Rick And Morty is the first show to spring forth from Dan Harmon’s mind since his firing (and before his re-hiring) from Community. It’s hitting screens with the fanfare one would expect from a big-name creator—especially because it’s also a new weird cartoon on that home of weird cartoons, Adult Swim. But Rick And Morty is worth getting excited about. The premise is, essentially—what if Doc Brown was a demented drunk? And what if Marty McFly was a lonely kid who got dragged around with him on terrifying and strange adventures through space and time?
It’s not explicitly a take on Back To The Future, but the connection is easy to make. Mad scientist Rick (voiced by the show’s other creator, Justin Roiland) has spiky white hair and a white lab coat, although his mouth is also permanently covered in alcoholic drool. His young charge is his grandson Morty (also voiced by Roiland), an awkward lad who is bullied into doing unspeakable things by Rick, who appears to be his only friend. (In the pilot, Rick has Marty smuggle giant alien plant seeds. Up his butt.) Their relationship is rather strange, but it’s also an amusing bit of meta-commentary on just how weird it is that McFly’s best friend was a weird old scientist.
Rick And Morty is very nicely animated, with a clean, simple style. The first two episodes get visually busy at all the right times. There’s a bravura sequence in the pilot that sees Rick and Morty running through interdimensional customs, dodging alien travelers and gun-toting insects, and it’s filled with the kind of little visual throwaway jokes an animated series like this can take advantage of. Harmon’s work has always been visually inventive (he co-wrote the terrific 2006 film Monster House, although it changed significantly from page to screen). But with an animated series like Rick And Morty, he is not constrained by budget. He can produce whatever kind of outlandish material he wants, and the enthusiasm shows immediately.
What’s really exciting about Rick And Morty is that it has a dark, sick sensibility, but it doesn’t rub it in the audience’s faces. This show doesn’t just sit back and delight in the devilish twist it’s put on the Back To The Future formula. Everything’s played for manic fun, but there’s effort to give each character a little bit of depth and make Rick more than just a catchall nutjob. He despises authority, he lies to get what he wants, and he’s susceptible to every single vice known to man. But he does seem to follow some sort of selfish code—or at least, he thinks he does. The funniest gag of the pilot is part of the pair’s escape from space customs: Rick orders Morty to shoot at the insect invaders, calling them “robots.” Morty obliges, but is immediately horrified at the very real death he unleashes. “It’s a figure of speech, Morty! They’re bureaucrats! I don’t respect them!” Rick screams, by way of explanation.
Morty’s still killed the insects, though. That’s just a part of him now. Earlier, Rick freezes a bully in Morty’s high school, and Morty’s sister Summer (Spencer Grammer) knocks him over and shatters him. It’s a throwaway gag, but it’s also not—that kid is dead forever. Rick’s mania has a catastrophic feel. He’s always focused on accomplishing one goal, and whatever horrors he has to perpetrate to achieve that simply have to happen.
Roiland does an astonishing job voicing the two lead characters—especially the babbling Rick, who ends the pilot episode with a crazed speech over the twitching body of his young charge that would be horrifying if it wasn’t so hilarious. Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke round out the cast as Morty’s parents, who are neither absentminded nor idiotic, and have their reasonable objections to Rick’s behavior overridden in ways that make a certain kind of sense, which is refreshing. They’re both real characters and useful plot devices, especially by the second episode. There, the A-story is a convoluted Inceptionspoof and a parable of dogs rising up against humanity. If the second episode can build even more on the insanity of the first, then Rick And Morty has the potential to be a versatile, entertaining comedy.
Created by: Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland
Starring: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer
Debuts: Monday, December 2, at 10.30 p.m. Eastern on Adult Swim
Format: Half-hour animated comedy
First two episodes watched for review