If you’re a fan of Adult Swim in general or just someone who constantly wish for more adult-themed cartoons, damnit, then chances are you may have recently stumbled upon that network’s newest large-scale does of high concept silliness, Rick and Morty. Springing from the minds of both cult animator Justin Roiland and cult Community godfather Dan Harmon, the show was double-stamped for nerd consumption from the beginning and already seems to have hit it off with viewers and critics alike. Most of them, anyway…
Like many classic sci-fi stories, the show centers around a wise older mentor and his young apprentice having grand adventures, except here the scientist mentor (Rick) is a slobbering dipsomaniacal lunatic, and his intrepid grandson (Morty) has severe emotional scars and developmental problems. Together, they travel to fantabulous worlds and usually leave behind a high body count and a lot of uncomfortable questions for the rest of their sitcom family. Pop-culture references abound, the fourth wall is smashed into smithereens from the get go, and we get the mix of aliens, spaceships and penis jokes that seems to be the modern blueprint for sci fi comedy success. Basically (and I’m sure I’m not the only one to say this), it’s Futurama meets Family Guy, at least so far, and for some people that’ll probably be enough.
But as quickly as I’ve devoured the first six episodes, my opinion so far is solidly on the fence. While it’s mostly a very fun and super-watchable show that goes down smoother than fried birthday cake, there are a few things that R&M has done so far that are a little, shall we say…discouraging. I’m all for following Roiland, Harmon and their merry band down this rabbit hole, but if you’re looking to get all caught up before the series returns to the air on March 10th, you should know that it can be kind of a mixed bag. Because all these years of writing for TR have made it impossible for me to not think in list form, here are both the aspects of this not-so-little little program that I like, and some of the things it seriously needs to change. Spoilers for those who aren’t up to speed yet.
Reasons to Check It Out
4) It Looks Great (for What It Is).
Let’s start with something simple but obvious: the look of the show is pitch-perfect. While the scenes set within the drab family life of our heroes are a bit bland and beige, the other planets and various weirdscapes that they travel to are crammed with bright colors, strange monsters and all the things you could want from a show of this premise.
The premiere alone gave us megatrees, weird flying scrotal aliens and a chase scene through “interdimensional customs,” and you can look no further than the show’s intro for a sample of the kinds of things we may expect to see later on. As a sidenote, I kind of like the whole retro “clips from actual episodes” approach to opening sequences and wouldn’t mind seeing it come back as a trend (in limited doses, of course).
3) The Voice Acting Isn’t too Shabby, Either.
I’m sure many of you smarties out there will have no problem figuring out that both of the titular characters are voiced by Justin Roiland, but I was honestly fooled for several episodes. They each have their own little verbal quirks that make them distinct: Morty’s stammering and cracking voice feels surprisingly raw for this kind of show, and Rick belching in the middle of expository technobabble is rarely not hilarious.
Chris Parnell, Sarah Grammer and Spencer Chalke all seem to be giving it their all as well, despite the familiarity of their roles. There have also already been some pretty high-level guest stars, most notably John Oliver as a Richard Attenborough-esque paramecium, and I’m more than happy to continue down that road.
2) So far, There’s Very Little Continuity, and That’s Actually Kind of Refreshing.
Even though Chris Hardwick loves to yammer on about how we’re living in a “golden age of television” in seemingly every other Nerdist interview, there are certain TV trends I could use a break from. For instance, at this point I like comedy shows that are both intelligent and don’t require years of obsessive following and in-jokes to get every punchline. Maybe that’s just me.
Fortunately, as of this writing, Rick and Morty seems happy to be a series of self-contained scenarios that poke fun at its transient “story-of-the-week” format, and I am equally happy to let it be just that. It may not boast a coherent mythology tying all the different adventures together, but it also doesn’t have any rules hemming in the craziness of the scripts, and that’s a good thing. Though the show will almost certainly outgrow this at some point, for now it’s perfectly content to be what it is.
1) The Episodes are Jam-Packed With Stuff.
Once you’ve watched all six episodes, you’ll likely be surprised at just how much ground each one covers when you think back to them, and impressed at the way things escalate from regular insane to super-white-hot-magma insane relatively naturally. The pace is supersonic, and each story packs in all sorts of different parodies, monsters, locations, and whacked-out ideas within a relatively tidy runtime. Because the creators have such a huge well to draw from, there’s clearly the potential to go all over the map with this, and that’s the main reason I’m excited to see where we get to follow the show next.
Click below to see some reasons the show is not so great.
Reasons It’s Not So Great
4) The Supporting Cast Is Boring.
