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.
"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.
"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.
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 gives 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