Despite a clever art style, The Midnight Gospel is so full of bad takes that I felt entitled to a hot take.
I really wanted to like The Midnight Gospel. When we previewed it, I was all on board. It featured weird and eclectic animation, a novel premise of each episode being a different reality, and was crafted by the creator of Adventure Time. I only had a passing familiarity with Adventure Time, but knew that it had a reputation for trenchant humor that skewed dark. Right up my alley.
Unfortunately, The Midnight Gospel cannot survive a fatal flaw in its DNA. The show bases its animation around a podcast series where guests are interviewed about existential topics. And the podcast is supremely not good.
The Midnight Gospel (2020)
Clancy (Duncan Tressel) hosts a semi-legal spacecast where he interviews creatures from simulated realities. Each episode he dons a new avatar and inserts himself into the selected virtual world, interviewing the first sapient creature he can find. The hitch is that each reality is in the end stage of its life; Clancy only visits worlds that are in their last throes before annihilation.
The Midnight Gospel rightly receives praise for its animation. It is fluid and energetic while also grim and macabre. The silliness of the character design works well with the psychedelic weirdness of the settings. Everything looks like you smashed together Adventure Time with a Ralph Bakshi film and seasoned it with bit of the post-apocalyptic vibe of Heavy Metal 2000.
Profoundly Not Profound.
The rock my enjoyment kept crashing on every episode was the inanity of the underlying podcasts. Duncan Tressel’s podcast series thinks it is trucking heavy ideas and profound concepts. It just isn’t, and the fact that he is unaware of it is a good part of the travesty.
The Duncan Tressel Family Hour podcast covers potent topics such as grief, depression, existential angst, mysticism, and psychedelic drugs. Unfortunately, it covers them with all of the wide-eyed credulity and “deep insight” of a freshman undergrad hitting a bong for the first time while listening to Frank Zappa.
The insights gleaned from these conversations (some of which are with actual serious people) are dime store self-improvement, New Age pap. This podcast should come with a free copy of The Secret. And probably a blotter of acid. If you’ve ever gotten buttonholed at a party by a profoundly high person trying to communicate the fundamental truths of human existence, you have got the material for this series down pat.
The Midnight Gospel chokes on this thin cloud of ideas in several fundamental ways. The framing device of exploring worlds that are tearing themselves to pieces (our first trip is to a world undergoing a zombie apocalypse, while the third takes us to essentially Water World with cats) doesn’t jibe with the earnest mystic platitudes being served up by Duncan and his guests. They don’t even really mesh.
Not knowing that this series used verbatim podcast material, I just couldn’t understand the mismatch. Sometimes the animation syncs up with the dialogue (Duncan hands a guest something and the guest thanks him, while the animation has Clancy help his interviewee in such a way that it jibes) while for large portions they seem to have nothing to do with each other.
The second episode features a guest talking about grief, resilience, and depression in regards to her father’s death after a painful battle with cancer. The background animation is a hellscape of cutesy, creepy clowns slaughtering and butchering giant dogs with antlers (who start the episode by bloodily devouring clown babies and impaling Clancy with their antlers.) Besides both being about death, they don’t really work to illuminate each other. Then some westernized Eastern mystic comes on the conversation to yammer about gurus and meditation and shit.
The mystical pondering of the series are so jejune that I could only see The Midnight Gospel working as a satire of the flaccid takes being offered. The material is such banal New Age bunk that the only way to redeem it would to be in on the joke, by skewering it with juxtaposed cynicism as implied by the bleak premise of doomed worlds. Instead, The Midnight Gospel is all in on the hokum, which comes off as wide as the ocean but deep as a puddle.