Rick and Morty is a sci-fi comedy cartoon created by Dan Harman; the creator of Community, and Justin Roiland; the man responsible for Channel 101. It premiered on Adult Swim in 2013 and was an instant hit with critics and viewers alike. It stars mad scientist Rick and his hapless grandson Morty on their misadventures on Earth and in the wider multiverse. The show sports twenty-two episodes with the third season premiered on April Fools and the rest of the season set to come out this summer.

Rick and Morty is character driven as opposed to plot driven. Many of the episodes are unapologetic spoofs of popular science fiction movies and the only thing that makes this work is the way the characters respond to the weird situations. As an Adult Swim cartoon the focus is mainly on comedy with a significant secondary focus on action and drama and it does a surprisingly good job of representing all three elements without detracting from any of them. Underneath this all are themes of nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism that are surprisingly deep despite their tongue in cheek presentation.

The Cast


Morty
"Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's going to die . . . come watch TV."
-- Morty Smith on taking steps toward being okay

Morty Smith is a kinda average (probably below average) fourteen year old. Despite having second billing to Rick, Morty is arguably the main character since he gets more time on screen and events are generally presented from his point of view. Morty's personality is a weird mix of emotional fragility stemming from low self-esteem and personal resilience brought on by all of the psychologically scarring adventures Rick takes him on. For all that he goes through Morty retains a sort of cautious optimism and guarded kindness regarding the people and places around him and acts as a mostly ineffectual conscience for Rick. Despite his relatively benign personality he does have some unnerving tendencies. While Morty is usually cautious his nads do the thinking whenever he's around girls such as when he had Rick create a love potion that nearly caused human extinction or the time he managed to get Rick to buy him a sex bot from an alien pawn shop. Morty also has a fair bit of resentment accrued from a lifetime of being at the bottom of his family and his schools pecking order. This sometimes bubbles to the surface in the form of random verbal outbursts, usually over otherwise trivial issues, but at his core Morty is a good kid who's idealism is constantly at war with his circumstances.

Rick

"Now listen, I know you two are very different from each other in a lot of ways; but you have to understand that as far as grandpa's concerned your both pieces of shit. Yeah I can prove it mathematically. Actually, let me grab my white board. This has been a long time coming."
--Rick Sanchez speaking to his grand children.

Drunk, scientist, drooling, asshole, and genius; these are but a few words to describe Rick Sanchez. In all of the fiction that I've poured in to my eye holes I don't think I've ever encountered a more jaded, cynical, and spiteful protagonist. Rick is the self described smartest person in the universe, a claim that he backs up both in the lab and the field. Despite this or perhaps because of it, he is often sloppy, inattentive, and usually inebriated. Rick typically splits his time between scientific tinkering and bouts of hedonism punctuated by jaunts into the wider galaxy to fuel his lifestyle. What Rick actually studies is anyone's guess, but he has managed to create a portal gun that lets him move from one universe to another at will, a flying saucer car built from trash, and a ton of ray guns and assorted energy weapons. His conflict readiness belies an unbalanced mind.

Rick is paranoid, violent, self righteous, and arrogant with an ego in proportion to his intelligence. He plods forward through life unable or unwilling to connect to others on more than a superficial level and driven more by stubbornness than any real purpose, like some sort of burnt out ubermensch. The exact circumstances that led to his personality are unclear as his backstory is inconsistent at best. What's worse this may not be an accident on the part of the creators or a deflection on the part of Rick as it's been established that there are literally hundreds (thousands? millions?) of versions of him across the multiverse leading to the question: is this even the same guy from episode to episode?

Jerry, Beth, and Summer
"Life is effort and I'll stop when I die!"
-- Jerry on wasting effort

Jerry is Morty's father and Rick's son in law. Jerry is basically a conformist who has uncritically absorbed everything he's ever been taught and is recalcitrant in the face of new information to the point that he spent an entire episode trying to prove that Pluto is still a planet. Unsurprisingly, this puts him at odds with his maverick father in law who makes no secret that his daughter could have done better than him. This is compounded by Jerry's continual failure to find employment which puts him on equal footing with Rick. Jerry is as far as he is presented the archetypal naive realist, assuming that what he sees and experiences is the world as it is. This goes so far that he shows an open preference for comforting false realities over the real world on two separate occasions. Despite his willing disconnection from reality (or perhaps because of it) Jerry remains fairly optimistic in most circumstances where he's not interacting with Rick.

