Rick and Morty (Seasons 1 & 2)

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Animation is typified by its use of bright colours and creative imagery, hence why it is so often considered children’s entertainment. Yet increasingly, the artform is being utilised by television networks and streaming services to deliver adult-oriented content, including this very programme – a highly-regarded science-fiction comedy.

As its title suggests, Rick and Morty centres on two individuals: Rick Sanchez (voice of Justin Roiland), an old, bitter, high-functioning alcoholic with a brilliant scientific mind; and Morty Smith (also Justin Roiland), Rick’s panicky, intellectually-inept grandson. Most episodes of the series involve the pair going on intergalactic or cross-dimensional adventures, occasionally being joined by Morty’s teenage sister Summer (Spencer Grammer), while a secondary plot will focus on the comparatively mundane activities of their parents, Beth (Sarah Chalke) and Jerry (Chris “Cyril” Parnell).

Rick and Morty’s origins can be traced back to The Adventures of Doc and Mharti, an internet video produced by voice-actor Roiland. The short was a parody of the Back to the Future movies, characterised by its crude drawings and vulgar humour. Copyright issues meant that Roiland’s short could not be turned into a full series, so he sought the assistance of Dan Harmon – creator of the cult-worshipped sitcom Community – to develop what became this programme.

When it first aired on Adult Swim in 2013, Rick and Morty was immediately likened to two other situation comedies, Archer and South Park. Strictly speaking, there isn’t anything to connect the three shows, aside from all of them being aimed at “mature” audiences. What differentiates Rick and Morty most from the other two programmes is its nihilistic tone, constantly reminding viewers that life is pointless because we’re all going to die anyway. (This approach even extends to the show’s title, which is a play on the term “rigor mortis”.)

Still from "Rick and Morty"
Rick Sanchez (left) with his family: granddaughter Summer, son-in-law Jerry, grandson Morty and daughter Beth.

Acting as nihilist-in-chief is Rick, who partakes in almost every task with cynicism and displeasure.  Fortunately, Rick’s demeanour is made bearable by the joint presence of Morty, whose persona is more innocent and optimistic; together they provide the series with a yin-and-yang dynamic that makes for interesting conflict. Summer’s character is more fluid than the titular protagonists, with her role changing from episode-to-episode – sometimes she’s a stereotypical teenager, indifferent to the affairs of the world, and other times she’s the voice of reason.

When not being a commentary on nihilism, Rick and Morty acts as a spoof-cum-homage of the science-fiction genre, showcasing both open and subtle references to other properties. Some examples include the opening tune, which alludes to the themes of both Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone; the episode “Lawnmower Dog”, which sees Rick and Morty enter other people’s dreams a la Inception; and the episode “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez”, which has Beth and Jerry fend off an Alien-esque villain while attending an outer-space marriage counselling session.

As well as engaging in parody, each episode of Rick and Morty is thoughtful, properly funny and imaginative in its storytelling. The character designs and landscape illustrations are also quite inventive, but lack the charm of its contemporaries due to the use of flash-editing software – the only episode containing exemplary animation is the second season’s “Mortynight Run”, which boasts a mesmeric music video sequence. Another complaint is that, on occasion, the characters can come across as crass and unpleasant, making Rick and Morty difficult to watch; that said, these scenarios of vile do make heartfelt scenes between the protagonists all the more touching.

Promotional image for "Rick and Morty"
A still of the “Moonman” musical sequence from the episode “Mortynight Run”

What this author adores most about Rick and Morty is the voice-acting, particularly Roiland’s performance as the two leads. Before working on this series, Roiland was most-widely recognised as Adventure Time’s Earl of Lemongrab; anyone familiar with the Earl’s piercing screams will no doubt recognise Roiland’s voice here, for his characters sound much like the citric enigma. Although the voices should be annoying, for some reason one cannot help but find them hilarious – there’s a perplexing charm to Morty’s wails of terror, and Rick’s belching, and Mr Meeseeks’ jovial can-do attitude.

Rick and Morty will be uncomfortable or even obnoxious viewing for some, but there are those who will be swayed by its merits. It works as a comedy and a loving send-up of the science-fiction genre, distinguishing itself with some deep discussions, inspired illustrations and entertaining voice-acting. No wonder so many people are excited for its third season.

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