The Midnight Gospel, one of the most mind-bending adult cartoons created, is essentially an eight episode trip. The Netflix original was released on April 20, 2020 (yes, 4/20). Since then, the series has quickly gained a large fanbase and requests for a second season. The creators of the show are comedian Duncan Trussel and animator Pendleton Ward, who also created the Cartoon Network kids series Adventure Time. Gospel reflects several of the surreal, humorous, and whimsical aspects of that show, and has been compared to the likes of Rick and Morty and Regular Show. However, what makes this series so unique is how it is centered around conversations rather than a plot. Much of the audio is directly from Trussell’s interview podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Originally, Ward contemplated the idea to take “podcast dialogue from The DTFH and replace the dialogue of Indiana Jones,” to create a balance of silliness and profoundness.
Midnight Gospel follows an outgoing, youthful humanoid named Clancy who lives in a trailer with an illegal Universe Simulator. This futuristic, talking virtual reality machine allows Clancy to journey to a collection of planets of his choosing. Reminiscent of numerous video games, an avatar is chosen to gain access to imaginary worlds programmed with interactive environments and intelligent life forms. Once arriving at the planet, Clancy and a few drones interview an array of these unconventional subjects for his interstellar space cast, the ultramodern version of a podcast. Clancy’s mission statement is: “There are beautiful, wondrous worlds inside these old simulators, full of intelligent beings with stories to tell. And I’m gonna interview them, and put my interviews online, and make a bunch of money.”
Following this basic premise, each episode delves into topics such as inner peace, hedonism, religion, meditation, addiction, coping with death, philosophy of magic, enlightenment and much more. Such sophisticated discourse within the context of a psychedelic adventure story may be a lot to digest, and it is imperative to look past the distractions in order to appreciate the material. I often found myself spacing out to think for myself, while missing an entirely new conversation. This made for a show that I was able to rewatch several times, finding a new fascinating meaning in each episode.
Several of these concepts stuck with me long after I finished the series. For example, in the introductory episode, Clancy visits an apocalyptic zombie world where he interviews an American President who gives his opinion on legalized marijuana. He states, “there’s no such thing as a good and a bad drug. There’s this chemical that’s neither good nor bad, it just exists […] and it’s the relationship that humans have with the substance that is the issue.” In episode five, we meet Bob, a prisoner who repeatedly dies and reincarnates until he can restrain his anger and abstain from killing others while escaping the prison. His soul bird speaks of Indra’s Net, and how “we think that there’s something essentially true about reality. You only have the illusion that you’re a separate self because it’s a point at which a network converges.” In the season finale, Clancy is frustrated while facing his mother’s near death. Hearing his mother remind him of the impenetrable force of love is sure to make any viewer who has suffered a loss emotional. It’s especially moving because this dialogue was one of Trussell’s last conversations with his mother before she died. She explains that, “Even the hurt transforms because if you inquire into the hurt, you know what you’re experiencing is love.”
This show is equally mind-blowing and thought provoking, not to mention the intergalactic setting and quirky animation style. Each episode is very heavy, making it difficult to binge-watch, but as discussions get increasingly intense through the season, they build into the beautifully heartfelt finale, making the ride fully worthwhile. With the season ending on a major cliffhanger, and the fact that Trussel has recorded hundreds of podcast episodes, a second season is highly likely as long as Netflix renews it. The creators have planned on continuing the series, and Trussell said, “There’s so many more stories to tell about The Chromatic Ribbon. You know, we mapped out that world, and we barely, barely got into that world.”