The Midnight Gospel created by Pendleton Ward and Duncan Trussell
Even if you don’t recognize the name Pendleton Ward, you probably have at least heard of his series, Adventure Time. Now he is back with another absurdist animated series, but one that differs in many ways from his previous one.
The main character of The Midnight Gospel is named Clancy. He is voiced by Duncan Trussell, a comedian and actor who has quite a few credits, but is best known for his podcast, “The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.” Similarly, Clancy is a spacecaster (think podcast, but for the whole universe). Each episode, he enter his very vaginal looking universe simulator to find another being to interview for his spacecast. It’s a simple, if odd, premise.
One of the most unique aspects of Gospel is that the audio for Clancy’s interviews is taken from actual audio off of Trussell’s real-life podcast. Slight add-ins are recorded, usually just so the characters can react to their surroundings on occasion. The topics are always existential, often having to do with mental health, mindfulness, acceptance, and death. As a Buddhist, I found most of the shows’ discussions to fall very much within that spiritual realm.
Now don’t forget, this show is still a Ward cartoon; so during these deep discussions, there is a lot of trippy, violent, and always strange animation going on. Clancy’s universe simulator creates avatars for him when he blasts off to one of the planets, and since most planets that are based at all on our reality seem to wipe themselves out before he can choose it, the planets he does visit are strange and unique.
There is a real contrast between what you are hearing and what you are seeing at all times during the interviews. Sometimes the visuals serve as proper metaphors for the conversation, and sometimes they are simply there to give you something to see. Either way, the seriousness of the talks mixed with the absurdity of the visuals hook you in and force you to pay attention. It is an odd feeling in a good way.
The first half of the series is pretty much what you would expect from this interesting setup, nothing more, but certainly nothing less, either. If it had continued as such, it still would be a solid 3 1/2, maybe even 4 out of 5 stars for me. However, the second half brings it to a new level. Episode 5 is titled, “Annihilation of Joy.” In it, Clancy interviews a prisoner’s soul, whose name is Jason. Jason explains Buddhism phenomenally well while dying over and over trying to escape from prison. The episode marks a turning point for the series for two reasons. First is a hint at Clancy’s personal life in the beginning, which has been largely ignored before this point. The second is that the existential conversations dig even deeper and will remain doing so from here on.
If the 5th episode doesn’t feel like a turnaround for you, then I can guarantee that episode 6 will. This one, “Vulture With Honor,” sees the universe simulator malfunctioning, leaving Clancy to deal with his own world. The episode reveals that there is more to Clancy than his spacecast, and we begin to get curious as to his personal history.
The 7th episode has Clancy literally speaking to Death, and that leads appropriately into the 8th and final episode of the season. As much as I want to discuss this episode at length, it is better taken in without being told too much about it. It is by far the most moving and emotional episode, and it is certainly a wonderful conclusion to the season. After watching episode 1, I never would have guessed that I would be in tears by the end of the show.
I very much hope we get a second, more personal season for Clancy. Because of the last 4 episodes, I give The Midnight Gospel, Season 1, 4 1/2 stars.