There are a few recurring characters so far that aren’t related to our leads, such as Morty’s math class crush Jessica and a principal with a highly improbably last name. For the most part, though, the family is who we see the most of, and they’re pretty basic. I get that in order to make the out-there stuff work, this show needs a mundane base to contrast the nuttiness against, hence Morty’s standard sitcom relatives: a yuppie dad, a stern but loving mom, a whiny, superficial teenage sister with a phone and a boyfriend. But mind = not blown.
Not everything about them is completely run of the mill. Mother Beth’s occupation as a horse surgeon is good for a few chuckles, and fits the zany tone. Generally speaking, however, most everything about the Smiths feels a bit tired and old-hat, even if it’s meant in an ironic way. Something needs to be done to make them more interesting, and this fortunately does seem to be slowly improving.
3) The Female Characters Especially Need Some Work.
I’m sure you’re tired of reading about how that thing you love, XYZ, is actually kind of retrograde and subtly sexist, and I agree that no one show should bear the brunt for everything that’s wrong in television. But I calls it as I sees it. We already know that Cartoon Network doesn’t care about female viewers, at least according to Paul Dini. Still, it feels especially sad that the regular female characters on a show supposedly aimed at more open-minded/inebriated adults don’t have nearly as much to do as the men, with the possible exception of Beth.
I’m not getting on some soapbox here, mainly just concerned that so many of the roles for both genders in Rick and Morty feel predictable and lame: it’s just a little more noticeable for the women. Shows like Archer manage to have plenty of active dames in the main cast without sacrificing yuks or a mainstream audience. But until we get to the inevitable gender-swapped episode, R&M will most likely continue to seem a little backward in this regard.
2) The Humor Occasionally Tries too Hard to Be “Edgy.”
Look, I’m as open-minded as the next comedy fan when it comes to jokes about dark and horrifying things like rape or terrorism or attempted murder. It can be managed, and I’m not alone in thinking so. But the “Mr. Jellybean” scene, pictured above, from episode 5? Not funny. At all.
Granted, it comes in the context of that episode’s greater plot, in which Morty’s attempts to have a nice, pleasant fairy tale adventure lead to just as much disaster and horror as usual. And yes, the aforementioned Mr. Jellybean (Tom Kenny! How could you?) does pay the price for his crimes, almost immediately. I have zero impression that the show is trying to trivialize child abuse or endorse it in the real world or anything like that. The scene just doesn’t work, pure and simple.Family Guy has long since explored all the hilarious prospects of long, jokeless scenes of pointless drawn-out violence, and I think it’s safe to say there’s nothing new here.
And if you’re trying to argue that it’s supposed to be disturbing or the show’s attempt to “get real” for the sake of character development, then it fails on that front too. It’s just a recycling of sexual assault tropes for shock’s sake, and the resolution to this plotline doesn’t justify it. A 9/11 joke in the second episode falls similarly flat and didn’t make me laugh so much as just sigh and say “Really?”. So far there have been several instances of the show attempting to be “edgy” for cheap laughs like this, and it needs to outgrow that habit and have a little more faith in its audience’s intelligence. There are plenty of other jokes, even in this very episode, that prove you can be dark and shocking without being lazy.
1) Haven’t We Been Here Before?
To me, the biggest thing this show has going against it is that there’s already an Adult Swim cartoon about the consequences of sci-fi adventuring on the adolescent male pscyhe: it’s called Venture Bros.
Now, I’m not saying these two shows can’t co-exist. R&M has its own distinct tone and universe that’s completely different from Venture, and I’m certainly happy to let it fill my need of satirical action and ’80s pop culture nostalgia while the latter is off the air. But it’s pretty reasonable to assume that most people who come to this show will at least be vaguely familiar with the far more original Venture Bros. style, and Rick and Morty can only suffer by that comparison. Without giving anything away, the ending of the most recent episode, in particular, seems a little reminiscent of one of Venture’s “reset button but not a reset button” plot points and how it affected its young heroes.
But if Venture hadn’t been made, the premise of Rick and Morty would already be a familiar one, and Harmon and Roiland have even admitted that they’ve had trouble running over some of the same ground as other animation mainstays like South Park. The whole “oblivious douchey hero punishing the innocent young sidekick” thing has been around since the dinosaurs, or at least since Dinosaurs (gone but not forgotten) and there’s only so far you can go in that direction without making your audience think of other, better shows, especially with such obvious jokes (the “rocky mountains” gag from Episode 3 is one you can see from miles away).
It’s fully possible that this’ll all level out the longer the show’s on the air, and I hope it does stay on. But the creators have some work to do to make sure it does.