Published on October 2nd, 2015 | by Michael0
Why You Should All Be Watching Rick & Morty
We Wubba Lubba dub-dub Rick & Morty
The adult comedy cartoon is a tricky beast. For every genuinely brilliant episode of South Park there are a dozen failed Adult Swim properties. If it’s a string of irrelevant manatee gags you want, Seth McFarlane has you covered. If you want something more, you may have trouble finding it. I found the much ballyhooed Venture Bros to be a comic wasteland and my soul is still scarred from the episode or two I saw of the dreadful Drawn Together. Archer, a series I love beyond all reason, is so beautifully rendered (and generally beholden to the laws of physics) that it barely qualifies as a cartoon.
When I first heard about Rick & Morty, I was far from excited. For one, it was based on a series of shorts called Doc & Mharti, a Back to the Future parody that was crude in the extreme. For another thing, Doc & Mharti creator Justin Roiland brought Dan Harmon, of Community fame, aboard to help him with the new series. Now I love the first two seasons of Community but the show has long since been on the slide, both with and without Harmon, whose behaviour in the past has marked him out as a bit of a tit. Furthermore, I was put off Rick & Morty by the fact that one of the leads couldn’t complete a sentence without burping.
Eventually I decided the take the plunge and give the show a chance. And it’s utterly brilliant. Rick is Rick Sanchez, scientific genius, transdimensional outlaw, alcoholic grandfather. Morty is his naïve, nervous Grandson, frequently shanghaied into his granddad’s schemes. Both are voiced by Roiland, who largely improvises his dialogue. Indeed, the episodes are often retro-scripted to take into account Roiland’s digressions. The cold opening for the first episode sets the tone for the entire series; Rick bursts into Morty’s bedroom and takes him out in his flying saucer, intent on destroying civilisation with a Neutron Bomb –‘we can pick up that girl you like from your Math class, Jessica’, Rick promises. Morty talks Rick down; Rick disarms the bomb, falls out the saucer, vomits. Then the bomb rearms itself. Cue credits…
Rick & Morty has a very small permanent cast. As well as the two title characters, there is Morty’s older sister Summer (Spencer Grammer, Kelsey’s daughter), mother Beth (Sarah Chalke) a horse doctor who has inherited at least some of her father’s vast intelligence, and father Jerry (Archer’s Chris Parnell), a cosmic force of mediocrity. Bar a handful of recurring school characters (‘Principal Vagina, no relation’), that’s yer lot. The reason for this is because each episode is a self-contained wonder, usually introducing a rich, vast world for one episode only. In the series opener, Rick and Morty go to an eerie forest world to track down seeds, and then spend the second half trapped on a nightmarishly bureaucratic interdimensional airport. Chased by guards, Rick urges young Morty to shoot them. ‘They’re just robots!’ he exclaims. When Morty shoots one, clearly biological, guard and he begins to bleed to death, Rick clarifies his position; ‘It’s a figure of speech Morty. They’re bureaucrats. I don’t respect them’.
What makes Rick & Morty such essential viewing is its relentless invention, as well as its boldness of ideas. A typical episode will feature Rick and Morty gallivanting across the cosmos and beyond, while the B story will feature the domestic life of the Smith family. Beth’s withering putdowns to Jerry and Summer’s heroic attempts to lead a normal life provide an excellent contrast to the high concept hijinks of the titular characters. Roiland has said that he wants Rick & Morty to balance the domesticity of The Simpsons with the hard sci-fi of Futurama. Unlike Futurama though which would keep going back to the same well time and again (yes you, Omicronians), Rick & Morty endeavours to introduce a new menagerie of aliens and the like each week. Examples so far include a sentient, musical gas cloud which calls itself ‘Fart’ voiced by Jermaine Clement and Unity, a hive mind who colonises a planet and uses the bodies of the local to have sex with Rick. A lot.
Dan Harmon, for his part, has acknowledged to debt the show owes to British sci-fi, especially The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who, taking the humour and madcap scenery changes of the former and the genius/companion dynamic of the latter. Like The Doctor, it’s impossible to really relate with Rick, not only is he an arsehole of the first magnitude but he’s also undeniably a super-genius. No, the audience needs Morty, not only to act a surrogate but also to try and rein Rick in and act as his conscience, usually with disastrous results.
