Okay, good news: this episode is definitely better than “Rickdependence Spray.” The show hasn’t completely lost its brain, and at no point in “Amortycan Grickfitti” did I start wondering if the creative team was expressing obvious contempt for its audience. This isn’t an amazing half hour, but it’s pretty good. One of the big problems about last week’s entry (which I definitely overgraded, if that makes you feel better) was the way it suggested a potential end game for the series as a whole. Rick And Morty isn’t going to be sustainable for ever, at least not creatively, because no show ever really is; but because it’s going to stay profitable long after it loses the spark that drove it, we’re eventually going to find ourselves stuck going through the motions, watching familiar set-ups that only inspire the memory of laughter, not the thing itself. “Rickdependence Spray” offered the horrible possibility that those latter days were already here. You thought late seasons Simpsons was bad? Abandon all hope, folks.
Thankfully, that looks to be an outlier. Five episodes into the season and we’ve had one stone cold classic (“Mortyplicity” ranks up with the show’s all time best), two pretty good episodes, one trying-but-not-quite-making-it episode, and one dud. That’s not amazing math, but “pretty good” is better than “oh god my eyes,” and I’ll happily take something like “Amortycan,” which has a lot of good character work and some solid jokes, even if its twin storylines aren’t quite as sharp or inventive as they could’ve been. It’s the kind of episode that can be tricky to talk about as a reviewer, because I’m going to largely focus on what I consider to be the flaws, but that doesn’t mean those flaws were dominant or even, in the grand scheme of things, all that important. It’s easy for a show to hit the occasional home run; what you want is something that can still manage doubles or triples on a weekly basis.
We get two storylines here, the set up being that Rick and Jerry are having a “guy’s night,” while Morty and Summer are entertaining a guest at home, the new kid at school; Beth is at the horse hospital (someone played Barry White at the race track and she has to deliver seven horse babies), but she shows up in Rick and Jerry’s plot after the first five minutes or so. Of the two plots, I think the former probably works slightly better, but both get the job done, leaning heavily into our understanding of these relationships and striking a nice balance between cynicism and unexpected sweetness.
In the Rick and Jerry (and eventually Beth) plot, we learn that Rick screwed over some hell-demons (they’re cenobites from Hellraiser) by selling them faulty skin hooks, and in order to pay them back, he’s letting them enjoy Jerry’s general… Jerry-ness. The premise of Hellraiser is that at the extreme point of sensation, there’s no difference between pleasure and pain—if you push things far enough, the heights of ecstasy will be the same as the depths of agony, and vice versa. It was the ‘80s, and Clive Barker could pretty much sell anything because he had a British accent and he actually talked about sex in horror stories, as opposed to just using a lot of awkward metaphors.
Regardless, that’s not really what “Amortycan” is working with. Like a lot of the show’s piss-takes on genre conventions, the episode presents the most boiled down simplified version of a concept and just rams it into the ground. Which is satire of a sort (it wouldn’t be Ricky And Morty if it wasn’t sneering just a little), but there’s something a bit disappointing about how quickly the story slots the cenobite concept into “opposite day.” The hell-demons like hanging out with Jerry because his pathetic, awful sense of humor and lack of awareness makes anyone who spends time with him miserable—which, to the hell-demons, translates into pleasure. That’s… basically the joke for the rest of our time with them. Something is bad, but that makes it good. It’s decently funny, and I appreciate the commitment to the bit, but there’s a certain predictability to it that wears thin after a while.
What works better is how this all ends up playing into Rick and Jerry’s relationship, with Rick actually, and kind of shockingly, being forced into a situation where he has to sincerely admit that he loves (or that he should love) Jerry. It’s not a hugely emotional moment or anything like that (I can’t really imagine a situation with Jerry that would be hugely emotional), but it’s always gratifying to see the show leaning into its characters for humor instead of leaning on sci-fi high concept goofs to carry them across. The best episodes are the ones that manage to balance the high concept with the family drama in illuminating, funny, and satisfying ways, and while “Amortycan” doesn’t reach those heights, the interplay between Rick, Jerry, and Beth all feels pretty much on point.
Same with Morty and Summer and their storyline, which depends largely on one of those ultra-Darwinian readings of high school that always baffle me in media. See, Morty has scored a hang-out with Bruce Chutback, the new kind in school; and because no one knows anything about Bruce or his past, he represents unlimited potential for coolness points. Summer immediately wants in, and the two are so desperate to impress him that they steal Rick’s ship. Only, Rick’s ship has a security system, and it’s clever enough to blackmail them and then drag them along to do what it wants to do.
I’ll admit to not really getting the whole Bruce situation, as my experiences in high school, while often miserable, were rarely if ever this hyper fixated on my standing and the standing of those around me. There were cool kids, and I wasn’t one of them, but the cool kids were never that cool, and they didn’t even hang out with anyone I knew, and it wasn’t like someone was keeping track of any of this shit. The rigidity of this conceit always rings as false when it pops up in fiction, as though someone decided at some point that all high school stories had to be modernized versions of Victorian-era social drama, everyone locked into inescapable tiers of misery and struggling to betray one another to claw their way up a level or two before college. It fits a little better on this show, given how ruthless Rick And Morty is about basically everything, but it’s still an awkward, curiously artificial way to kick off a plot.
Thankfully it’s not hugely important to what happens next, and I was surprised to see Bruce actually survive through the end credits, even if he does end up humiliated because he can’t afford to buy more than one pair of pants. Mostly the storyline is about the defense system on Rick’s ship getting up to shenanigans, which include catching and killing a Galactus lookalike (and then being disappointed it’s too small,) before trying and failing to lose its virginity to a… sigh… “Changeformer.”
It’s, again, fine, and moves at a good clip, and ends more or less as you’d expect, with Bruce saying he had a good time but then turning out to be kind of a dick. There’s a certain Mad-Libs quality to some Rick And Morty plots, and the “Changeformer” thing leans into that especially hard, but given how fast it goes by, it’s hard to be too bothered by it. (And it’s not like Transformers actually deserve a more thoughtful and rigorous critique.) We get some fun Morty and Summer back and forth bickering, there’s a bit where they do a fly-by on a planet where everyone’s a walking mailbox, and it all works out okay in the end. Except for Bruce and the whole “one pair of pants thing,” but fuck that guy, right?
- It’s impressive how endearing Jerry is at this point without ever really losing his Jerry-ness.
- “Dude, this bitch plays it close to the vest.” -Summer. (Regardless of whether or not the whole “we’re obsessed with our social standing” plays, Summer and Morty’s increased nervousness on not getting a good read on Bruce is very funny.)
- “You never follow a demon to a second location. It’s always Hell.” -Rick. I’m torn on this one, because the “It’s always Hell” is a good joke, but I’m not sure it was worth ripping off a classic 30 Rock line.
- “Could this be the end of Mousetrap Nipples?”