Where discussion of what’s real meets the surreal.
Quite fittingly released on 4/20 this year, The Midnight Gospel has proven to be one of the more weird and out there productions by Netflix. A co-effort by comedian and podcast host Duncan Trussell and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward, this show takes place in an alternate dimension called the “Chromatic Ribbon”. It’s here that Clancy, voiced by Trussell, travels between various worlds and hosts his ‘spacecast’, wherein he interviews different beings, from characters like “Little President” and “The Love Barbarian” to “Death” and the actual Ram Dass (the only guest feature who doesn’t actually take on a moniker.
The show, while being very visually appealing, will probably hit a bit more of a niche audience. Firstly, you have the stoner crowd looking for their colorful vibes outlet and an existential curious look at what makes up the world around us via the lens of another world. But you could also bring in an audience like myself who, while certainly interested in the topics of discussion and art style, are drawn to this unique blend of podcasting and animation.
To frame a narrative around something not meant as an episodic story is quite difficult and, while the narrative does feel kind of all over the place at times (which is where the general audience might limit or lose itself), the show works with what it has and manages to pull of something cohesive and entertaining, which is no small feat.
Though it may attract a more specific audience, the choice to release this as an animated series is probably the best way to convey what’s being discussed in the podcast. You have these interviewees who, while engaging in and of themselves, are discussing these large abstract concepts like love, death, the effectiveness of drugs, and meditative mindfulness. However, by bringing in the narrative and the animation, you gain an entirely new depth of attention and engagement with the audience.
In one of our earlier readings, Alexander states that “A story without [a transformation of a state of being] will often feel flat, its emotional range blunted” (p.11). When you bring in this fictional narrative to these discussions, you also must make sure that the story doesn’t feel secondary or fall flat. As the episodes of the show progress, we learn more about Clancy, who he is, and why we care. We learn about the world and the characters inhabiting it while simultaneously engaging with these non-narrative podcast discussions.
I think this show succeeds at what it set out to do, bringing together fans of animation with fans of podcasting and fans of philosophy. By combining these elements of different media, the storied animation and podcasting, you get something totally unique to Netflix and unlike any show currently on air.