For those unfamiliar with Rick & Morty, here’s the show’s basic concept, in the simplest way I know how to explain it: Rick is a possibly mad scientist. Morty is his innocent grandson. Rick drags Morty along on one insane adventure after another, with the other members of his family–including his horse surgeon daughter Beth, her less intelligent husband Jerry, and granddaughter Summer–occasionally getting involved. But, really, the focus of the show is on its two titular characters, with Rick, for better or for worse, being the closest thing that Morty has to a best friend. Think Doc Brown and Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies, only with a lot more violence and belch jokes.
At first glance, at least, Rick and Morty might seem like most of the programming on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup. The series is twisted, weird, and has episodes that can appear to begin one way and then go somewhere else entirely. And, truth be told, those merits alone would probably be enough to make Rick & Morty a success, as that “formula”–if we can call it that–has worked wonderfully for cartoons such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies. But watch a few episodes of the show, and you’ll quickly realize something: Rick & Morty, despite (or perhaps because of) its merry insanity, actually has a point behind everything. Even with all of the sheer craziness it provides on a weekly basis, with episodes involving everything from Satan running a magic shop to rapist jelly bean kings, Rick & Morty somehow manages to find an order within its chaos. Like Steven Universe on the cable channel’s children’s schedule, it never loses sight of the bigger picture. It’s not random just for the sake of being so. It’s just very good at giving off the illusion that it is.
Rick & Morty had one of the strongest first seasons that I have ever seen for any cartoon series. Where many shows take a little while to find their footing, Rick & Morty burst out of the gate with extreme confidence, producing one terrific episode after another. Every time I thought I had found my new favorite episode–whether it was one that managed to transform a Christmas special into a hilarious parody of Jurassic Park, or another that simply had Rick and Morty watching inter-dimensional television for twenty minutes–, the next installment would air and lay challenge to that claim. Put simply, the show is something of a wonder, somehow piloting itself around the most insane plots imaginable while still executing a landing that at least appears to make sense, all while being funny, appealing, and surprisingly heartfelt.
With a reputation like that behind it, there could be concern that the second season of Rick & Morty might not be able to measure up to what had come before. But if the first two episodes are any indication, fans should have nothing to worry about. As is always the case with this show, explaining too many details would just ruin the fun. Let’s just say that the splitting of timelines, alien assassins, depressingly realistic video games, and a sentient cloud of gas (that is frequently referred to by another name) all play factors here, with the series continuing to showcase an imagination that would make Terry Gilliam or Guillermo del Toro proud. But the most impressive aspect on display in both episodes might be the plotting. Every event, no matter how nonsensical it may seem, is building to some sort of grand punchline, providing resolutions that are emotional, grim, comical, or all of the above.
In fact, Rick & Morty is so good that it would be easy to set expectations for it too high, with many fans taking some of its “deeper” themes–of which there are a few–a little too seriously. Yes, the humor gets almost shockingly morbid sometimes, but it almost always does so in the service of a laugh. And, make no mistake, this show gets plenty of laughs. The jokes come so rapid fire that it might be impossible to catch all of them in a single viewing, with sight gags galore and an almost endless amount of pop culture references, with Titanic, Inception, and even Garfield & Friends being among the many things the series has spoofed. And yet, even with all of that going on, the show never forgets the importance of character, with the relationship between Rick and Morty providing the heart of the show. Does abrasive, drunk Rick have any respect for his grandson beyond just using him for his own selfish needs? Is Morty a willing participant, or does he enjoy going along for the ride? Through it all, Rick & Morty finds ways to acknowledge that its two leads do in fact love each other, even if they are never able to actually say so out loud.
Rick & Morty is right up there with American Dad! and Bob’s Burgers as one of the best cartoon shows currently on television for adults. The animation is lively and smooth, the characters are likable, and the series frequently finds its own kind of surreal poignancy amidst all the gags about butts. Smart, hysterical, and insane in all the best ways, Rick & Morty will hopefully be around for a long, long time.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Rick & Morty
Sundays at 11:30 PM ET; repeats Mondays at 10:00 PM ET
Created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon