Rick and Morty: A Viewer's Guide to Adult Swim's New Sci-Fi Show
Rick And Morty, the animated series from Community mastermind Dan Harmon, currently airs on Adult Swim. Here's what you need to know.
Community is back on the air with creator Dan Harmon reinstated in his role as showrunner. While all of us (and by all of us I actually mean a rather small portion of the TV-viewing public) are very happy about that, it is important to acknowledge that there are currently two pieces of Harmon-produced media on the air. The one that’s not Community is an animated sci-fi comedy on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim called Rick and Morty, co-created with Harmon’s longtime friend and collaborator, Justin Roiland. And if Community is something of a cult show, then the following for Rick and Morty is like a baby cult. I don’t mean a cult where the members are all babies. I mean like a tiny, underdeveloped cult.
People are slowly becoming aware of this show, but there still aren’t nearly as many .gifs of Rick belching as there are of Alison Brie running in slow-motion and, though I recognize that trying to get those numbers equal is fighting a losing battle, it is one I shall fight all the same. Reason being, if you’d all just check Rick and Morty out, I think you might really like it!
Or hate it.
So what I’m going to do here is provide you with some background on the show, a viewer’s guide of sorts, to clue you in on it and let you know if Rick and Morty sounds like the show for you.
Or, alternatively, if you should avoid it at all costs.
YOU WILL LOVE RICK AND MORTY IF…
1. You love Community for the parodies.
Dan Harmon has always had a penchant for doing themed episodes. You know, those parody episodes of Community that gave us the amazing action-movie-style paintball episode or that weird but awesome half-Pulp Fiction, half-My Dinner with Andre one? Well, Harmon’s been doing that since back in his days of making bizarre shorts for the website he and Rob Schrab started, Channel101.com (check out his series Water and Power on that site for proof).
Rick and Morty is about a genius scientist (Rick), dragging his grandson (Morty) around on wacky sci-fi adventures. Rick is so brilliant that he can invent anything and go anywhere — outer space, dreams, other dimensions, etc. In other words, unlike Community where the events need to be occasionally reined in so it still feels like a real place with real people, Rick and Morty’s premise is so open-ended and fantastical that it would be doing its own concept a disservice if it didn’t present insane adventures in completely new, otherworldly settings from episode to episode. (It also helps that it’s a cartoon.)
The first episode seemed to just be doing generic sci-fi stuff as Rick and Morty traveled to another dimension so Rick could smuggle “mega seeds” from a special tree back to their home dimension. But the second episode is in part a very blunt Inception parody in which Rick and Morty incept Morty’s math teacher to make him give Morty good grades. As Rick helpfully explains, “It’s like Inception, so if it’s confusing and stupid then so is everyone’s favorite movie.” The plot running concurrently with this one is about Morty’s dog developing super-intelligence thanks to a special helmet Rick’s invented. And the episode is actually titled “The Lawnmower Dog.” Get it?!?
The third episode is about Rick starting a tiny amusement park with his single-celled friend, Dr. Xenon Bloom (played by Community alum, John Oliver), inside the body of a diseased alcoholic. In an obvious take-off of Jurassic Park (with a sprinkling of action genre clichés), the attractions (e.g., gonorrhea and hepatitis A) have grown unruly. Morty is shrunk down by Rick and sent in to deal with the situation. By the way, this is the Christmas episode.
2. You like Futurama.
I was never a huge Futurama fan, but I found that it adequately filled a unique niche: animated sci-fi comedy for adults. Well, Futurama is over now! And have I not already made it clear that Rick and Morty is servicing this very niche?!? Admittedly, this show is much darker than Futurama ever was. For example, it’s typical for loads of innocent people and aliens to die as a result of the protagonists’ actions.
In the pilot, Rick uses a freeze-ray on a bully who falls over and shatters into pieces. In the “Anatomy Park” episode I just mentioned, the guy Morty’s inside of dies around the halfway point and he spends the rest of the episode trying to escape from the inside of a corpse.
But you can take such morbidity. In fact, you have no choice as Futurama is no more! Rick and Morty is the new future! Rama.
3. You like Adult Swim.
Much of Adult Swim’s programming throws conventional narrative to the wind and looks like it got slapped together with pocket change and shoestrings. Rick and Morty looks like it’s got a decent budget and is quite solidly structured with each episode balancing two plots: a crazy sci-fi side and a conventional sitcom side featuring the rest of Morty’s family (Chris Parnell as his dad, Jerry, Spencer Grammar as his sister, Summer, and Sarah Chalke as Morty’s mom, Beth). Dan Harmon has stated in interviews that his hope for the show is for it to be like The Simpsons of Adult Swim.
All that aside, Rick and Morty is mental and obnoxious enough to feel right at home on Adult Swim. The most evident illustration of this is Rick himself. He’s an alcoholic and often swigs from a flask he keeps in his lab coat pocket. His constant drinking comes complete with a gross, almost ever-present outline of green spittle around his mouth and frequent belching. No, I’m serious. A huge amount of Rick’s dialogue is interrupted by disgusting, massive belches. Furthermore, he ends nearly every sentence he says to Morty (which is just about every sentence he says), by saying his name, as in: “Come on, Morty. You have to do this for me, Morty.”
I get that this is the modern era of comedy in which Family Guy and South Park rule the airwaves, so maybe a show like this in which the school principal is named Principal Vagina and there are lines like “your anal cavity is still taut yet malleable,” could show up on network TV or at least another basic cable network. But there’s something about the almost ceaseless disgustingness of Rick that just feels like it couldn’t fly anywhere except on Adult Swim.