Beth is Morty's mother and Jerry's wife. Rick abandoned her when she was a kid to travel the universe (or something) leaving her and her mother. While she harbors more than a little resentment over her father's absence, she's desperately interested in maintaining the relationship now that she has him back. Her connection to her father is putting a lot of stress on her marriage, which has in turn put a lot of stress on her. Beth life has been less than stellar. She got pregnant with her first child during high school, only just decided to keep the child and stay with Jerry, and worked her butt off to get a veterinary license. Through out she was the pillar of strength and probably the voice of reason in the family. At the start of the series she's also the only bread winner.

Last but not least is Summer, Morty's older sister. Summer is a typical (to the point of being a stereotype in the earlier episodes) eighteen year old high schooler. She's generally self absorbed, vain, and a bit shallow though constant exposure to Rick has given her a broader perspective. Where Morty takes after his father in term of intelligence and temperament Summer takes after her mother and grandfather, having a insightful wit and cutting sarcasm. She has displayed hints of jealousy over how much more time Rick spends with Morty which feeds the rare but usually caustic conflicts between them.

The Show

Stylistically the animation is pretty minimal with simply drawn character and backgrounds. The aliens are many and varied but none of them really stick out as inventive or memorable. The music is forgettable except maybe for the theme song which give me a Doctor Who vibe. Rick and Morty rides this weird line between being formulaic and varied. Most episodes are split between two plot threads. Some times it's Rick and Morty out in space and the rest of the Smiths at home but more than a few episode switch characters around putting Morty with his parents or forcing Summer and Morty to work together. Of the twenty two episodes only two or three keep everybody together. The comedy ranges from subtle enough that I've missed the joke to fart jokes and covers everything in between. The action scenes are fast paced and often extremely gory. The character conflicts feel believably human without descending into constant pettiness.

While two seasons isn't enough to say whether Rick and Morty has a ton of staying power it's a strong contender for the best show on Adult Swim along side such greats as Venture Brothers and the Boondocks.

SciFiQuest 3017: The Frontier that Wouldn't End

Initially, Rick and Morty was a parody of Back to the Future's Doc and Marty. It was a poorly animated short, whose solitary joke was that "Doc" explains to "Marty" that the only way to prevent some horrible future catastrophe was for Marty to lick Doc's testicles. It's patently obvious this is nothing more than a sick joke on Doc's part to get Marty to lick his balls. Barely even worth animating. But the voice characterizations were the same: with Doc having the gravelly, angry voice that's used to voice the later "Rick Sanchez", and a parody of Michael J. Fox's tendency to have his voice crack into a higher register was the inspiration for the voice that would later become Morty's.

In order not to get sued into oblivion, "Doc" became "Rick", "Marty" became "Morty", and when the show became its own thing in its own right, instead of a time travelling DeLorean the travel was achieved by a variety of methods. But most specifically, a portal gun, a piece of technology that literally punches holes in reality, allowing for doors to open in space and time, and across parallel universes. Because of this ingenious storytelling "McGuffin", the show in no way has to respect any potential paradoxes of time travel, and the pair have more than once simply aborted an unresolvable fate by simply inhabiting another parallel reality.

In this universe, mad scientist "Rick Sanchez" basically returns to his estanged daughter's life after many years of absence. Because of her daddy issues she's married a sad sack of a milquetoast man, "Jerry" (voiced by Chris Parnell) and fathered two children, Summer (the voice of Frasier actor Kelsey Grammer's daughter) and Morty. Rick installs himself in the garage, turning it into a laboratory, and into their lives - with disastrous results. Their normal, suburban life is no more. Especially not with Rick Sanchez dragging his grandson across galaxies, times, and even parallel universes to have adventures.

