The podcast is a new art form for the digital age, and seemed fairly complete as it is. People talk into microphones, record the words, and provide them for download over the internet. They build a brand as a sort of public radio service that is completely independent of the wires and signals that are heavily regulated by “the Man”. It’s pirate radio for people who would never pirate the radio. It began as something edge-y, and tech-y and cool into something NPR does. “The Midnight Gospel” on Netflix is a whole new way of seeing the podcast art form, literally. As Clancy, our intrepid and irresponsible host, interviews divergent lifeforms for his “spacecast” they move through the world, experiencing alternate ways of seeing reality. The conversations with interesting thinkers and dreamers and philosophers is useful and interesting, but taken somewhere new when placed against the psychedelic and haunting art, creating layers of meaning out of meaningful and deep conversation.
The “story” if there is one, is simple enough to understand. Clancy is hiding from trauma in a science fictional “ribbon” of time and space. He borrowed money from his sister to purchase a used computer that simulates many different earths. He enters the simulation and sends his consciousness down as an avatar that experiences these wild and psychedelic planets. He latches onto one person inside the simulation, blasts down, and asks this person if they would like to be interviewed for his spacecast. Generally, they agree. The first episode is probably the weakest. Clancy interviews the President of a fictional planet battling in a zombie apocalypse while discussing drugs, and the legalization of Marijuana. The dissonance between the two things: surviving and battling through the zombie apocalypse juxtaposed with a friendly conversation about drugs and drug policy, only just barely works when the music starts and the truth of zombie life is revealed. It’s the weakest episode. The second one is better, with Anne Lamott presented as a giant chimera of deer and dog trapped in a clown world of imminent and continuous terror and death. It’s still not as strong as episodes to come. The show builds to a crescendo and seems to hit a stride in a conversation with a warrior princess that kills nightmares with kindness and forgiveness. When Death arrives, at last, a topic of conversation through many episodes that discuss the nature of man and death and suffering, the interview and the imagery starts to really work. The union of the two things running simultaneously paints a deeper and more profound picture of truth and art. The final episode of the series is absolutely devastating and heartbreaking and the conversation and imagery combine in a fugue of beauty and love and terror and grief. It’s hard to imagine getting through the final episode without tears welling up It’s absolutely beautiful, and I hope hearkens towards a new season of episodes, with many more conversations and questions and psychedelic art and music.
Pendleton Ward is most famous for Adventure Time, and I was never drawn to it, really. I have not seen nor tried to see a single episode of that well-known fantasy adventure show. It just seemed the sort of stoner comedy that does not generally appeal to me in the daylight. This little series changed my mind. I may seek that one, someday, when I’m ready to see what this creator did with a longer form.
I don’t think I’ll subscribe to the podcast, though. The show makes a good argument, in the end, for the animation to exist juxtaposed against the conversations.
Categories: TV shows