Midnight Gospel review: The best podcast of 2020 is a trippy Netflix cartoon
Every episode of Midnight Gospel is a bizarre gem made more beautiful by its many ugly imperfections.
Listening to podcasts can be hard.Try to do another task at the same time and you'll miss half of what you're trying to listen to. Sit perfectly still and your mind will wander. The best solution is often some sort of mindless activity that keeps your brain just the right amount of focused, like washing dishes or commuting to work. But what if there was a podcast that came paired with soothing, trippy animations just relevant enough to keep you focused on the audio experience? Enter The Midnight Gospel.
Combining the storytelling brilliance of Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward with the mind-altering podcasting skills of Duncan Trussell, Midnight Gospel is unlike anything I've seen before. It might just be the best original animation on Netflix since BoJack Horseman. It might also be the weirdest experiment yet in the age of streaming entertainment.
Premiering April 20 on Netflix for somewhat obvious reasons, the new eight-episode series features far-ranging conversations with various delightfully weird humans juxtaposed against animated adventures that rarely connect to the subject matter. You'll listen to Trussell talk about drugs with a fictional US president as they navigate a zombie apocalypse. In a later episode, he chats with the grim reaper about the death industrial complex as they romp through the afterlife.
It shouldn't work, but it does, and even if you're more interested in Ward's hallucinogenic art style, you'll quickly be sucked in by the equally bizarre conversations.
The basic concept behind Midnight Gospel is almost too difficult to explain. Trussell plays Clancy, a pink-skinned slacker in a futuristic dimension called the "Chromatic Ribbon.” Clancy lives in a trailer house and his only passion is space casting — basically podcasting with video drones. To create his space casts, he uses a bio-computer capable of simulating hundreds of planets full of life and then visits these planets to interview their inhabitants for his space cast. (The interviews are sourced from Trussell's popular podcast, though it's sometimes unclear if they've been re-recorded for this new format or just cleverly edited.)
Make sense? Not at all, right? Don't worry, a few minutes into the first episode of Midnight Gospel, everything will click into place.The concept might be ridiculous, but the animation and the interviews are both good enough to keep you interested. And the way they work together is even more impressive.
One episode, in particular, offers the best example of how Midnight Gospel's disparate audio and video can meld perfectly. In Episode 3, "Home Without a Home," Clancy interviews a sentient fish in a mech suit as it embarks on a mystical, sea-fairing adventure. The fish is voiced by Damien Echols, a man who was wrongfully convicted of a triple child-killing at the age of 18, spent another 18 years on death row, and was released in 2012. In the years since, Echols has preached the powers of magick, a practice of the occult religion pioneered by Aleister Crowley.
Trussell/Clancy gamely asks Echols about his experience in prison and how his passion for the occult helped keep him stay sane, along with how magick is different from eastern mysticism. It's a fascinating, far-out conversation. It's also the kind of thing I'd normally never be exposed to. But by combining Echols' unique worldview with a rollicking cartoon adventure featuring pirate cats and a fight between giants, Midnight Gospel makes Echols' story sound not only sensible but almost boring by comparison.
It's a clever trick, but it's one that sometimes works a little too well.
Episode 2, "Officers and Wolves," falls victim to this problem. An interview with a pair of authors is interesting, but the cartoon happening in the background is ten times more engaging. On this planet, Clancy and his guests are tormented by a race of evil spiders masquerading as clowns who grind their captives into meat and feed it to a subjugated population of humanoid flies. As the interview continues, we watch a civil war play out between flies and spiders, culminating in an epic battle that will make you completely forget what Clancy was talking about.
But for the most part, every episode of Midnight Gospel is a bizarre gem made more beautiful by its many ugly imperfections. Whether it's an animated baby-eating witch who will haunt your dreams or a bizarre aside about having sex while tripping on DMT, these tiny, weird details amount to something truly special.
The show's eight episodes will whizz by in an instant. Luckily, there are over 300 more episodes of Duncan Trussell's original podcast, so you'll just have to find some other way to keep your brain occupied while you listen.
Midnight Gospel will blow your mind starting April 20 on Netflix.