How important is happiness to comedy? Or likability? Or the occasional win? Shows that embrace nihilism too readily and completely have a limited shelf run, even if they do seem to keep getting renewed and airing on Sunday nights on Fox. It’s not that every week needs to teach a life lesson, or that writers need to strain to make sure all their heroes are a perfect balance of warm and sarcasm. Bleakness is often a key element in great comedy because someone else’s loss and pain make things funnier. So from that angle, legitimate warmth—taking the time to create characters and relationships that exist beyond the immediate need of a punchline—could arguably detract from the laughs. If you’re too busy empathizing and worry about someone, maybe you don’t laugh as loud when they slip on the banana peel. But for that sleep to be funny at all, there needs to be some basic level of human connection, because the joke is the suffering, and the understanding of what that suffering means.
No, I’m not high. But “Meeseeks And Destroy,” which may have the most weirdly upbeat ending of the show so far, has me thinking about the balance this show is trying to hit, and how effective it is when the writers and voice actors get that balance right. Part of the humor of Rick And Morty is its fundamental cynicism. This isn’t a cheery, Doctor Who-type universe, where bad things happen that are very serious, but good people are there to stop the bad things from getting out of hand. As Morty points out, this universe is chaos, a place where adventure can lead to having to murder the alternate dimension clones of your mother, father, and sister when they’re possessed by demonic spirits from an alternate reality future. It’s a universe where a bunch of helpful blue genies go insane when they can’t fulfill their sole purpose and die. A universe where giants trip and break their skulls before little people can outwit them, and where friendly talking jelly beans in the mens’ restroom have horrible, horrible plans for little boys. (What the hell, show.) It’s not supposed to be happy endings and fun and friendship bracelets for all. But there’s just enough kindness buried in there to make sure the hits retain their sting.
Once again, Morty’s family turn to him when they’re stuck with minor crises (science test, broken dishwasher, mayonnaise jar), and once again, he responds by giving them a solution which makes things worse. In his defense, the Meeseeks box does come with specific instructions: you press the button, give the friendly blue person who pops out a simple task to perform, and once that task is performed, the Meeseek explodes. Except when Beth and Summer request the seemingly impossible—Summer wants to be more popular, Beth wants to be “a complete woman”—their respective Meeseeks have no problem getting the job done. It’s only when Jerry asks a Meeseek to improve his golf game that things go to hell. Of the episode’s two storylines, this one is the tightest; as soon as Jerry’s first Meeseek brings in a second Meeseek to help solve the problem, the noose starts to tighten, and each successive reveal of more and more Meeseeks struggling to get Jerry to straighten his damn shoulders raises the tension further. Eventually, this will go to hell, and when the first Meeseek decides to fix everything by killing Jerry (and thus taking every possible stroke from his golf swing), it’s yet another example of how magical impossible science is just a few short steps away from tracking us down to a restaurant and demanding our death.
In the episode’s other story, Morty is so fed up with Rick that he demands a chance to lead them both on an adventure of his own devising, which leads to a bet, which leads to the aforementioned dead giant and molesting jelly bean. There are plenty of funny bits in the plot (the giant detectives furiously questioning Rick and Morty after Dale the giant’s death was a favorite), but the whole thing is a little too shaggy, right up to the moment when Rick and Morty find a tavern built into the side of a giant step. The tavern allows for some riffs on boobs and schmeckels which aren’t really clever so much as out and out weird, and the weirdness hits a peak when Morty storms off to the bathroom and meets Mr. Jelly Bean. Molestation is maybe a little too dark to laugh at, and the whole sequence is just a hair’s breadth away from derailing the entire episode. The inherent queasiness of watching a young boy fend off a violent sexual assault is supposed to contrast against the absurdity of that assault coming at the hands of a giant candy, but the whole thing is just a little much.
Thankfully, the gag takes a turn for the surprisingly sweet (okay, that pun made me really uncomfortable, sorry everyone) when Morty manages to beat the shit out of his attacker and run back to Rick. The kid doesn’t say what happened, but Rick, in a better mood after some karaokee and a few winning hands of cards, is inclined to do what he wants; even nicer is the brief moment when Rick sees beat up Mr. Jelly Bean coming out of the bathroom, realizes what happened, and goes out of his way to make sure this latest adventure ends on a positive note. Rick even makes sure to murder Mr. Jelly Bean before they leave. It’s similar to the resolution of the Meeseeks story, with Beth, who’d been planning on leaving Jerry, coming to his aid and giving him the confidence to finally fix his swing (and his short game). There’s a legitimate kindness to both moments, and it helps ensure that the people involved come across as more than just victims of whatever horrible (but hilarious) punishment the writers can come up next. Of course, Beth and Jerry’s happiness is undercut by the fact that she still married the guy because he got her pregnant, and Rick and Morty’s friendship leads to Rick’s weird little self-aware dance in the living room (ha-ha, we know this is sitcom bullshit!) and a stinger ending with someone in the Jelly Bean King’s village finding a box of horrible horrible photographs, but still—that’s why it works. Although I don’t know about that box of photographs. And that statue. I mean, I have to sleep at some point.
- Loved how the key needed to power the button (or whatever) at the start of the episode looked like an old NES cartridge.
- Morty: “I just killed my family! I don’t care who they were!” Morty: “I dunno, some people would pay top dollar for that kind of breakthrough.”
- I suppose it could get tired eventually, but the running gag of the family turning to Rick for help, and him giving them terrible science solutions, is just the best.
- While the eventual turn to plotting murder was probably inevitable, I loved scene of the Meeseeks breaking off into factions in order to decide the best strategy to solve Jerry’s golf problem. There’s a pleasing logic to it.
- “Meeseeks usually don’t have to exist this long. It’s getting weeeeird.” (And it was brilliant that the crisis arose not because the Meeseeks decided they wanted to survive, but because they were so desperate to die.)
- “What are ‘Countries known for their sexually aggressive men!’” Oh Jerry. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.
- “Our people will get more from the king he represented than the jelly bean he actually was.” I mean, dear god, right?