As we all wait for July 26, 2015, which will finally see the premiere of the second season of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty (and I’m assuming everyone else is waiting as excitedly as I am), I think we ought to look back at the eleven episodes that comprised the first season. I’ve now watched the season in its entirety three times, and some individual episodes much more than that, and I think it’s safe to say Rick and Morty, created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, is not only one of the most consistently funny shows in the past several years, but also might be the best science fiction show going at the moment.
Futurama had some excellent science fiction concepts to go along with their hilarity, but they’re often housed in sentimentality; Rick and Morty makes your sides split and punches you in the gut at the same time. On the surface, the plots are homages and parodies of famous movies and TV shows, but the writers go further than that, delving into themes and ideas the original films didn’t. And it all begins with their genius central conceit.
For the uninitiated (and if you’re still uninitiated, you need to get initiated; the show’s on Hulu+ now), Rick Sanchez (voiced by Roiland) is a truly mad scientist who is constantly building inventions that can do amazing things, but generally cause damage, havoc, and often death for someone. Rick is a classic nihilist, or at least externally so, and he shows open contempt for just about everyone around him, family included, as he drinks and belches and slobbers his way through adventure after adventure. Rick is an absolute genius but is pretty high on the evil scale so he’ll do the right thing, but only when it benefits him the most. Rick can do anything, pretty much, and is presented as perhaps the most intelligent person in the universe, having created both a functional flying saucer and a portal gun, perfect for the writers to come up with anything and everything to create drama and comedy.
He’s paired with his grandson Morty Smith (also Roiland), a nervous 14-year-old who doesn’t have much in the way of book smarts. Or street smarts, for that matter. Morty is 100% the sidekick, and he knows this all too well. He often admits to being dumb, because he tends to take after his dad. But what makes Morty the perfect foil for Rick is that he has a conscience and can pull Rick back from the brink, but Rick also pushes Morty to be more and do more than he thinks he can. It’s, as many have said, not unlike a Doctor-Companion relationship.
And that relationship is predicated, in this case, on a familial bond. In episode 10, “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind,” we learn that there is a Trans-Dimensional Council of Ricks, a group comprised of over 1,000 Ricks from different parallel dimensions. As our Rick tells our Morty, “Most dimensions have a Rick, and most Ricks have a Morty,” and there’s a very Rick-centric reason for this. Rick is so hyper-intelligent that his activities and brainwaves can be picked up by different extraterrestrial beings. However, Morty has the exact opposite problem, being mostly very unintelligent, and so the two of them together cancel out the wave and make Rick incognito. Throughout the season, we’ve seen Rick for some reason needing Morty to go with him on adventures, and this is the eventual reason for it, though we can believe (and hope) that our Rick actually likes spending time with his Morty.
It’s this parallel dimension idea that has proven to be the show’s real genius. It allows the writers to effectively end the world and start over again, and it also allows for complexities with regard to the other members of the family. Beth (Rick’s daughter and Morty’s mom), Jerry (Beth’s husband and Morty’s dimwitted father), and Summer (Morty’s older sister) are the “normal people” dealing with their own lives through the lens of Rick’s sci-fi workshop. They even eventually just accept that Morty needs to go with him. Beth is a horse surgeon who tolerates Jerry; Jerry is an advertising man who pretty much doesn’t understand anything; and Summer is a typical teenage girl, but who gradually wants to be able to travel with her Grandpa Rick the way Morty does (and she gets to eventually).
In episode 6, “Rick Potion #9,” we get out first glimpse at the effects of dimension-hopping and what happens when Rick screws up royally, though he’d never admit it. Morty’s going to a dance at school and wants Rick to make him something that would make Jessica, the object of Morty’s affection, to fall in love with him. Rick does and shoos Morty away, but Jessica has the flu and this causes her insane, ravenous love of Morty to become airborne and eventually everyone in town, and on the Earth, is in love with Morty, except his blood relatives. Because he used praying mantis DNA for the mixture, the flu eventually mutates everyone into insectoid creatures, and Jerry steps up and becomes an insect-killing machine, which Beth finds irresistible. But Rick’s attempted antidote doesn’t reverse anything; it turns the population into hideous writhing flesh bags, which Rick hilariously calls Cronenbergs.
And this then is where the amazing stuff comes in. We see Rick and Morty after Rick has miraculously reversed the Cronenberging, and the two laugh as they start working on Rick’s next experiment. Just then, it explodes and both of them are dead. Just then, a portal opens and Rick and Morty enter. This is when we learn that portal Rick and Morty are from our universe and instead of fixing Cronenberg World, they just decided to assume their place in this now-Rick-and-Morty-less universe. They take their own corpses into the backyard and bury them, all while Morty stares, forever changed, as somber music plays on the soundtrack.
It’s deliciously dark, painfully sad, and a brilliant and troubling sci-fi concept that most shows wouldn’t attempt. It’s like Sliders but good. And we see the effects on everything, because the rest of the Smith family, still in Cronenberg World, are living in a junkyard, but are legitimately happy, and a Cronenberg Rick and a Cronenberg Morty come into that dimension, having un-Cronenberg’d their own. It’s a nice little bow on everything that’s happened in that timeline, and Morty’s the only one who cares. Until episode 8 “Rixty Minutes,” of course. An episode that on the one hand is a series of increasingly insane pieces of television from other dimensions and on the other hand an examination of family and choices via a pair of goggles that let’s one see through the eyes of their other-dimensioned selves.
When Summer realizes she was not only an accident but the cause of her parents’ lives being un-awesome, she isn’t sure what to do, until Morty tells her about the bodies in the backyard, saying “I’m better than your brother. I’m a version of your brother you can trust when he says ‘don’t run.’ Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV!” It’s a crazy dark, but totally galvanizing idea to both of these characters.
Is it in spite of the raucous comedy that Rick and Morty can delve into such heady, hypothetical sci-fi ideas or because of it? I certainly don’t think any other show, except maybe Black Mirror (also known as the most depressing show ever written), could have an episode like “Meeseeks and Destroy” where a series of single-use helper creatures become homicidal in the A story, and Morty getting sexually assaulted by a creature called Mr. Jellybean in the B story. It’s a lot more than just parodies and references. Each and every episode is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen and also the smartest and also the darkest and also the weirdest. And that’s what science fiction at its best truly is.
Rick and Morty‘s long-awaited second season will premiere on July 26th, 2015, on Adult Swim.