it is a handshake with reality where you are invited to peer between its fingers.
Sometimes, it gets way out there, and that’s probably going to turn people off, because as I mentioned before, everything is dense. The conversations are dense. The sheer capacity of color on your screen is dense. The animations are dense and otherworldly. It’s blinding in a way that requires you approach it curious and without expectation. It is a deep dive into metaphysics and the relationship between our consciousness and our identity, and that is just going to turn some people off.
“It hurts…” is also another meaningful phrase within the show, which will be at the heart of a lot of reasons why people may dislike the show as a whole. If you want to come along for the ride, you have to be willing to buckle up for it; you have to be willing to accept the reality of both the show and your own existence as they come and at face value. Yeah… it’s a gauntlet. It’s a journey that I would recommend anyone go down though.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t agree with some of the conceits of the show. There are bits that just get too far out there to be anything more than interesting hypotheticals, but again, that is a lot of its genius. While the show will get more direct periodically, most of its content is just ideas worth thinking about.
One of the more easy to digest scenes is found in the last few minutes of the last episode. Clancy is speaking with mother (played by the voice actor’s real mother) about the cycle from birth to death. In this process, we watch both characters age until Clancy’s mom dies and Clancy discovers he is pregnant. He promptly gives birth in an operating room filled with white coat wearing teddy bears only to discover he birthed his own mother so that they could continue the conversation. (Yeah, this is one of the easier episodes). The two discuss developmental and social complexes that alter how we grow and learn. They share a drink together as they stare into the vastness of the universe. Then they die.
They turn into planets hurdling for a black hole, and Clancy and his mother discuss the very real, grim truth that she is dying of breast cancer. In that final scene Clancy relays that he realizes that life is a cycle of constant, perpetual change. Life. Growth. Death. Inception. Life. Growth. Death. Again and again, but he ends with the question, “I know there is this transformation– Come on, I know there is no way to stop the heart break, but what do you do about that?”
To which he is answered in true Buddhist monk fashion, “You cry.”
Despite all the weirdness, The Midnight Gospel may be the kind of thing that we need most right now. We are so disparate from one another now, most of us both physically and socially. We are terrified of the world without and have been given a moment, right here and now, to delve within. The social-isolation and quarantines are breaking some of us, and many don’t even think to ask themselves why. When your job, your education, your social presence, and all the other trappings have fallen off, who even are you? What are you? Why are you here now?
Not one source is going to have that answer. Honestly, no source will have that answer in its complexity, but maybe the point is that questions are complete even if we don’t find the answer.