Season 2 of Rick and Morty premiered last Sunday on Adult Swim, and in my mind, that episode was the perfect example of why the show is so damn good. In the premiere episode, “A Rickle In Time,” Rick, Morty, and Summer are about to unfreeze time after six months (though in reality the break between seasons was over a year). The long pause in time leaves their universe susceptible to disruption and before long something goes wrong. The show suddenly has two timelines the viewer has to follow. Rick and Morty is hardly the first show to do the “what would both outcomes look like” episode, but here the simultaneous timelines are presented at the same time. Eventually, two timelines becomes four, which exponentially grows as things go wrong and wronger due to some character’s uncertainty. In the hands of anybody other than Dan Harmon, this would immediately become convoluted and impossible to follow. Despite having an infinite number of possibilities, the show maintains its structure. The episode was a narrative success, funny, and most importantly it managed to deal with some actually interesting and unique science-fiction. And that is exactly the DNA that makes Rick and Morty, created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, one of the must-watch shows on television right now.
But one cannot talk about Rick and Morty without a bit of history, specifically that of its creator Dan Harmon. Dan Harmon is a somewhat polarizing figure in Hollywood. The mastermind behind NBC’s Community and host of the podcast Harmontown is something of a tortured creative genius and can be his own worst enemy at times. His public feuds with NBC and with series star Chevy Chase eventually opened the door for his unceremonious exit from the show. After a fourth season that was less than loved, NBC did something unheard of and brought back Harmon. But after everything, many felt Harmon’s spark for Community was gone. In his time off from the show, he had gotten around to working on an animated show for Adult Swim. That show was Rick and Morty.
Rick and Morty follows the adventures of Morty, a weak, shy, 14-year-old with good intentions who always gets dragged into his grandfather Rick’s adventures. It is Back to the Future on steroids and LSD. Rick is the mad scientist of science-fiction now. He’s arrogant, irresponsible, an alcoholic, and frequently shows little remorse for the chaos left in his wake. However, it is worth noting that his callous nature is a result of all the bats**t crazy things he has seen. Rick, usually at Morty’s insistence, can ultimately be pushed into doing the right thing, despite however reluctant he may be. Rick has experienced so much insane and ultimately disillusioning things that empathy feels like a waste of energy – that is part of the reason why Morty is such an important character. He in many ways is Rick’s surrogate humanity and their relationship – as wacky and far out as it is- is an important part of the show. Rick and Morty can be insensitive and genuine in equal measure at the right time and both are relayed in complete sincerity.
Many shows are built on mismatched characters who get in wacky debacles. What sets Rick and Morty apart from the rest is the nature of their deranged situations. Here are a few other plots that occur just in the first season:
- Rick makes the family dog smarter, which ultimately leads to a Planet of the Apes take-over by millions of family pets who want to know why they were neutered.
- Rick creates sentient life-forms named Meeseeks, who live just long enough to complete one task. However, their latest task, improving Morty’s father’s golf swing, proves impossible as “things are getting weird, man!” and the Meeseeks seemingly will never get the sweet release of death.
- Rick hacks the cable box to show other realities. Unfortunately, these other realities are all better than the actual reality, and the family is nearly driven apart by the reality of how much better it could have been.
There are so many more episodes, but it wouldn’t be fun to give them all away here. The show is at its best when it embraces science fiction head on, which it frequently does. The show plays out like a deranged Dr. Who at times as there are other dimensions, alternate timelines and realities, and so much more. What’s even more fun is that the continuity of the show isn’t an issue. I’ve watched the first season twice and I’m not exactly sure if we’re still watching the same Rick and Morty from the first episode. Especially after this sobering moment.
Most shows would attempt to have a consistent narrative throughout. The easiest comparison for Rick and Morty would be Futurama, but as wild as Futurama was, it still had some sense of continuity throughout the series. Rick and Morty doesn’t, and for some reason it feels more realistic. There are usually neat, happy endings, except that frequently they come when Rick and Morty literally abandon another more convoluted and confused timeline. (By that logic, how many timelines have The Simpsons set up?) So Rick and Morty break the rules a bit, but it works. I once said that only the X-Men films could get away with their multiple and disconnected timelines because time travel is a fundamental part of the story and the same is true of Rick and Morty.
The show also actually explores these ideas and themes with more depth. Rick frequently spouts off what universe altering event is happening, burps due to his alcoholism, and then explains it with mild condescension to Morty. While Futurama and Community toyed with these sci-fi concepts and ideas, Rick and Morty fully embraces them head on, and that is why the show is such a must watch. Imagine the great sci-fi authors like Asimov and Bradbury, but then disregard any pretense of finding deep philosophical meaning and instead enjoy the absurdity and irresponsibility of the show’s protagonists. And yet, as I said before, the show does manage to fit in a few moments of human decency and nobility that make it all a bit more touching even when you didn’t see it coming.
But as deep and insane as Rick and Morty is, don’t let that give you pause. The show is still accessible despite the insane subject matter. The adventures Rick gets Morty and his family into (usually at their expense) are always a demented treat. And to the new viewers who will hopefully check out the show, each episode has a post-credits sequence that is ALWAYS worth checking out. With Community a shadow of itself, Futurama now finally finished, and a few other absurd animated Adult Swim shows finished or ending soon (good night Aqua Teen Hunger Force), fans of those should turn to Rick and Morty to fill the void. I guarantee that in another reality it’s your favorite show.