One of life’s great pleasures is introducing someone to a new piece of popular culture that you know – just know, in your bones – that they’re going to love. Something that, as you consume it for the first time, stimulates all your awesomeness receptors and sets off those little winking neurolights that say hey, I know someone else who will literally turn inside-out with pure brainjoy when they see this. For me, last year’s prime example of this phenomenon was Adult Swim’s Rick And Morty. I can’t claim to have discovered it myself – a friend introduced it to me, telling me pretty much nothing about it beyond the title and the fact that I should give it a try – but once I’d plugged in, voraciously consumed the all-too-short first season and seamlessly integrated various lines of dialogue into my everyday vocabulary, I was recommending this fizzy drug of a cartoon like I’d been bitten by a radioactive person who recommends things a lot.
In real life, I’d generally just do as my friend did, and tell – yes, tell, this was not a suggestion – people to watch it. No details. Maybe something along the lines of ‘it’ll be right up your street’. And honestly, if you are willing to take the word of a very enthusiastic Internet stranger, I won’t be offended if you stop reading now and go and watch it based on two paragraphs of detail-free hyperbole alone.
If you need a bit more than that, though, please do read on.
Rick And Morty is a gleefully misanthropic, mind-bendingly inventive animated sci-fi comedy created by Community dean Dan Harmon and actor / animator Justin Roiland (whose voice you may remember from Gravity Falls and Adventure Time). The titular Rick is a more than slightly deranged alcoholic super-genius, while Morty is his innocent, guileless grandson, companion, human shield and occasional experimental subject. Together they engage in increasingly batshit adventures taking in parallel universes, alien worlds, virtual realities and nightmarish nested dream states, encountering all manner of colourful and bizarre entities along the way. The show aired last year on Adult Swim – because where else would it be – and quickly established an enviable reputation among those who got to see it. And with good reason, because I’d call it one of the finest sci-fi comedies ever made.
Making a straight science-fiction show in which people say funny lines is one thing, but making a show that functions as both science-fiction and comedy simultaneously, without one aspect betraying the integrity of the other, is hard to do – get the balance wrong, and you can end up with something too silly (or that dreaded word “wacky”) for its own good. Rick and Morty, however, allows both aspects of its genealogy to feed into the other; the humour is derived not just from the character interplay but from the outlandish science fictional situations in which they find themselves. At the same time, while being very funny, those situations are also committed to entirely, maintaining a consistent – albeit highly twisted – internal logic. It’s a delicate balancing act, and Harmon and Roiland have pulled off something hugely impressive – where else could a pretty mind-blowing, existentially challenging exploration of the implications of many worlds theory co-exist with jokes about a planet where intelligent hamsters live in the upturned arses of humans, who walk around on all fours carrying their rodent masters like living mobile homes? NOWHERE ELSE, THAT’S WHERE.
Rick and Morty forever and ever, hundred years, hundred days, dot com
Key to the series’ success is the titular duo, particularly Rick Sanchez, who is appealing in the way that only someone who you would probably never, ever want to encounter in real life can be appealing. Imagine all the best aspects of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor – ultra-intelligent, time / space-faring, grumpy, little time for pudding brains – and ramp up the angry, dysfunctional craziness way past 11. Add a planet-sized superiority complex, a streak of nihilism, a drink problem – Rick pretty much exists in a permanent state of drunkenness, largely to make the crushing tedium of normal human existence bearable – and an enthusiastic willingness to screw people over, whether they’re aliens, his son-in-law or the Devil himself. Presto! You have a character who is as fun to watch eating pancakes as he is battling alternate universe versions of himself.
It’s to their credit, however, that Harmon and Roiland temper all this wacked-out insanity with an undercurrent of sincerity that anchors the characters and their madcap exploits, adding an extra layer of depth to the series beyond high-concept sci-fi shenanigans. The relationship between Rick and Morty is obviously extremely unhealthy – in just the first episode, Rick nearly blows Morty up (along with the rest of Earth), pressures him into smuggling alien seed pods through customs in a very private area of his body, and subsequently almost gets him killed in a firefight – but the scientist’s contemptuous attitude and general misanthropy mask a genuine love for his grandson, and his daughter Beth (voiced by Scrubs’ Sarah Chalke). There is also pathos to be found in the relationship between Beth and her aforementioned husband, the terminally dorky Jerry (Archer’s Chris Parnell), who Rick despises, and in the interactions between Rick and his sister Summer (Spencer Grammer), who starts the series as a fairly standard eye-rolling older sibling figure but utterly transcends this archetype by the season finale.
Don’t be trippin’ dog
The series never gets too bogged down in the emotional side of things, though – there’s always a new audacious plot twist or concept round the corner, or a side-splitting joke. Harmon and Roiland are just as comfortable with silly, childish humour (the aforementioned Hamster-in-Butt world, for example, or the fact that Morty’s high school principal is called Principal Vagina) as they are with clever riffs on Back To The Future, the films of David Cronenberg, Philip K. Dick-style paranoia and sci-fi tropes both classic and recent. It’s a real melting pot of influences that still manages remarkably focused and effective storytelling, and while some might be put off by the “low” humour – and the fact that Rick burps every three or four words – they should also not be put off by those things. After all, if you don’t watch it, you’ll be depriving yourself of understanding what this next paragraph means:
“Have you watched Rick and Morty? Yes? Oh my God, Mr Meeseeks! Ants-In-My-Eyes Johnson! Hungry for apples? Anatomy Park! Snuffles! King Jellybean! Alien Invasion Tomato Monster Mexican Armada Brothers Who Are Just Regular Brothers…” And so on.
So in closing: go away and watch this series now, whether that’s via the Adult Swim website or purchasing the DVD. Series two will be landing at some point in the summer, and your awesomeness receptors will thank you with the release of delicious chemicals directly into your brain.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.