There is little surprise Pendleton Ward and Duncan Trussell have conquered mid-lockdown Netflix ratings with their fantastic new animated collaboration The Midnight Gospel. From the moment you begin following the hilarious antics of Clancy Gilroy, voiced by Trussell, you’re hit with a unique amalgamation of fun writing and animation at every turn.
Clancy is an up-and-coming spacecaster from a place called “The Chromatic Ribbon” where he and his neighbors use powerful computers that allow them to travel to simulated versions of the multiverse where they can collect resources. The eclectic environments quickly remind us of Ward’s pedigree. The Emmy award-winning creator of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time has an unmistakable animation style, but he was really able to take the reins off in his first outing with Netflix. It’s easy to see the results of that creative freedom with each trip Clancy takes into the simulator to find interview subjects for his show. Every episode is a totally one-off psychedelic visual experience.
But that’s definitely not to say it’s some kind of random madness. Gospel is actually very well thought out. Clancy’s wider backstory is addressed in each episode, and provides the perfect amount of structure before the show transitions into the real face melting stuff. At its best, The Midnight Gospel has some moments reminiscent of all the great trip-balls cartoons of the ages, like Ren & Stimpy or Spongebob Squarepants, but the writing is on a whole other level, perhaps closer to Rick and Morty (minus the pessimism).
The narratives are as adventurous as the imagery. Much of the core of the show is based around Clancy’s conversations inside the multiverse simulator. With Trussell being a longtime podcaster, the heart of the conversations Clancy has on his excursions are in a similar off the cuff style. The subjects are similar to the Duncan Trussell Family Hour too. Listen to Ward’s 2016 appearance if you want to hear the creators of the show basically live it out.
While the show is fun to look at, the quality of the conversations Clancy is actually having add a ton to everything. Guest stars like Drew Pinsky, Pauly Shore and even the late Ram Dass dive into subjects like pot legalization, death and a lot of general self-enlightenment stuff. With these more personal introspective narratives, you feel better having listened, and the experience never feels forced. The show is a trip even without psychedelics, and I can only imagine what the whole thing might sound and look like if one chooses to join Clancy on a trip to another dimension. I think it’s a safe bet you could binge the series after a solid macrodose of LSD.
The Midnight Gospel not only entertains, it serves a wider purpose. Most obviously at the moment, it provides a real escape during this pandemic madness. The show may also be a barometer into how deep Americans are willing to delve into fringe-y ideas and subjects we don’t talk about all the time. If a show like the Midnight Gospel can do so well with this subject matter by introducing it to people through top-class original animation, it in fact leaves a lot of room for others to take the conversations further. You can only dive so far into the depths of your mind during a 20-minute cartoon, but it’s definitely worth the trip.