In a time when niche shows are becoming more prevalent, Netflix’s The Midnight Gospel is the niche of the niche. We follow Clancy (Duncan Trussell), a person who lives in a trailer with a dog whose stomach is a literal black hole and who has a talking reality simulator that Clancy enters to interview beings from strange worlds for his space cast show. Yup, you read it right. Clancy has a few moments before he enters his simulator to give us vague references to who he is (mainly that he borrowed money from his sister to buy the machine), but really the show is the interviews and strange situations that are happening around him.
Watching it, it sounded like a podcast (later researching the show it turns out it takes clips from Duncan Trussell’s podcast, “Duncan Trussell Family Hour”), yet without the set up for who the guests are or their expertise and experiences are. Almost all of them are talking about their philosophy about life to some degree with a mix of extremely bizarre animation, both of the characters and in the background, which have vague connections to the conversations. There is a general concept or idea behind the visual storytelling with a “plot,” including some kind of violence taking place as the level of realism changes from episode to episode.
The first episode has a U.S. president fighting a zombie apocalypse, but he is so short that he needs an aide to carry a small step stool with him while he and Clancy discuss drug use. Another episode features a large dog about to be slaughtered talking about death in a land of evil clowns fighting a rebellion. The description really doesn’t do justice to how bizarre the animation becomes with these ideas or how off-kilter the plots are. Usually the animation sequence ends with some sort of resolution to the issue (fighting zombies, a revenge quest) but is only tangentially connected to the conversations taking place. The action almost never impacts the conversation except for a few sentences that seem to be a way to break up the old podcast episodes before going right back to the conversation.
Created by Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame, The Midnight Gospel struggles to convey its overall goal. There is an attempt to combine an unencumbered form of animated storytelling with ethical and philosophical conversations but fails to offer clear answers to these debates by smashing them together and seeing what happens. After the first episode, you will know if this is a show for you. If you just find it confusing, meandering and dull, you can quit now. It will not get better for you. If the strange animation or deep conversation appeals then you may dig it.
Emmy chances: Very slim, you have to find people who not only like gonzo animation but also want to listen to introspective philosophy about life. Finding that combination of people seems like a small market of viewers, especially among busy voters trying to get through everything they want to see before voting.