Harmon is a keen student of Joseph Campbell and the monomyth and his appreciation for story structure shines through in Rick & Morty, even allowing for Roiland’s ad libs. A lot of the stories in the episodes compare favourably to more serious fare. One example is Season One’s ‘M Night Shaym-Aliens’, a well-crafted virtual reality tale in which David Cross guest stars as the leader of the galaxy’s most ambitious, least successful scam artists. The aliens, incidentally, are grossed out by nudity, which may be a nod to the naked scammer aliens from Bender’s Big Score. Another excellent sci-fi story is ‘Rick Potion #9’, in which Rick attempts to make a love potion for Morty to use on Jessica and in doing so dooms the entire world. The ending sequence is one of the most dark and devastating I can remember, but the effect is tempered by the post credits scene, in which Jerry breaks free of his shackles to remodel himself as a road warrior, in the process winning back the love of his wife and daughter. Apparently the Smith family would be much better off without Rick & Morty.
What makes the show stand out so much is that having had a great idea for an episode, it has the guts to follow the idea through. Take Season Two’s ‘Total Rickall’ for example. The plot could be straight out of Doctor Who. A parasite worm that preys on memories has infected the family; each time it creates a false memory of a person or creature, it creates a copy of itself. Soon the Smith household is full of wacky creatures like Amish Cyborg and Reverse Giraffe (the ever game, ever wonderful Keith David). Whereas Doctor Who would over-complicate, be needlessly vague and then have the good guys win by having an emotion very hard, Rick & Morty sees it through to the bitter, bloody end. And how many other series would dare have an episode take place across 64 separate timelines, as in Season Two’s opener A Rickle in Time?
It’s not all hard sci-fi, of course. One of the most popular episodes in the series so far is Season One’s Rixty Minutes, in which Rick hacks the family’s cable allowing them to watch TV from all over the multiverse. This is just an excuse for Justin Roiland to ad lib increasingly bizarre scenarios, with all the uhms and ahs left in. ‘TV in other realities has a much looser feel’ observes Morty. Highlight include blockbuster film ‘Two Brothers’ and the A-Team parody ‘Ball Fondlers’, which was turned into a hit film franchise in a world visited in a later episode. The show also has wonderful guest stars, from Keith David, to John Oliver as a Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park amoeba, to the incomparable Werner Herzog who delivers this wonderful monologue about humour on Earth;
“I’ve dwelled among the humans. Their entire culture is built around their penises. It’s funny to say they are small; it’s funny to say they are big. I’ve been at parties where humans have held bottles, pencils and thermoses in front of themselves and called out, ‘Hey, look at me! I’m Mr. So-And-So Dick! I’ve got such-and-such for a penis!’ I never saw it fail to get a laugh.”
Read that back to yourself in Herzog’s voice and try not to laugh. I dare you.
The show is also brilliantly upfront about its pop culture references, too. In Season One, Rick wants to go into Morty’s maths teacher’s dream to implant the idea of giving Morty an A (thus freeing Morty up to go on expeditions with Rick). ‘It’s like that film you like so much, Inception’. When the plan goes awry, Morty becomes confused. ‘It’s like Inception, Morty, so if it’s confusing and stupid, then so is everyone’s favourite movie’ admonishes Rick. In the latest episode, on an alien world, the pair are warned to leave the planet before ‘the festival’ begins at sundown. ‘Oh, like The Purge?’ Rick guesses correctly. ‘We’re on a Purge planet!’
Despite debuting in 2013, the show is only in its second series (airing now on Fox in the UK) so there’s a chance to get on board early. The slow turnaround is probably due to Harmon’s other commitments, but the creators have promised there won’t be such a gap next time. As Rick says in the pilot ‘Rick and Morty, for ever and ever!’ On the DVD commentary, Harmon points out what a millstone ‘six seasons and a movie’ became for Community so Roiland may live to regret ending the first episode with the main character repeating over and over again ‘100 years, Rick and Morty!’. I for one eagerly await the next 98 seasons.