If you know me, you know that I’ve repeatedly proclaimed South Park as not only my favorite animated TV show, but my favorite TV show of all time. However, it so happens that in recent years, a show with potential to upstage South Park and take its spot has caught my attention. That show is Rick and Morty; proving once and for all that Adult Swim’s original programming isn’t all bad.
Not only is its satire often as dead-on as you can get, but it is singularly creative in terms of science fiction adventures and its characters, which intentionally seem like archetypes at first, are all instantly memorable, astonishingly pitiful, and unnervingly easy to identify with once we delve deeper into the nature of their existence. Even the character of Rick Sanchez, a callous mad scientist with alcohol problems and omnicidal tendencies, is one of the most relatable characters I’ve seen on TV. That might say more about me than it does the show, but trust me, I don’t say things like this about just any TV series.
The show originates in a hilariously crude Back to the Future parody animated by Justin Roiland, known as The Adventures of Doc and Mharti. Its titular characters were the inspiration for Rick and Morty, both voiced by Roiland. Morty Smith is a constantly nervous high school student, who lives in a typical sitcom suburb with his troubled parents (Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke) and snarky big sister (Spencer Grammer), often being swooped away by his grandfather Rick on crazy adventures that cross the entire Multiverse. It’s basically Doctor Who but with interdimensional travel instead of time travel, and a murderous alcoholic instead of The Doctor.
The journeys these two go on make for some astoundingly imaginative tales, which is especially impressive in an age where you might feel as though everything in science fiction has been done. Sure there are also references/homages to other works of fiction here and there (even unexpected ones like Zardoz and Cloud Atlas), but it’s so self-aware and clever about it that it doesn’t hurt.
Another strongpoint is, as mentioned, the characters. Their interactions manage to be both hilarious and realistically heartfelt, and it’s always a charm when they react to the otherworldly madness that comes along with having Rick in your house. “Dad, why does our house have blast shields?” the mother, Beth, asks worriedly in one episode. “You don’t wanna know how many answers that question has” Rick responds nonchalantly.
The animation is simplistic and allegedly cheap, but it has a style and look that still makes it pleasant to look at, which signifies that this is a series made by people who know how to make do with what they have. The artwork is sort of reminiscent of The Simpsons, albeit with its own distinct features that make it easily identifiable. If you see characters with crude ink blots in their eyes instead of the more traditional black dots, you know which show they’re likely to be from.
There are several celebrity cameos in Rick and Morty, but they are usually well-utilized and well-selected. The likes of Stephen Colbert, Jim Rash, David Cross, Keith David and even Werner Herzog seem to have been chosen based on how well they fit the characters they play, and there are some guest appearances from trained voice actors as well, such as Claudia Black, Tom Kenny and (get this) Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson. That’s always nice.
It’s hard to pick a favorite episode, but the ones with the best ideas might be A Rickle in Time (which has the most ingenious way of displaying a split timeline that I’ve ever seen on TV or in film) and Total Rickall (which is both hysterical and terrifying when you think about it). Note that these are both from the second season, which is where the show starts to get truly masterful in how clever it is. The only episode that’s not all too original is, ironically, one of the most quoted ones, Get Schwifty. The main premise is basically that the Earth becomes part of an intergalactic game show, which is something we’ve already seen in stuff like Jimmy Neutron, Johnny Bravo and Doctor Who. Rest assured, though, this is one of those shows where even the “bad” episodes are pretty damn good.
I also appreciate episodes that dare to take a break from the hilarity we’re used to and truly showcase how damaged many of these characters are. Most episodes surrounding the turbulence of Beth and Jerry’s marriage are poignant and uncomfortable, and whenever the darkness of Rick’s entire state of being is shown for what it is, it can be downright devastating. It’s a nice thing to have in between all the quotable jokes and technobabble. I know I’ve made several references to getting schwifty on Gazorpazorp with my Glip-glops once I’ve repaired the Microverse-battery.
Alongside Roiland, the show is run by Dan Harmon, who’s also responsible for one of my favorite live-action shows, namely Community. One could always tell that Harmon wanted to travel beyond the borders of the community college with his jokes in Community, so I’d say he’s perfectly at home in a series with this much freedom and potential in its settings and ideas. It can take place anywhere, joke about anything and make fun of anyone. It knows how much it can do and embraces it in the best possible way (sometimes it might even shift its primary setting to a whole different universe but I shan’t give away too much).
There’s not much else to say besides this: if you haven’t seen Rick and Morty, you know exactly what to do tonight. It is some of the smartest, funniest, saddest, and often most mind-bending television I’ve ever watched, and you can bet your Glip-glops I’m hyped for the upcoming third season. Wubba-lubba-dub-dub and such!