The show started out full of early installment weirdness and gross-out jokes. But as the seasons went on, references from earlier shows became very meaningful in later ones. There were shout-outs to other movies and properties everywhere. Although ostensibly based on Back to the Future originally, it owes more to Doctor Who's formula of "cranky old mad scientist, and young naive companion". (As well, by the way, the theme music's counterpoint of menacing chuddering bass line, and ethereal analog synth pad melody) But whereas the companions were and still are there to provide exposition ("What is it Doctor?" "Well, you see, Mel, this is a Zygromic Bergomulator, and what it does is provide us with a convenient deus ex machina at the 27th minute...")...

Morty started out originally as the polar opposite to Rick ("I (burp) need you to cancel out my brain waves so I can't be tracked!). Rick is an alcoholic, amoral nihilist who lives simply for kicks with little regard to the mayhem his adventures leave behind or the human wreckage of broken feelings and hurt people he leaves in his wake. Morty is a sensitive boy with a good moral compass who, despite destroying the Earth trying to get the cute girl at school to make love to him (they turn into "Cronenberg world" so named because everyone resembles the victim of some David Cronenberg mishap) is a naive, simple good soul at heart.

But as the seasons wore on, the interplay between the characters became more meaningful. Rick's return meant that his daughter finally had the courage and sense to dump her useless husband, even though he's dysfunctional and she's still clinging to the hope he'll be a real dad to her. Summer and Morty don't deal with their parents' breakup well, Summer turning into a literal Mad Max wasteland savage with a Mike Tyson facial tattoo.(For the record that episode made a very, VERY nice use of the "returned dead severed hand taking revenge" horror trope). This latest season (Season 3) has the darkest episodes yet, with Rick finally realizing that he hates himself to the point of being unconsciously suicidal and that he truly loves Morty very very much, despite his rough outer shell and protestations that nobody and nothing matters.

What the season has turned into is a very deep examination of the human condition, complete with motifs of life after death (wronged people come back, implying death is not the end), the necessity of the Angel and the Devil in our consciousness, and so forth. In the most interesting episode to date, Rick and Morty rid themselves of their psychological toxins (anger, hate, fear, self-hatred) in alien spa, with intriguing results (they're anthropomorphized as green gooey versions of themselves). Rick is no longer driven, and the "pure toxic" Rick becomes smarter and actually discovers a new kind of matter - implying that madness and genius always co-exist. Morty loses his self-hate and fear and turns into a very disturbing high-earning sociopath with a trophy girlfriend. But intriguingly, bound up in "toxic Rick" is a deep love for Morty, which implies that the passion he has for his grandson transcends normal grand-paternal love. Rick realizes that it's actually dysfunctional to rid yourself of all negative emotion and must instead befriend and integrate and understand your own dark side - an idea many a religion has tried to impress upon its followers.

 There are still some unexplained things about the show. We know of a one-eyed "Evil Morty" and a mentally challenged Rick in different universes. Flashbacks during a brain-scan in one show imply that Rick's real "Morty" died along with his entire family, and that this Rick hopped into another dimension to cling to another Morty out of guilt and pain. This would explain why his love for Rick would be seen by the alien spa as "negative". One of the reasons why Season 3 was repeatedly delayed, much to the chagrin of its fan base, is that they wanted to create the densest, shout-out and plot-advancing riddle box yet, and were clearly poring over the show's Bible looking to start tying up loose ends and introducing intriguing new ones.

Despite all this, it's a fucking delightful send up of genre fiction, complete with meta-commentaries on the genre and others. Adult Swim got in on the fun by putting a bumper featuring an in memoriam panel for Game of Thrones writing, 2011-2016.

This of course, has led to fan theories a-plenty, and many a YouTube channel devoted to seeking out and pointing out the many, many obscure references and back-shout outs in each new episode. As the story wears on the characters become more complicated and the questions we have about them multiply and deepen. This isn't simply a fart joke animated show about a crazy old man and a shy kid, it's becoming its own canvas upon which to paint a lot of questions about the nature of the universe we live in, and the potential twists and turns it could take.

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