As a child of the 80s, animation and cartoons have been a staple of my entertainment diet to this day. From Saturday morning cartoons, to the not-so-kid-friendly anime of that age and films of celebrated animators like Bill Plympton and Hayao Miyazaki; moving picture shows have fascinated me to no end.
As one could rightly imagine then, the Adult Swim lineup on Cartoon Network is something I watch regularly. Whether that be more a guise for my violent nocturnalism or the allure of an engaging block of (mostly) animated programming is up for discussion. But there has been no better reason to watch on Mondays for their newest series, Rick and Morty.
The mutant brain child of Community creator Dan Harmon and psychopath/ illustrator Justin Roiland has garnered overnight fandom almost straight off its premiere. A send up of sci-fi clichés built around a dysfunctional family, it follows the unpredictable adventures of disgruntled scientist, Rick Sanchez, and his awkward 14-year-old grandson, Morty Smith, both voiced by Roiland. If you’re curious about the similarity to Emmett “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly of Back to the Future fame, you can see Roiland’s original flash cartoon on YouTube with the first link provided below entitled The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti that served as the inspiration for the show.
If you were brave enough to sit through the entire four minutes of inappropriate sexual acts, then congratulations, you sick-o. Thankfully Harmon is able to tame that straight-up Roiland insanity to form logically demented stories and characterization that gives it the pedigree of not just another cartoon that relies on random, obscure humor.
Not since Jackson Publick/ Doc Hammer’s The Venture Bros. and most recently Brad Neely’s China, Il has an Adult Swim original show used a half hour format to pack as much comedy and originality into a neat 22-minute package. And much like those shows, the focus rarely stays tied to the title characters, showing the errant consequences of their misadventures on the rest of the Smith family.
Patriarch Jerry’s, voiced by SNL alum Chris Parnell, attempts to keep his rocky marriage afloat amidst the chaos are the most entertaining side stories. Thanks in part to Parnell’s grasp of the character (being awfully similar to his roles on other animated shows like Archer). Wife Beth, Sarah Chalke of Scrubs fame, drifts wistfully through her estranged family life, proud in the fact that she has become a successful horse surgeon. And daughter Summer, voiced by Robot Chicken regular Spencer Grammer, offers her best portrayal of a valley girl of the modern age. Unfortunately, Summer is the least fleshed out of the family so far, but future episodes will likely put her in a brighter spotlight.
For as great as these characters are on their own right, it’s Harmon and Roiland’s excellent writing staff and script pacing that place this among the new year’s must watch television. Taking sci-fi tropes that are easily recognizable to most fans of the genre and lay people alike, it runs wild with the concepts, always finding interesting new twists and perspectives. Rick’s constant pessimism and disappointment with humanity in general gives him a biting sarcasm that is fun to view in a genre that often takes itself too seriously. Morty’s naiveté and innocence are constantly molested, metaphorically and literally, providing a lovable and relatable foil to his dangerously adventurous grandfather. And much like Harmon’s Community, the rest of the cast is given just as much attention in the script, offering enjoyable parallel stories and a break from the epic events the episodes revolve around.
And not a single episode’s story has disappointed yet! Whether it involve “incepting” Morty’s math teacher into giving him passing grades so he can spend more time being exploited by his grandfather, or Rick’s attempt to help his grandson genetically roofie his high school crush, every show has been packed with loving pop culture and sci-fi references along with hilariously detailed worlds and alien characters. The animation style may seem simple at first but, just looking at some of the concept and production art will give you an idea of how creative and original the art team is.
Along with a few guest spots by Tom Kenny, Dana Carvey and David Cross, it’s plain to see that there is as much love for the material on the talent side as there is on the creative. And we can only hope that now that the series has hit its midseason, in one of the most original and emotional endings to an episode I could possibly imagine, that Adult Swim realizes just what a gem they have on their hands.
With five episodes in the season remaining, I highly recommend you jump on YouTube as soon as possible to watch whatever episode Adult Swim is kind enough to post to their channel (you can start here). Don’t fret if only the most recent ones are available and you’re worried about story continuity. The show was made to be watched in whatever order you please. Here and now would be as good a space and time start as any.