When I first heard of Pendleton Ward’s new project, I felt a little underwhelmed. Who can blame me? The “Adventure Time” creator’s venture with comedian Duncan Trussell was packaged as an NSFW version of his magnum opus. If you don’t believe me, you can watch the Netflix trailer for it.
But that changed when I gave the show a shot. As someone who loves surreal animation and candid conversations about the human condition, “The Midnight Gospel” got an apostle in me after one episode.
Reviews of the show had a difficult time describing it. Some are saying it’s trippy, others are applauding how it discusses mortality and other poignant themes. They’re not wrong. But talking about how the show is like getting stoned is a disservice.
Let’s first go into its premise. Simply put, “The Midnight Gospel” is about a spacecaster named Clancy who visits different multiverses to interview beings about their life and their perspective on its existential aspects. It merges Trussell’s real podcast “Duncan Trussell’s Family Hour” with Ward’s out-of-this-universe visual storytelling. Together, they created a heartwarming experience a lot of us are searching for.
As Mashable explains in their review, the show pulls the ripcord in reality. Trussell’s podcast becomes the springboard for the show’s episodes. These real-life interviews with morticians, former convicts-turned-gurus, dharma instructors and his recently deceased mother are the basis for the show’s storyline.
Although, if one looks a little closer, the animation isn’t weird for weirdness’ sake.
Through “The Midnight Gospel’s” visual storytelling, morticians become the Grim Reaper with a funny eye, valiant knights powered by love and even baby presidents/zombie killers. The conversation is often dissonant with what’s happening onscreen. For example, there’s Dr. Drew Pinsky speaking about the morally gray role of recreational drugs while a zombie apocalypse happens, and then there’s dharma instructor Trudy Goodman tackling loss and self-affirmation while avenging her lover who was eaten by a demon living in someone’s butt.
It’s a kooky show. That’s a valid point. Although, if one looks a little closer, the animation isn’t weird for weirdness’ sake. It’s actually just Ward’s own interpretation of what these conversations are—tongue-in-cheek with a pinch of poignancy.
The show focuses on three themes: birth, death, rebirth and transfiguration. One of the show’s key topics in its last episode was on ego death. “Humans appear and they disappear,” says Trussell’s mother Deneen Fendig. “We are part of the whole and everything in the whole transforms all the time.” During this particular discussion, I realized how it unintentionally comforts viewers during these uncertain times.
“The Midnight Gospel” can certainly validate you with its humor and complex candid conversations.
The finale focuses on our frustrating search for meaning. We can get frustrated with the world’s assholes, or as Fendig puts it, titsuckers. Death and finality also frustrate us. If we start putting that energy into empathy instead, it’ll still hurt—but it will make us feel alive, too.
We are all wallowing in our own woes. It can come in the form of money, socio-economic disarray or mental health. During trying times like these, Clancy asked his mother: “There’s no way to stop the heartbreak. How do you [stop heartbreak]?” And she responds, “You cry.”
Read more: This trippy series will come out on 4/20
Apart from distraction, everyone has the need to feel seen. “The Midnight Gospel” can certainly validate you with its humor and complex candid conversations. It listens to you and it sees you.
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Still from “The Midnight Gospel”