You’re in high school, dealing with the mundane problems of any teenager; awkward crushes, difficult classes, and a tense family life. In a situation like that, who wouldn’t wish for a kooky inventor best friend who could whisk you away on wild adventures through time and space?
That was the essential premise of the classic ‘Back To The Future’ film trilogy, but ‘Rick and Morty’ takes the idea and turns it on its head. This animated show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim follows the endeavors of Morty Smith, a typical fourteen year-old whose entire family’s life was disrupted when his mysterious Grandpa Rick reappeared out of the blue and began crashing in the garage. Rick is a genuinely brilliant and intelligent inventor, able to whip up everything from spaceships, sentient robots and inter-dimensional portals. However, his own genius and years of adventuring have left him distant and morally compromised, seemingly caring for but nothing but himself. Now he’s enlisted his bumbling grandson as his side-kick, and Morty is forced to become Rick’s moral tether, or risk getting pulled into the same emotional black hole of his grandfather.
The show is a dark comedy, and it wields its humor like a knife. The show’s two creators are Dan Harmon (of ‘Community’ fame), and Justin Roiland, who lends his voice-acting skills to both the titular characters, providing an improvisational edge to the show’s sharp dialogue. While on one hand, ‘Rick and Morty’ exists to skewer the now over-bloated ‘animated family sitcom’ genre (such as through the Jerry, a deconstruction of the bumbling dad character, voiced by Chris Parnell), it also delights in using comedy to parody sci-fi conventions at every opportunity. It saves some of its strongest wit, however, for scathing critiques of real-world issues, with satire very much inspired by Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
However, the show’s true secret lies in its surprisingly strong emotional core. Between the many space-battles and spectacle pieces, the focus always remains on the Smith family, the terrifying situations Rick drags them into, and the emotional turmoil heightened by the man’s presence.
Each family member has their own host of issues, ranging from abandonment, anxiety, self-hatred, inadequacy, co-dependency and emotional abuse. Both Rick and Morty recognize that their ‘friendship’ isn’t healthy, yet neither is quite capable of bringing themselves to end it. In particular, there’s a great deal of nuance and maturity when exploring the issue of Rick’s depression and alcoholism, leading to to some of the show’s most effective, but emotionally exhausting, episodes.
‘Rick and Morty’ isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t pull its punches, and episodes can be draining to watch at times. The humor, in addition to being very bleak, relies heavily on extreme violence, and some people may find themselves turned off by the sheer amount of gore. While Beth and Summer (Morty’s mother and sister, respectively), are both dynamic and multi-faceted female characters that add a lot to the cast, the writing trips up occasionally when addressing sexism and gender issues. Additionally, PoC and queer representation is rather ambiguous and thin-on-the-ground, something which will hopefully be improved on in future.
All that said, there is a lot in ‘Rick and Morty’ to love. If you’re looking for something creative, with fun animation, great voice-acting, sharp comedy, complex characters and clever writing— or just want some sci-fi shenanigans— then I’d highly recommend giving it a try. Don’t worry; the release of season three is over a year away, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up.
Author: Laura B
Lover of fantasy and science fiction, fascinated in how they impact the real world. Professional writer and science communicator.
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