In recent years, an Adult Swim show selling itself as weird or surreal has basically always caused my eyes to glaze over in exhaustion. Much of Adult Swim’s recent shows, like 12 oz. Mouse and Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show: Great Job pretty much peaked Adult Swim’s weirdness, as well as not being very good. Hence when I started seeing ads for Rick and Morty, a sci-fi comedy show selling itself as very weird, I kind of dismissed it. Until people whose opinions I generally trust started telling me I needed to see it. So I finally gave it a shot.
I can’t remember the last time I got a first impression so wrong.
Rick and Morty is pretty simple on the outset, but it has a setup that allows for a lot of different stories. At some point in the recent past, super scientist Rick Sanchez has returned to his family after a period of unspecified absence. Despite living with his now married daughter and her family, Rick has elected to continue his research into…whatever. His research takes the form of incredibly bizarre and dangerous adventures across time and space, into which he drags his grandson Morty.
From Rick’s character design and the fact that Morty is suspiciously close to Marty, you might think that there’s a Back to the Future riff going on, and you might be right to some extent. But from where I’m sitting, judging by the planet hopping and different weird dimensions I’d say a much bigger influence is Classic Dr. Who, but with one major difference: Rick is an alcoholic, pill popping, barely stable and occasionally casually sociopathic lunatic.
It doesn’t seem much of a setup, but there’s a lot of meat on those bones. The willingness to be straight up bizarre and disgusting right from the start gives them a lot of leeway to do…well whatever they want. If the show benefits from anything right up front it’s the sheer flexibility of the concept. One episode they’re going to a magical fairy tale-esque land, and in the next they’re using a device that allows them to see all TV channels from all different realities.
The dynamic is pretty simple on the outset, but there are elements that genuinely surprised me such as how protective Rick can be of Morty, or the weird way sweetness gets mixed into the strained relationship between Morty’s parents. And unlike a lot of comedy, it’s not afraid to have some non-subverted pathos. A standout moment in the series is a sequence in which, for reasons I won’t go into, Rick and Morty are forced to abandon their universe for one where they’ve recently died, so they can just slip into their other selves’ lives. The way the scene is done is dark yes, but it also highlights the difference between Rick and Morty’s reactions, basically forcing both us, and Morty, to realize that this is probably not the first time Rick has done that, or something similar.
But enough talking about the complexities of the show. All of that uniqueness and pathos is just colorful wrapping paper around the central question: is it funny? And the answer is…well yes, it’s screamingly funny. The setup allows for a variety of different settings and storylines, most of which are executed flawlessly. Justin Roiland is brilliant in both of the title roles, his stammering deadpan suits Rick perfectly as does his high pitched yelling for Morty. The moment that defined the series for me is in the first episode I ever saw in which Rick, having successfully completed one of his schemes that has made him wealthy, stops for a moment before saying “All right, I’m bored, everybody out,” and promptly burning the building he’s in to the ground.
There are other things I could talk about, like the Mister Meseeks (a concept that is both hysterical and horrifying), the episode with multiple ad-libbed advertisements or the episode with what appears to be an extended parody of Adventure Time (and if you know anything about animation fandom, you know that it takes guts to take the piss out of Adventure Time) but that’s not fair to you. The best way to go into a comedy is cold, so the jokes aren’t ruined for you. So all you need to know is this: most shows, even good shows, take a while to find their footing; Archer took the better part of a season, American Dad! spent it’s first 13 episodes as a weak Family Guy knockoff before finding its voice. Rick and Morty is the exception, a show that understands what it is and what it wants to be right out of the gate. And what it wants to be is the best animated sci-fi comedy since Futurama. Most of the series is up on Adult Swim’s website right now, so I advise you not to miss it.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he is legally required to like any show that uses Cronenberg as a verb.
– great animation
– unique stories
– one of the funniest things on TV
– not a lot of continuity until the last couple episodes
– very, very, very weird