Animated Spotlight: The Midnight Gospel

It’s weird that a new series by Adventure Time’s Pendelton Ward seems to have premiered with so little fanfare but watching The Midnight Gospel itself it becomes a bit more understandable. Not that it’s bad, it’s a very interesting ‘little’ show, but because it’s something hard to place and very much the product of one man’s vision.

That man being Ducan Trussell, actor/comedy writer and most important for this show the host of the long running podcast Duncan Trussell’s family hour. This podcast is where Trussell interviews various guests that range from comedians, medication teachers to West Memphis Three’s Damon Echols about what gives meaning to their life. Most of the time going through a conversation about what interests them about life, going into things like meditating and religion. It’s a podcast I listened a ton to for years but kinda dropped off from some time ago. Not by lack of quality, Trussell can be amazing host who takes conversations interesting places.

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Gospel feels odd for a netflix original show, animated by titmouse who have done a ton of work for adult swim(Superjail, Venture Bros and Netflix’s Big Mouth) it feels completely at odds with any of the other animation output by the streaming giant. It feels like a blank check for Ward after adventure time mostly. He seems to have made the right choice with it also because this feels 100% like his and Trussell vision not being meddled with.

But what is it about? Allot of different things. It animates 8 edited conversations from Trussel’s podcast with guests like Damien Echols discussing magik and his life, drew Pinsky talking drugs and my personal favorite Caitlin Doughty talking about the long American history of embalming and corpse perpetration.

There’s some kind of a over arching story(-ish) about Clancy that never takes the front and that gives a must needed rope in the wildness that is the Midnight Gospel. Because the strongest and weakest point of the series are the animated conversations itself. It’s not a new thing for animation for sure, just look at the oscar winning short Ryan or Dr Katz, but it’s something that is hard to do. Trying to make two people talking to each-other interesting in a visual medium is hard. It’s why not heavily edited video interviews are so hard to focus on. Gospel’s way of fighting this is going full on cartoon, the conversations are intercut with small bits not concerning the actual conversation but the cartoon. Like in Echols’s episode sees him steering a pirate ship in a world where cats are currency or in Pinsky’s episode with him fighting zombies. It’s allot. Gospel makes it work through a fun narrative tool that is Clancy visiting simulations of various planets in different avatars where he meets his various interview subjects for the ‘space-cast’ he broadcasts that is called The midnight Gospel.

The word for Gospel is one of overkill. It endless throws interesting visuals at you which in combination with the mostly esoteric and/or mystic based conversations about life/death makes it a series that is hard to binge-watch. Really even more when the later episodes reach the emotional depth it does for a silly cartoon.

But it’s not all sunshine, the problem with Trussell’s interview style is that it is very heavy on freewheeling conversation. Subjects get dropped, picked up again and sometimes Trussell mid conversation just defaults to a completely different subject or talks about his personal life. It’s a common interview podcast problem and one that Family Hour never really escaped from either. It’s all about personal preference mostly and that is also allot of this series. If you have no or nearly no interests in heavy handed discussions about medication, magick or death this most likely won’t be a show for you.

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One of my favorite episodes(and early ones to not spoil allot of the series ‘story’) is the one with Damien Echols which covers his post-prison life as a ceremonial magician and his belief that prison was a part of karma forming his life. It’s a extremely interesting heartfelt conversation, that is told by a pirate ship owning goldfish, but one that isn’t very controlled. Echols and Trussel endless go in and out subjects which leds to something that feels very focused yet unfocused as a narrative form. That includes series wide weird gross-out animation also which are of-putting on purpose which showcases perfectly the shows unique style but gets overdone quite often.

I think personally my least favorite part is how the show builds Clancy’s home planet. It’s pretty sparse and mostly exists of some sub-par gag ‘story-lines’ that can be funny but most of the time go on just a tad bit to long. There’s the usual neighborhood stuff, a really quite underdeveloped story arch about being hunted and just allot of what I like to call Adult Swim humor. I love Adult Swim but it also produces allot of garbage under the moniker ‘if it’s weird and of-putting it must be interesting’, it isn’t. Weird and of-putting on purpose can be a part of why a show is great but when it’s only that it becomes something like the Annoying Orange. Irritating, crass and mostly just very dull.

To be honest it’s a show that doesn’t really lends itself to writing allot about it in review form without spoiling it’s ending. All the reviews I read so far all cover the same themes: the podcast, the discussion themes and the wild animation. Which most of the time means your dealing with something completely unique and that really is a hard recommendation because it’s such a personal project. Still personally if you have a slight interest in it I would say check it out. It’s short to boot(8 episodes) and were all still stuck at home. Why not get some tea or ‘other stuff’ and go deep into the psychic of Trussell/ Clancy and his many guests adventures.