Yes, it helps that the show was created around his podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, in which Trussell meanders through the universe and his psyche as himself. Perhaps Trussell’s gravely, sing-songy sound even helped Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward come up with the idea of turning the podcast into a cartoon.
“Sometimes in my more stoned moments, I think ‘Was this show channeled?'”
But there’s still something about Trussell’s delivery that feels divinely linked to his alter ego Clancy and the fantastical world of the Chromatic Ribbon, the surreal landscape where The Midnight Gospel takes place.
“It’s going to sound absolutely insane, but I feel like Clancy’s my little brother,” Trussell tells Mashable over the phone.
“Sometimes in my more stoned moments, I think, ‘Was this show channeled? Is this something that literally came from the Chromatic Ribbon? Is there a Chromatic Ribbon? And a Clancy? And through the combination of all of our brains did we create the creative equivalent of one of those search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligence radio telescopes and tune into a part of the multiverse? And it’s sort of trickling into this place via our show?’”
There’s a long pause.
“And then, I’ll come down and be like, ‘Nah, we probably just made a show.’”
With his staccato laugh and breathy musings, Trussell can be hard to differentiate from Clancy. But it’s these trippy experiences that make the bedrock of The Midnight Gospel. A meditation on reality, the series plays liberally with metaphysical and philosophical concepts while assaulting the senses with a technicolor world of animation.
It’s a creative torrent so overwhelming that numerous viewers have recommended taking breaks between the show’s half-hour episodes, and have even debated whether watching the show under the influence is simply too much to handle. (On our call, Trussell suggested viewers conduct a survey about which drugs go best with the show and curate the results for public knowledge, but he did warn that it could feel like “mixing psychedelics.”)
Though The Midnight Gospel has received from critics, the style has divided audiences — with frustrated fans not “getting it” and others only kind of joking that it gave them an existential crisis. It’s the criticism Trussell says he and his fellow creators were expecting.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a bit more polarizing than it seems to have been,” he says. “If someone is watching something we made and is getting freaked out or put off by it, I find that to be a powerful indicator we’ve done something right.”
“I find that to be a powerful indicator we’ve done something right.”
The Midnight Gospel’s ability to get under the skin of its viewers is one of its strongest assets — a quality that inspired publications to describe it using words like “” and “.” Trussell says it was done by design, pulling from an “amalgamation of archetypal symbols that were intentionally woven into every episode” and loosely inspired by the immersive work of David Lynch.
Still, the show had to hit a balance that allowed for a transporting experience, but didn’t fail to find an audience. The collaborative work of hundreds of artists allowed The Midnight Gospel team to explore universal experiences in a way that opened up creative channels and gave the project its best shot at achieving the desired effect.
But the show’s “reflective” quality, Trussell says, never could have been manufactured.
“This is what I love about tarot cards,” he offers from somewhere out in Clancy’s left field. “They’re just a way that you can see aspects of your psyche, the same ones a great therapist helps you see or that psychedelics can help you see. If you create enough of a mystery, if you create enough of a chaotic situation visually, and you do it in a way that isn’t too jarring, it produces a kind of mirror that people can start seeing themselves in.”
“We did a pretty great job of exploring the apocalypse, but after an apocalypse, you’ve gotta have a genesis.”
What audience members bring to the show appears to be deeply personal and individual. As a result, Trussell hesitates to answer questions about interpretations, particularly on the show’s cliffhanger finale which centers on aspects of Trussell’s private life. He’s comfortable broadly summarizing the first season as a reflection on death and annihilation, and as a possible precursor to something better.
“If we get to do a second season, I’d really like to explore genesis, creation, resurrection, what’s often called ‘crossing the abyss.’ We did a pretty great job of exploring the apocalypse, but after an apocalypse, you’ve gotta have a genesis.”
It’s an especially hopeful sentiment in light of current events. When I ask Trussell if he thinks we’ll see a similar rebirth when this reality’s present troubles come to an end, the some historians have promised, Trussell is quiet.
“Let me take that in. You’re gonna make me cry.”
As with most conversations these days, the global pandemic has hung over our phone call like a dark cloud. In a conversation about realities other than our own, it’s startling to remember just how much this one has changed lately. The moment of silence is uncomfortable, but powerful — much like The Midnight Gospel.
“I sure hope so,” Trussell finally says. “To answer your [earlier question], the intentions behind the show are benevolent. And if you’re feeling disrupted in some way, I hope that leads to some epiphanies about all of this.”
I ask Trussell how I can convince people who might not “get” his show to try it.
“There’s nothing I can do to fix that except let it be, and be there with it as much as I can until I let it pass.”
“You can’t. You know, that’s it. I have spent so many terrible moments with friends trying to convince them or trying to change them. My friends sense that. I hate it when I become self-help for my friends, especially when it’s not invited. And so far as the show goes, helping someone deal with a new experience is challenging.”
But what if it could make them feel better right now?
“I guess I would say, when you’re watching the show, just be with the show in the moment. And if you’re feeling freaked out or confused or uncomfortable, just be with that. Let the show connect with you. Because that’s what we’ve gotta do right now. It’s like when I’m having crushing anxiety from the moments of realization that I can’t go outside right now without in some way risking suffocating from a viral pneumonia and leaving my son without a father. There’s nothing I can do to fix that except let it be, and be there with it as much as I can until I let it pass.”
For those who have seen The Midnight Gospel’s finale, this is a particularly devastating sentiment. And for everyone else, watch the show. All the way to the end. You’ll get it.
The Midnight Gospel is now streaming on Netflix.