If I had a dollar for every time the human race was transformed into murderous praying mantis creatures in “Rick and Morty,” I’d have one dollar. But what a dollar. In this new animated series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, all bets are off. “Rick and Morty” was created by Dan Harmon (the mad genius behind the very best seasons of “Community”) and Justin Roiland (best known for his voice work on “Adventure Time”) and follows the antics of alcoholic, abusive scientist, Rick, and his reluctant traveling companion and grandson, Morty.
In the very first episode, Rick shrinks Morty and sends him into the body of a dying and unwilling homeless man, in which he is attempting to create a microscopic theme park, “Anatomy Park.” The rest of the season is a rollercoaster, and while the quality and comedy sometimes fail to rise to the occasion, of the six episodes so far released, four are truly stellar.
Harmon, a parody-fiend, gets bogged down at times in the science-fiction tropes he works so hard to emulate, which harms the show every so often. But the titular characters don’t need a dream within a dream within a dream plot to keep the viewers’ attention. Their relationship—that is both tender and callous, both “Dr. Who” and “Back to the Future,” both raunchy and poignant—is what drew me to the series.
Rick and Morty’s adventures, while always macabre and discomfiting, showcase a camaraderie and chemistry, the likes of which is rarely seen on animated, let alone live-action television. From forcing his grandson to act as an intergalactic drug mule (“I’m gonna need you to put them way up inside your butthole, Morty”) to overthrowing an evil anthropomorphic jelly-bean pedophile king, and using pheromones to seduce one of Morty’s classmates at the Flu-Season Dance, Rick and Morty travel through time and (mostly) space, wreaking terror and bloodshed wherever they go.
Beyond the science fiction madness, I applaud the writers for creating such compelling (and clueless) parents for Morty, who effortlessly complement Rick’s grandparently negligence. Even B-stories with Morty’s mom (and Rick’s daughter) toiling at the Horse Hospital and Morty’s dad facing endless existential crises ground the series in reality and keep the formula from becoming stale.
The series, with all its mayhem and madness, is not for the faint of heart. One particularly triggering scene, an altercation between the aforementioned jelly-bean-person and Morty in a men’s room seemed humorous at first but left me feeling a little queasy. Yet even this moment of uneasiness is transformed, when at the end of the episode, the often-careless Rick allows his paternal side to show and somehow, against all odds, this little moment remedies the earlier misstep.
But obviously men in the under-35 demographic forgive these indelicacies. That coveted age group is much sought after by the big studios, and Rick and Morty has proven itself a contender, even pulling ahead of its closest competition, “Archer.” Rick and Morty’s overnight success has guaranteed it a second season, and social networks are already awash in praise for the show. Reddit in particular seems to have taken to the new show, and Adult Swim’s ingenious decision to release each episode for free on YouTube for a limited time helped to aid the spread of the show throughout the Internet.
The writing and character design spare no expense, and for this reason, we will have to wait for several months before the next episodes will be ready. I sincerely hope this time doesn’t diminish the quality of the new episodes or the viewership of the series. The Network didn’t realize the powerhouse they had on their hands and so only released a fraction of the total season.
Rick and Morty’s financial and critical success has set a high bar for the other top shows currently on the air. It is refreshing to know that even as CBS is preparing to resuscitate the tired formula of “How I Met Your Mother/ Father,” an underdog like Adult Swim can release material more than capable of contending with these nine-season giants.
Harmon and Roiland’s collaboration will hopefully set the tone for the new, thoughtful, artful shows that are premiering this year. While historically these kinds of witty, carefully-crafted shows are financial failures (looking at you, “30 Rock”), “R&M” may have finally reversed this trend.
I know that when the show returns I will be in the Cushing MPR with popcorn in hand, helping the good people of Cartoon Network show the big companies that the young men’s demographic can appreciate clever, if crude, television.
I look forward to more of the same from Harmon and Roiland in the coming months, and I hope that they not only continue to replicate the formula that made them a success but accentuate the characteristics of the show that set them apart. I want to see Rick threaten his grandson with a knife more often!
In the words of Rick, “Go nuts Morty, it’s foolproof.”