So. This being named Clancy visits a planet where little clowns hatch from eggs that look like gourds, when he’s impaled on the horns of a deer-dog. He and the deer-dog are captured and shipped into a slaughterhouse. Clancy asks the deer-dog, named Anne, “Hey, you mind if I interview you for my video spacecast?”
The deer-dog goes, “Sure.” As they go down a conveyor belt and into a giant grinder to be pulverized into mince meat, the deer-dog, with the candidness of a talk show guest, goes, “It takes death to help you let go. You know, go ‘Okay, fine.’ That’s sort of how I had my beautiful moment of surrender with God. It’s—I say with enormous bitterness, ‘Okay, fine.’”
They’re both one mass of pink mush now, spikes pounding into them. “I love that!” Clancy goes. “That’s so beautiful. That’s so pure and real.” The amorphous mass of slop continues down a tube and has the most compelling conversation on grief I’ve heard in an animated show since Bojack Horseman. This is just episode 2.
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That deer-dog was actually novelist and essayist Anne Lammot. The spacecaster was real-life podcaster Duncan Trussell. And you just tuned in to The Midnight Gospel.
Leading up to its release date on Netflix on 4/20, it seemed The Midnight Gospel was being marketed as the new frontier of stoner entertainment. Word got out that Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward was making a cartoon for adults, so one would be right to expect trippy visuals, laid-back dialogue, the kind of stuff that’d make your average pothead go Woah, man. The premise itself sounds like it came from a Pineapple Express-fuelled vision: spacecaster Clancy, who resides in a dimension called The Chromatic Ribbon, uses a universe simulator to take the shape of various avatars, visit other worlds, and interview different beings who all have interesting things to say. Surely I needed to smoke some green gold (of which I unfortunately had none) to fully enjoy this.
But I binged on the whole first season stone cold sober, and still found myself on something resembling a plane of higher consciousness, more attuned to mysterious cosmic energies. The Midnight Gospel is as deep and as moving as you think you are when you’re stoned.
In each episode of The Midnight Gospel, Clancy interviews a different guest, from the president of a zombie-infested earth to a laid-back grim reaper. These conversations have a way of bringing you down to earth—after you get past the first episode and get used to the tone, you can easily imagine Trussell and his guest in the booth, shooting the breeze the way two old friends might. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the way these conversations on universal realities are set against the wacky worlds the guests’ animated representations inhabit.
And these worlds truly are beautiful. Jesse Moynihan (behind the absolutely genius webcomic Forming), also known for his work in Adventure Time, takes the reins as art director. His distinct style, which uses eclectic palettes and a syncretic approach to occult-like, mystical imagery, is reminiscent of the work of Masaaki Yuasa. The animation is organically choppy when it needs to be and arrestingly fluid in peak moments.
Part of the joy of listening to podcasts—specifically the unscripted kind, where charming people pick each other’s brains about everything under the sun—is the feeling that you’re part of these conversations. Sometimes you feel like a voyeur to an epiphany, quietly witnessing a human being like you realize something of great existential worth. I don’t know how the show does this, but The Midnight Gospel manages to grant every conversation the perfect corresponding world. In one episode, Clancy interviews a sailor whose head is a fish in a fish bowl connected to a robotic body (apparently voiced by Damien Echols of the West Memphis freakin’ Three, who apparently practices magic now), who enters the brain of a sleeping giant and exists as a higher being. For some reason, this shit works. This is what watching The Midnight Gospel feels like: you enter a dream, and come out forever changed.