4. You’re a Justin Roiland fan.
Co-creator Justin Roiland is far from a household name, so there’s a chance you’re a fan of him without even knowing it. You may have heard his beautiful, infectious voice on Adventure Time. He plays the Earl of Lemongrab. And while there aren’t any characters who act or sound quite like Lemongrab on Rick and Morty, Lemongrab’s episodes are getting progressively more disturbing with frightening imagery like Lemongrab electrocuting children and devouring clones of himself whole. I don’t know how directly involved Roiland is in the direction his Adventure Time character is going, but it seems as though the writers are creating material that fits perfectly with his creative sensibilities all the same.
Dan Harmon’s involvement with Rick and Morty is definitely felt, but it’s very much Justin Roiland’s disturbing baby. If you want to look into the odd levels to which Roiland’s stuff goes, check him out on Channel101 or go to his website RoilandTV.com. But just to give you an idea, he’s responsible for a webshow called “2 Girls, 1 Cup: The Show” (it’s actually far less disgusting than its source material).
Beyond that, probably the best indication of what you’re in for with Rick and Morty is another animated series that Roiland and Harmon collaborated on for the short-lived VH1 sketch show Acceptable.TV called “Mr. Sprinkles.” There are only eight episodes and each one is about two-and-a-half minutes long so you can watch it all in one sitting. It’s obnoxiously difficult to find the entire series in one place, but VH1.com currently appears to be the best place for it. So do have a look. It happens to be one of my most favorite things in the world ever.
Also, incidentally, Roiland voices both Rick and Morty, which is an impressive feat considering how natural it sounds when the two of them bicker.
5. The concept of a twisted take on Back to the Future is hilarious to you.
Rick and Morty originate from a Back to the Future parody video Roiland made for Channel101 called The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti. I don’t think I can even discuss the content of that video here, so if you go looking for it, do know that it isn’t at all representative of the Adult Swim show (aside from the fact that the voices are roughly the same, complete with belching).
Actually, despite the name change, the final, televised product is a much more proper sendup of Back to the Future. Basically, imagine if Marty was a total idiot and Doc wasn’t his friend, but rather an abusive relative who forced him into going along with all their sci-fi adventures. That’s Rick and Morty.
YOU MIGHT HATE RICK AND MORTY IF…
1. You are a child.
Children should NOT watch Rick and Morty.
2. You are old.
Old people are mentally equivalent to children and should NOT watch Rick and Morty.
3. You like Community for its heart.
Dan Harmon has stated that on Community he’s taking the normal trappings of a sitcom (meaningful interactions between characters) and finding ways to fit them into high-concept tomfoolery. But on Rick and Morty he has the opposite job. Justin Roiland provides the high-concept insanity, so Dan Harmon has to inject the beast with heart.
This is why, aside from the sci-fi stuff, there are plots with Morty’s mom, dad, and sister, to give the show some grounding with a conventional sitcom scenario. And while there are some emotional moments (like a sweet scene between Morty and his dog before it disappears into another dimension at the end of Episode 2), the crazy sci-fi comedy trumps the sappiness by some distance. We’re only three episodes in, so maybe the emotions will get cranked up on us suddenly (after all, the aforementioned Harmon-Roiland joint venture, “Mr. Sprinkles” pulls that off with amazing skill), but so far I don’t come to this show for the love.
Rick does occasionally say stuff that implies he cares about Morty, like this line from the pilot: “The world is full of idiots who don’t understand what’s important. And they’ll tear us apart, Morty.” But he delivers this while standing over Morty as he squirms on the floor having a horrible fit induced by having mega seeds smuggled up his rectum.
4. You like Adult Swim for the wrong reasons.
As mentioned, much of Adult Swim’s lineup is deliberately low-rent looking, narratively-insane stuff, e.g., Aqua Teen, Squidbillies, or 12 oz. Mouse. If this is your image of Adult Swim, Rick and Morty won’t fit within your parameters.
You might also not like it if you like Robot Chicken, Family Guy, or American Dad because this means you like crap.
5. You refuse to accept the crushing truths of existence.
Cartoons are for light-hearted fun, right? And sci-fi cartoons are about wacky, happy adventures! Forget the pains of life and rocket off to other planets and universes! Kooky creatures! Zany aliens! Harebrained premises! Forget your worries and lose yourself in otherworldly fantasy, yes?
While Rick and Morty does an amazing job overextending itself with unique settings and outlandish concepts from week to week, it also keeps things grounded in reality—the worst parts of it. The multiverse of Rick and Morty is one in which you’ll be introduced to a new alien race the likes of which you’ve never seen and they’ll promptly be massacred. It’s an existence where a silly-looking jellybean monster might force itself upon you in a public bathroom stall. It’s an unreality where the only viable solution to a problem is to bury the battered corpse of an alternative universe version of yourself and then take its place.
Yes, Rick and Morty is crazy, sci-fi fun-time but it’s spliced with a stark dose of very visceral, very dark reality. It imagines what it would be like if you had access to all of space and time and much of it proved to be just as awful as the world we live in now.
So like I said before, Futurama fans, you’re welcome to join us over here on the dark side. But ain’t nobody gonna hold your hand, hear?
So check out Rick and Morty, Monday nights at 10:30 PM EST on Adult Swim! And remember that (at least so far) they’ve been keeping each episode up on YouTube a week after its airing! Join us! It’s a show for everyone!