The White House is being overrun by zombies. Imagine hordes of slightly more lively Mike Pences and you will get the idea. The president is on the roof, picking off the undead with a shotgun to stop them eating his electoral base. In between offing the zombie hordes, he conducts an interview with the protagonist of The Midnight Gospel, Clancy.
So begins the strange cosmic journey of Netflix’s trippy new animated series, the most disarmingly bonkers cartoon I have ever seen.
The Midnight Gospel was created by Duncan Trussell and Pendleton Ward – it is a mash-up of the latter’s 2010-18 animated series Adventure Time with the podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, in which Trussell interviews guests about their life philosophies and meditation practices.
Clancy is no ordinary representative of the media. At the start of each episode, we find him inside his motorhome, scrolling through the menu of an illegal multiverse simulator to choose a universe to visit, to cull material for his spacecast, which is a podcast but with psychedelic visuals. The result is a little like Mr Benn for adults or, if you prefer, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but with Jerry Seinfeld replaced by a pink cartoon human wearing nothing but a Gandalf hat and a hand towel to conceal his modesty.
What’s more, Clancy has a line in questioning more profound than Seinfeld’s, inviting guests to reflect on life, death, whether the world is a computer simulation and why weed should be legalised. If Ram Dass had made the Simpsons, this is probably what it would have looked like.
In each of the eight episodes Netflix dropped on Monday, Clancy, having picked a suitable locale, puts his head in what appears to be a giant vagina before being transported across space time. Each half hour takes the form of a dialogue between Clancy and his guest. In the zombie episode, President Pinsky, on the run with Clancy from the zombies, tragically gets bitten. Before he mutates into a zombie, Pinsky finishes outlining the philosophy behind his administration’s drug policy, explaining that in his view there is no such thing as a bad drug, just that the circumstances in which they are taken can be bad or good.
In another episode, called Annihilation of Joy, Clancy visits a jail for simulated beings suffering from existential dread. It is a kind of Dante-esque circle of hell, in which the inmates are being punished for unexplained crimes, and works as a critique of US penal policy. But the guy Clancy planned to interview has bitten off his tongue, so instead he interviews a talking bird who claims to be the inmate’s psychopomp, or spirit guide.
As he and the bird discuss the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism (“Death is actually the big orgasm – the relinquishing of the self,” explains the bird. “The self obviously doesn’t exist, but is a source of suffering”), we see images of the inmate endlessly dying and being reborn. It is as if, through a cartoon, the makers are trying to explore Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return, as well as Schopenhauer’s suggestion that humans are trapped on a burning wheel of Ixion – an ordeal that ends only with the victim’s death.
But in the final, most touching, episode, Clancy chooses to visit a world inhabited by his mother. Once there, he reverts to the size of a baby and she to her age when she gave birth. Over 36 minutes, mother and son discuss the illusions of the ego as they age. He grows up while she shrivels, ultimately lying on her death bed while they continue the conversation. After she dies, he realises he is pregnant and goes into labour. Teddy bear medics in white coats deliver a baby who, after they have wiped the blood from her head, reveals herself as his mother reborn and continues the conversation she was having just before she died. It is all very odd, and I am not at all sure why the medics are teddy bears, but perhaps it is something Matt Hancock could consider.
It is a little sentimental, but I am sure many viewers will be in tears watching the series. While I won’t give away what happens at the end, fans of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation will be pleased to see how the last survivors of planet Earth dive back into the simulator, abandoning their fleshly bodies to lives as electric signals, nicely teeing up season two. I am looking forward to it already.
Source: The Guardian