This show is like the Netflix version of magic mushrooms, taking us on a colourful, psychedelic trip where you’re not quite sure what’s going on, and can’t decide whether to be utterly at peace, or absolutely unnerved.
Fans of animation are instantly going to recognise The Midnight Gospel as a Pendleton Ward creation, who also created the cult-hit, Adventure Time. For this one he joined up with the comedian Duncan Trussell, known for his podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, where he asks celebrity guests about their philosophies and experiences with meditation, and the series essentially blends together these two out-of-the-box content styles, and forms one bonkers, but brilliant, cartoon adventure.
We’re in an alternate dimension known as the Chromatic Ribbon, which is a long, bendy planet that sits in the middle of a space void, where simulation farmers use computers to conjure up different universes, from which they harvest natural resources and new technologies. Our protagonist, Clancy Gilroy lives here in a motorhome, where he passes the time scrolling through his illegally owned multiverse simulator, picking an alternate universe to pop and visit, interviewing the locals for his visual, psychedelic podcast. Each episode follows Clancy on a new trip to one of these universes, which he travels to through a portal that looks weirdly like a massive vagina. He interviews all sorts of people, like President Pinksy, who is currently dealing with a zombie apocalypse but who still has time to tell Clansy about the philosophies behind his drug policy, or the talking bird who is a spirit guide for an inmate at a prison for simulated beings who are battling existential dread, and even his mother, who discusses aging and birth in one of the series most touching episodes.
The Midnight Gospel is typical Ward, with that blend of out-there eccentricity and emotional sentimentality that fans of Adventure Time know well. And its universes reflect the uncanny world of the internet so well, particularly when paired with Clancy’s own inability to look after himself which is fuelled by an addictive kind of need to find new content. It’s colourful animation and weird and wonderful characters are a feast for the eyes, blending Rick and Morty style sci-fi adventure with a softer, more profound narrative approach.
We know this series won’t be to everyone’s taste, and that the trippy animation style can feel more unsettling than escapist. But for fans of adult animation, there’s a lot on offer here – from the fun and freaky people and places Clancy visits, to the deep and philosophical chats he has once there, this is a creative way to explore life’s big questions.
In fact, Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian reckons “many viewers will be in tears watching the series,” saying “Clancy has a line in questioning more profound than Seinfeld’s, inviting guests to reflect on life, death, whether the world is a computer simulation and why weed should be legalised.” Forbes’s Dani Di Placido thinks this will be very poignant for modern viewers, saying “Clancy’s aimlessness, his empty enthusiasm, quickly forgotten as the next distraction approaches, echoes the mindset of the perpetually online.” The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix, however, sums it up by saying “watching the show is like skimming Schopenhauer with a tab on your tongue.” Nicely put.
First shown April 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.