Note: Below you’ll find a transcript of the above video, which I’ve included for the hearing impaired and anyone who just doesn’t like the sound of my voice.
Hey there, a handful of folks watched my early impressions video on The Midnight Gospel, so I figured I’d finish watching the show to see whether my feelings changed at all.
They kind of did, kind of. Let’s talk about it.
I’ve conveniently split this review into two sections: one where I say some mean things, and one where I say some nice things.
And a quick note before we hop in: if you’re not familiar with The Midnight Gospel, it’s basically a podcast with accompanying animations. It covers a lot of very big, abstract concepts, including religious and spiritual concepts. And while I do not agree with a lot of what the guests were trying to say, I will not be analyzing or countering those ideas. I don’t feel like a review is a good place to do that, and I also don’t want to casually dismiss the beliefs of other people.
Alright. Let’s get mean.
Some Mean Things
I didn’t like the humor very much.
So this show can be broken down into two very distinct parts. You have the actual interviews Trussell is doing with a very diverse group of guests, [ joke picture] and you have the “story” elements that are relevant to the animated reality of the show.
The interviews have small moments of incidental humor, but for the most part, the written jokes all take place in the animated story space.
So I thought these jokes would be pretty fun, ‘cuz after all, they had more time and they actually wrote a script, right? But the sense of humor they used just isn’t really my thing.
I mentioned this before, but it feels like the worst possible Adult Swim humor, ya know, like all the horrible improvised bits of Rick and Morty, or any other animated Adult Swim show.
I think one of the only moments where I actually laughed was during Maria Bamford’s cameo. By the way, I would have preferred to see her as one of the guests, not just a goofy cameo character in between hollow musings about meditation. But what’re you gonna do …
But then again, if the story-related humor had been better, it would have been yet another reminder that I would have enjoyed the show more if it was just a fun space-adventure narrative.
I didn’t like (most of) the guests
Alright, so I talked about this in my previous video, but I had real trouble listening to the guests they had on this show.
I spent a good long while consuming entertainment that involved talking to people about the nature of life, death, and love. Specifically, I’ve already heard a lot of talk from people who are very into meditation, Eastern religions, and outlooks that would be considered new-agey.
In the Midnight Gospel, I sometimes agreed with things the guests said. Most of the time I didn’t. But the messaging isn’t really what frustrated me.
I was frustrated because the guests, and their perspectives, didn’t seem to match the show. If the core idea is that this kind of aimless character is visiting with smart people who are gonna teach him about life and death, then why do all the guests feel like Esalen regulars who have been heavily impacted by Buddhist thought?
Where’s the diversity?
Diversity of any kind, but especially diversity of thought. That would have been a million times more interesting to me as a viewer.
Why didn’t he just talk to people? Like regular people who don’t live in Marin County? How is it that Creature Comforts communicated more wisdom than this show?
But instead of presenting diverse beliefs and thoughts, there’s this sense of implicit endorsement of what’s being said, which is made even more grating by Trussell’s interview style.
Cuz, ya know, when a journalist interviews people, they ask very pointed questions, and they might even challenge one of the interviewee’s statements, if only to see how they respond.
And yeah, Trussell keeps up pretty well, but for the most part his responses amount to something like, “Whoaaaaaaaaa…”
And here’s the real kicker for me. Had I encountered any of these people outside of the context of the show, I probably would have been more open to their ideas and their work.
But here, in almost every episode, I felt like I was listening to a sales pitch. Yes, that has to do with my own personality and my own biases, but it also has to do with how these people speak. It’s really hard to not read condescension or arrogance in their delivery. Or I would get distracted by the idea that all of these people have paaallenty of cash, which has afforded them the luxury of thinking and talking about these abstract concepts all the time, whereas most people have to function in the world and survive and all that.
(To be fair, Trussell tries to address this disparity in the final episode, but that whole thing is a separate discussion.)
Side note: why does every new age book have just the worst cover? They’re all terrible. Do they not know any visual artists? Or are they all married to awful visual artists? Like, even a solid color would be better. Or just a blank jacket.
The way in which a message is communicated is very important to me, so hearing these people just sermonize on and on immediately turned me off, which is a shame when some of what they’re saying is interesting.
