Episode 5: "Annihilation of Joy" / Courtesy of Netflix

April 21, 2020

‘The Midnight Gospel’: A Trip for Stoners and Non-Stoners Alike

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The Midnight Gospel was released on Netflix on April 20 (4/20); the wacky show is clearly marketed towards people with reddened eyes and dry mouths who want to talk about the universe, but is an engaging trip for anyone with an affinity for philosophy or podcasts that explore individuals’ stories. Fans of Rick and Morty will love the show’s adventure and gore, while less bloodthirsty viewers will enjoy the tranquility of the characters’ attitudes towards life.

The premise of the show is fresh: An other-dimensional young man, Clancy (Duncan Trussell), dives into alternate universe simulations and conducts a personal interview with one random subject to upload online — he’s basically a futuristic YouTuber. Each conversation turns into a mutual learning experience about the meaning of life, consciousness, family and many forms of spirituality.

Trussell, voice of the protagonist, is a comedian and podcaster famous for his show, The Duncan Trussell Family Podcast, and appearances on Joe Rogan’s shows. The Midnight Gospel seizes Trussell’s talent as a podcaster; the episodes are basically podcast conversations dropped into apocalyptic fantasy scenes, with only a few snippets of dialogue ever relating to the show’s wild action.

In an extremely compelling (non drug-related) conversation, Clancy interviews Trudy (Trudy Goodman), who in real life started meditation practice InsightLA. “Think of forgiveness as freeing your own heart,” Trudy says after her character kills another with a love arrow. Clancy responds that forgiveness is the “ultimate spiritual pull up bar.” The two continue to discuss Rumi and how to help people who feel disconnected and alone. “Creating chances for people to hear each other” may help, Trudy says as her character aids an ogre stuck in a mud puddle. The discussion on “cultivate(ing) the skill of listening” continues to fill the episode to the brim with valuable advice. Then — “Hi Sara, can I get a potion?” The conversation is suddenly interrupted by an interaction with a giant witch.

In many of its episodes, The Midnight Gospel reflects modern Western adaptations of Eastern philosophies. Buddhist and Hindu concepts are explained in the show’s fifth episode, which animates concepts of atman, dharma, karma and more. I worry that the stoner appreciation of Eastern philosophies approaches appropriation, with drug culture and American hedonism bleeding into Western understanding. The show is always about personal experiences of these philosophies, though, and never claims spiritual expertise.

The creator of the beloved Adventure Time, Pendelton Ward, is also behind The Midnight Gospel; it seems Ward extended what resonated most with older audiences of Adventure Time into The Midnight Gospel. Adventure Time began as a silly kids’ show and evolved over ten seasons to become a unique form of thoughtful storytelling about growing up; yet, the show’s writing seemed to yearn for trippier waters. One episode of Adventure Time, “Jake the Brick” is entirely narrated by the character Jake (Joe DiMaggio) as he morphs himself into a brick of a falling shack and describes the intricacies of the natural world around him. The Midnight Gospel is meant for adults, which allows mature topics like revelations caused by hallucinogenic drug use.

Each episode features a guest voice actor with a unique perspective on life. Take Damien Echols, a “magick” practitioner infamous for serving 18 years on death row after a wrongful conviction for murdering three elementary school boys. Echols voices a “magic fish man” who discusses with Clancy the possibilities of harnessing energies for good.

Most adult cartoons don’t hire their voice actors for their personal life experiences or beliefs, but simply for their voices. The Midnight Gospel is like nothing else on TV today. If you’re an open minded and podcast-loving person with a weird sense of humor, this show is perfect for you.

 

Emma Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She currently serves as Arts Editor on the 138th board. She can be reached at eplowe@cornellsun.com.