If you’re reading this, then you know io9 wholly endorses podcasts of all varieties, as they’re an art form that brings people together and encourages listeners to open their minds. Strictly speaking, Netflix’s The Midnight Gospel isn’t a podcast, it’s something more: a manifestation of what all podcasts try to be, but very few have the ability to achieve.
The Midnight Gospel—the new series from Adventure Time’s Pendelton Ward and Duncan Trussell—follows Clancy Gilroy (Trussell) as he traverses the multiverse with the sole goal of speaking to as many interesting people as he can find and put a microphone in front of. Conceptually, this is what makes the show make sense (as much sense as an animated series from Ward can), but that description doesn’t wholly encapsulate the very practical magic that makes it sing.
In each episode, Clancy begins his day by consulting his computer about different corners of reality itself with the express intention of—and this is a very literal description—putting his head into a mons pubis warp drive that transports him to wildly new and unexpected places where he meets random people going about their lives. Clancy’s objective isn’t immediately clear as The Midnight Gospel begins, and even midway through the series, it isn’t apparent what you’re meant to get out of it if you’re watching it as just another genre show. But the conversations that work as The Midnight Gospel’s core building blocks are something to slow down and really appreciate because of the thorough earnestness that defines them all.
As Clancy’s blasted out to new existences, he consistently meets new people who, despite the fact that they don’t know him, are willing to have deep, ruminative conversations about what it means to exist, to be people who feel pain. One of the few things that truly brings me joy these days is being able to call my family and friends and open up to tell them how I’m fully coming apart mentally as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages our country. That’s not the sort of thing you’re “meant” to say in public to people who don’t know you that way. It’s ugly and reflective of the hurt that so many of us carry and try to hide as if it’s not something we don’t wear on our faces.
As the season progresses, Clancy’s conversations become different. Not deeper exactly, as they’re deep from the jump, but he develops a more nuanced understanding of existence as a concept, in part because he witnesses so much literal death as he travels from world to world, all the while being dedicated to creating his show. In a very real way that feels kind of uncomfortable to say, The Midnight Gospel feels like the kind of brutal talk therapy that I still don’t feel like I can have with my therapist—because while we know each other, we don’t trust each other (that only comes with time). Clancy, though, because he’s so trusting, can almost immediately connect with people in that deep kind of way that makes it possible for him to heal in a spiritual sense, even though he never quite gets around to realizing that about himself
In the final episode of the current season, Trussell ends up interviewing his mother, and together they reflect on what it means to be parent and child and see opposite ends of life in one another. Clancy’s mother has cancer, but when the two of them have their final conversation it’s not....sad. Even in her dying moments, she prioritizes teaching her son important things that he needs to know in order for him to keep living on when she’s gone. It’s the idea of presence, as a concept, that they get to the heart of. It’s not something we all really try to encourage one another to understand but we should.
This all being said, the show does get quite weird and out of pocket, so if you’re not quite feeling in the mood to be wrecked emotionally, it’s not something you should just put on for fun—especially right now. When you do feel like you can handle it, though, it’s a show that is likely going to take you exactly to the place you didn’t necessarily want to be, but need to be, because it’ll help you grow.
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