Just last week I discussed how the medium should enhance a story. Certain stories just may not work as well in one medium than another. Like we can all agree that Avatar: The Last Airbender wouldn’t work as well as a live-action show.
And while many adaptations would likely be enhanced by an animated medium which allows for more suspension of disbelief, stylization and more fluid action scenes… I may have found something that doesn’t fit for an animated medium. Or really as a visual medium.
I am talking about Pendleton Ward’s new Netflix show, The Midnight Gospel. He created the show alongside Duncan Trussell. I went into it completely blind. I literally knew nothing about the series except its name.
The show is mainly about philosophical conversations between Clancy Gilroy, who owns a forbidden multiverse simulator. Clancy interviews an inhabitant of each world for his “space cast,” a podcast that gets aired into space. They discuss things like life, death, funerary practices, and spiritualism.
Each conversation comes from Trussel’s podcast The Duncan Trussel Family Hour, with bits and pieces of the 2-hour-long podcast, mashed into some sort of coherent piece. Oh, and a lot of these conversations happen during some sort of disaster scenario.
I’m not sure if I like it. I’m not even totally sure it’s good. I’m sure the podcasts can be interesting, but to be honest I could probably get more entertainment out of a stoned freshman philosophy major.
Is there a plot?
I can’t really say that this show has an overarching plot – there are elements that affect the story from one episode to the next, but they mostly affect “reality,” but we don’t spend enough time there to make things worthwhile,
And the events in one world doesn’t affect the others. There’s not a whole lot of continuity aside from Clancy’s slowly growing collection of shoes from his avatars and his simulator’s continuing insistence that Clancy needs to read the manual.
Which plays a role in the ending, somewhat. But there’s no real character growth, development or world building. Clancy pretty much remains the same immature, drug-addled, uncaring, egotistic and irresponsible manchild throughout the series.
He’s basically every single liberal arts philosophy student, except for the fact that he’s canonically in his forties. And I went to a tiny-ass, private liberal art school. At least a quarter of the guys were like this…
And while it is made clear that he’s kind of lost in his own way-but I find it hard to empathize with his plight. He’s a grown man – and his main source of entertainment and presumably income is going into an apocalyptic synthesized world and do nothing to help the fully sentient beings.
It’s like he doesn’t really care – despite having many philosophical conversations focusing on the nature of death and existence, it kind of cheapens the discussions in my opinion.
I suppose to an extent some of my discomfort and dislike of the show comes the kind of philosophy they discuss.
And I get these were taken from a podcast, so they can’t add a new idea – but so much of it is a Western, Christian, American-centric view, which also just is weird since Clancy doesn’t even live in our world. He lives in a dimension called “The Chromatic Ribbon.”
Not so diverse philosophy
Aside from the first episode, which focuses on the ethics of taking mind altering drugs like marijuana, LSD…etc. It’s kind of interesting and brings up some points I hadn’t really considered before. The rest of the episodes…that’s where the stoned philosophy major come in.
A lot of the focus is on things like death, existentialism viewed through either Christianity or Eastern philosophy. I’m gonna come right out and say it: every single goddamn time I see Eastern religion, meditation and philosophy bought into shows like this, it annoys me. Not because I think Eastern religion is bullshit, but because of how much it gets exoticized
The shows always act as though somehow philosophies like Buddhism are better, and they’re more mysterious, magical, exotic than Western (by which they mean Christian beliefs.)
The two are very different, but I wonder when any of these people have considered the reason they find it “mysterious” is that they don’t have a lot of experience with it?
I doubt meditation would seem exotic if you grow up in China or India.
And I’m not going after the people who actually found peace and help in those philosophies. The religions we grow up with aren’t always the one we stay with. It’s good to question and explore things, but the whole show seems to have the dichotomy of “Christianity” versus the “Eastern School of Thought” but fails to bring in any perspectives beyond that.
And it seems like most of the practitioners of magic and Eastern thought discussed are Americans who found it, as opposed to people who grew up with it.
I never listened to the podcast, so I don’t know why some of these people were chosen…but I know some are high up in their fields. But, the show misses out on so much. When they discuss funerary practices, they fail to mention that the viewing of the embalmed body and wake are very much Christian traditions, and they discuss the possibility of sitting with the body for a time before calling the funeral home.
Here’s the thing -if this was discussed in the podcast, it should have been discussed in the show as well – but that’s not applicable to every Western religion. I can only speak to my own experience, but none of that is a thing in Judaism.
Funerals takes place as soon as possible after death – usually within 24 hours if possible. (These days it’s usually within 3 days, to allow people to be able to travel.)
The body is not embalmed and there is no viewing. All Jewish funerals are closed casket. There are also volunteers called chevra kadisha who prepare the body for burial and shemira who ensure the body isn’t left alone. The shemiran also might read Psalms to comfort the soul. To note, the shemira aren’t relatives -they do it to relieve the relatives of the burden and give them time to mourn
I point this out because the show talks about it as though this the only form of funerary rites that Americans subscribe to, but I can’t relate to it at all. And it bothers me they don’t acknowledge other traditions.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve never quite understood the open casket concept or the idea of embalming, so it was kind of nice to learn about how the later became so popular.