Ok, one more mean thing.
I just didn’t enjoy the show.
I have to admit that, as much as I wanted to enjoy the show, I just didn’t, and I don’t see myself revisiting these episodes anytime soon.
I understand this isn’t the most intellectual point that I could make, but it is honest, and I think it’s an important part of any review.
I just didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t have fun with it, I didn’t feel challenged, and I didn’t feel satisfied.
In fact, halfway through just about every episode, I found myself wanting it to end. I didn’t want to see any more wacky animations and I didn’t want to hear people talk anymore.
There was one episode where the simulation computer guy said that everyone on the planet had lost their tongue, and I got so excited. I was picturing an all-silent episode where the visuals would tell the story. Instead, we got the most miserable episode with the most arrogant guest.
A lyric came to mind that kind of summarizes how I felt most of the time while watching the show. It comes to us from Will Toledo, AKA Car Seat Headrest:
“And you know I’m alright with death / But why you talk about it so goddamn much.”
While we’re here, I should mention that I interviewed him years ago over Facebook and never published it anywhere, so here it is.
I think that’s enough of being mean. I’m not that good at it.
Here are some nice things.
The Visuals were very good.
I still like the visuals of this show. After I published my early impressions, I got some … slightly rude comments saying that the visuals of this show are actually bad.
And, ok, if it’s not your kind of thing or if you have very high standards for animation framerates, I guess you could find fault with it.
But I just plain enjoyed the look of this show, and when compared to any other contemporary animated television show, it’s great.
It looks better than the Simpsons, it looks better than the Family Man, it looks better than Bob’s Burgers, it looks better than Archer, it looks better than Paradise PD, it looks better than Steven Universe Future, it looks better than Futurama. You get the idea.
A lot of that has to do with time. This is a relatively short season, not like a kids’ show that has to crank out dozens of episodes a year.
But I also have to give credit to Pendleton Ward’s direction. I have to assume he had a big impact on how the show looks and how it’s animated.
And it seems like they have a nice team of people working on the visuals.
Thanks, folks. And if you’re doing prints of some stills or something, please send one to me. For free. The money is gone.
The last episode was the best episode.
The last episode features Trussell’s real-life mom, who we know from the previous episode died some time ago.
During the interview, they talk about her inevitable death quite a bit.
She was a psychologist, so she ends up talking about a lot of the same very abstract concepts as the other guests, but she’s immediately more likable.
Also, the words just aren’t as important in this one. It’s more about witnessing this very intimate conversation between a mother and son.
This episode works in all the ways the other episodes didn’t.
It was easy to watch, and more importantly, it had genuine emotional impact.
There’s a famous saying among screenwriters: wow them at the end, and I feel like that’s why certain people have been reviewing this show well. That last episode gives the impression that the whole show has been good, and that it has explored some big stuff.
But for me, only that last episode had any kind of real impact. It was also the only time I felt like the visuals meshed well with the conversation.
The End Part
For most of my adulthood, I’ve only taken serious life advice from fiction. For whatever reason, I respond more positively to subtle messaging, especially when it’s couched in beautiful writing.
I remember reading James Joyce’s Ulysses about five years ago.
By far, the section that affected me the most was the very end. We don’t need to mention story details here, but the final word of this massive, dense, difficult book is a repeated and emphatic “yes.”
That yes is the ultimate climax. The entire book up to that point essentially amounts to the word, “No.” It’s about resistance, struggling, saying no either in word or in spirit over and over, moving through daily life with head hung low. Then that inevitable yes finally comes.
It’s not hard to see Ulysses as one big metaphor for the human condition. Survival requires so many no’s. Survival is a no, survival is resistance.
Then, in the end, whether we wanted to or not, we end up saying yes. We stop resisting, and finally, we give in.
I really love Ulysses because it didn’t just tell me this. The book made me believe it.
And I understand why so many people get nothing out of the book. For them, it doesn’t communicate truth in the same way.
The Midnight Gospel doesn’t speak to me. It didn’t change my perspective and I’ll probably forget about it in just a few weeks.
But if it works for you, if this show has helped you to better understand the inevitable yes, then I’m really, really happy for you.