A Rewatch of… The Midnight Gospel (2020)

When you rewatch something, that overall experience can never be the same again – the mental circumstances occurring as you watch will always be different. This was my mindset going into my latest rewatch of ‘The Midnight Gospel’ (2020), a show I’ve now seen three times. ‘The Midnight Gospel’ is an adaption of sorts of ‘The Duncan Trussell Family Hour’ podcast, with the heavy, authentic conversations of the show being mixed with a vibrant fantasy world created by Pendleton Ward of ‘Adventure Time’ fame, featuring Trussell’s “character” Clancy interviewing simulated beings whose universes are about to end (thus the eponymous “Midnight Gospel”). Simply from the way the show is presented, it feels as if you’re watching two shows at once: a high concept sci-fi adult animation, and a journey through different approaches to mindfulness.

When I first saw ‘The Midnight Gospel’, I’d been in lockdown for a month and had been getting slowly into Buddhism. This show skyrocketed my interest. Upon this rewatch I was quite familiar with Eastern spirituality and the ideas of Ram Dass, so found I could more easily grasp many of the concepts I couldn’t on my first watch. One of the things I’ve noticed introducing friends to it is that one’s ignorance of these concepts doesn’t make the show any less accessible. The nature of these conversations means they’re presented for Duncan’s Western audience; in the second episode, for instance, the discussion is primarily on Christianity, dabbling only a little into Dass.

It also occurred to me on this rewatch that there’s a healthy blend of guests from all walks of life (both in reality and their fictionalised depictions), offering a variety of nuanced perspectives. There’s an addiction medicine specialist (represented as the president during a zombie apocalypse), a mortician (represented as Death with a gigantic eyeball and a party hat), and a falsely-convicted magician released from death row (animated as a fish in a robot suit). The zaniness of the concept grasps viewers and provides an alternative if one finds the conversation too much. However, a downside to this approach was that at times, particularly on my first watch, I found myself distracted by the animation and thus not understanding the deep conversations guests were having.

Upon my third rewatch, I realised what captivated me about the show was the sheer reality of these conversations, partly due to Duncan’s openness as a host to address things other hosts would avoid. For instance, in the first five minutes of episode one he describes how he nearly died from mixing sleeping pills with alcohol; later in that same episode he opens up about his past anger issues. However, the episode that hit hardest with this facet was the final one, which used a podcast episode from 2013, wherein Duncan interviewed his mother dying from cancer. Sure, the emotions are depicted using animated characters, but I was struck by how sincerely REAL everything was, far more real than the fake tears an actor can give you on a screen. On this watch, I realised that I’d listened to one of the last conversations between a mother and her son, between two people who loved each other immensely, forever immortalised through the show, and that really touched me.

All in all, I feel that this rewatch solidified my thought that ‘The Midnight Gospel’ is a show that seeks to offer different people’s answers for the big questions while offering genuine teachings about mindfulness. It doesn’t tell you what to think like a lot of modern “philosophical” media, instead it simply gives you new perspectives on things you thought you already understood.

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Alex Grenfell