Animation Matching the Story.
Contrasting visuals to the story can work. But I find that’s usually within the art style. Not the art style and what is happening on screen. The chaos of the show is often distracting, busy and noisy, taking away from the discussion at hand.
And at times, like with the tiddy birds in one episode, makes it all the more distracting, and I was unable to take the discussion as seriously.
I found it cheapened the talk. The conversations the characters are having aren’t meant to be viewed in this context. And I think that’s important to mention here. The vast majority of these episodes were originally conceived as podcasts -a mainly auditory medium with no visuals, and so they had to work from scratch.
And while they chose a style that was supposed to keep one’s attention -as nobody wants a talking head. It’s very hard to take a conversation between two people and animate into something interesting.
It’s not like a comic book or story where there’s an actual plot and characters that one can work with. The visuals and dialogue need to be thought of and conceived together- that’s why the BoJack Horseman episode “Free Churro” works even though it’s all dialogue. It was kept simple.
It was decided the visuals weren’t as important and rather than trying to make it interesting…they made it match.
And while the animation is complex, and interesting, it doesn’t help move the narrative forward or set a mood. And at times, it’s just disturbing. Like when one of Clancy’s avatars is a sunburned dude with a tumbleweed of genitalia or the guy who has a demon living in his ass.
Maybe I was just too sober while watching this show and should have had something to drink
Why It Doesn’t Work.
I don’t really listen to podcasts that much because I tune them out. And this show is basically a podcast with visuals that try to have a connection, but it’s hard to.
Sure the conversations are natural – but as a show, it doesn’t work. Especially when it’s droning and pretentious and mostly one person talking rather than feeling like an actual back and forth conversation. It is natural –they stumble over each other’s words –but it doesn’t make it any more tolerable.
And creating a story that is meant to be so fantastic, sci-fi and separated from our reality is really really weird when things like Jesus and marijuana laws are being discussed. So, all of these worlds still have the same history and culture? What’s the point?
Why would a multiverse simulator have a mainly 21st century, Western, mostly white worldview? And there’s chaos surrounding these characters. Half the time there’s a literal apocalypse going on, or they’re being made into food and the characters talk calmly like there’s nothing happening.
The thing is, I’ve also talked about how I like it when shows try to tackle the big questions and usually what they discuss is much more universal and ambiguous. And it feels more real because the people discussing it are naive or ignorant -they’re trying to find the answers. And they need to do it themselves.
And honestly, I disagreed with how definitive they decided to make some concepts like on the concept of hope…and how it holds people back. It just seems like such a ridiculous thing to me. You can’t survive on hope alone, of course, but combine it with action…and that’s something they don’t consider.
Girls’ Last Tour really only focuses on abstract concepts, and it works because the girls aren’t trying to explain them to their audience.
They’re innocent and uneducated about the past, for good reason, and are trying to make sense out of their world. Meanwhile, Clancy is just hopping through his vagina shaped reality simulator and talking to Western guys who found peace in Eastern philosophy.
It just doesn’t have the same oomph to me.
What Does Work
The final episode where Clancy has a discussion with his deceased mother (which comes from an actual podcast, Trussel did with his dying mother) is the best episode since the conversation is taken seriously, the topic treated with the proper emotional weight and the visuals in some ways do add to the story.
(Even if they include Clancy giving birth to his own mom. Which makes more sense in context.)
And I thought the pro-marijuana protestors yelling in front of the White House during a zombie apocalypse during the first episode was funny… We now know that people will protest inane things during disaster scenarios.
I also like how the show does try and focus on a less nihilistic version of philosophy and do talk about how the target audience’s worldview has been affected by growing up in the U.S.
But more variety in thought and topic would have been great. As well as the kind of people.
Even though I didn’t agree with everything she said, one person’s interview I found the most interesting was Anne Lammot. I ended up Googling her and found out she attended the same college I did. Which is pretty crazy considering there’s only 1,500 undergrads at the school…
But it’s not enough to make up for all my issues with the show.
I guess it’s possible I’m just not the target audience. But I gotta wonder who is.
I don’t know if there will be a second season of this show- and frankly I don’t really care. There’s no real plot and I didn’t get engaged with the few characters who do exist–so if all we’re seeing is new people each time and listening to the discussions —it just seems simpler to listen to the podcast and pick and choose what I want to hear and I’d get just as much out of it.
Wash your hands. Stay inside. Don’t drink or inject household cleaning products and that’s the scoop!
Year of Release: 2020
Length: 8 episodes: 20-36 minutes
Executive Producers: Pendleton Ward, Duncan Trussell, Antonio Canobbio, Ben Kalina, Chris Prynoski
Producers: Shannon Prynoski, Tony Salama
Director: Pendleton Ward
Creators: Pendleton Ward, Duncan Trussell
If you liked this read: “MFKZ” is a movie that should have stayed abbreviated