This review contains minor spoilers for Rick & Morty Season 3. Scroll to the bottom for more spoilery observations on each episode.
Rick & Morty is the most spectacularly ridiculous show on television. The Adult Swim sitcom’s warped brand of internal logic has earned it a passionate fanbase (sometimes overly so) and the show has gradually become better known as it has become available on Netflix UK. Now, in its third season, it has surpassed new heights of surreal comedy.
For the uninitiated, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s animated series orbits around the Smith family, and, more specifically, around 14-year-old Morty and his grandfather, Rick, a dimension-hopping genius scientist with a dangerous grasp on the insignificance of life, the universe and everything. This time around, after escaping imprisonment, Rick unleashes yet more havoc in multiple realities, while the family deals with an impending divorce, some major self-esteem issues and their own toxic behaviour.
In keeping with the anarchy of the show, the third season got off to a surprise start by premiering its eagerly awaited season opener, which picks up from the devastating cliffhanger of Season 2, on Adult Swim on April Fool’s Day. We’re talking May, June, July and August fools here, and it helped that the episode itself sets out the season’s mission statement so magnificently.
From its opening shake-up of the Smiths’ domestic situation (“Jerry’s going to be spending a little time… divorced”), the season uses this episode as a launchpad for “the darkest season” of Rick & Morty adventures to date. It’s a show that knows its audience, and knows that we can handle the rapid-fire salvo of one-liners, sight gags and sheer surrealism that the show gleefully metes out.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Pickle Rick, an episode that does exactly what it says on the tin, by having Rick turn himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy, only to get into a situation where all his fiendish wits are required to stop him being splattered. We can’t even begin to imagine how they came up with that one, but the welcome addition of female writers, including Pickle Rick scribe Jessica Gao, has brought about a new creative flourish to the show’s sci-fi lunacy.
There’s still no sign of Mr. Meeseeks (when a return appearance for their first breakout character would be an absolute gimme for most other shows), but the series adds characters such as Jaguar, One Million Ants and Noob Noob to its weird and wonderful roster. Likewise, Interdimensional Cable doesn’t pop up this season, but two alternate anthologies – Tales From The Citadel and Morty’s Mind Blowers – stand out as highlights.
Time and again, they’re able to call back to major turning points in Season 1, such as our title characters replacing their dead selves in another dimension after their home world became uninhabited, and the emergence of a sinister, eyepatch wearing Morty who moves in secret. It does all of this without getting too invested in arcs, but the consequences of our heroes’ actions are very gradually coming back to bite them here.
Regrettably, that starts to work against what looks for a long time like the best season so far, when the behind-the-scenes decision to cut from 14 episodes to 10 leaves it feeling a little short in the back end. This is particularly true in the finale, an episode which features the welcome return of Keith David as the US President, but also wraps a complete, if rushed, arc into a broad satire of political overreach.
Production belches aside, Rick and Morty is still the most wildly imaginative sitcom going and even while the season overall veers between the ridiculous and the sublime, it always looks good and gets laughs doing it. At certain points, it looks as if they can’t all be winners, but in the main, it’s only getting better and better.
Season 3, episode by episode… (contains spoilers)
The Rickshank Rickdemption
An audacious, packed opener that not only resolves a cliffhanger, but bunches up the infrastructure of the galactic government, the Council of Ricks and Beth and Jerry’s marriage, and dunks it all in delicious McDonalds Szechuan sauce. (But seriously, guys: it’s just sauce.)
Rickmancing the Stone
A necessary sequel that gives Summer and Morty a barbarian husband and a buff, possessed arm respectively, with which to take out their frustrations about the divorce, and a Fury Road-inspired dimension gets domesticated.
A dizzying action extravaganza that looks and sounds like it was written on a dare, this episode is what we talk about when we say “no other show could do this”.
Vindicators 3: The Return Of World Ender
A characterful Marvel-plus-Saw satire of superhero imperialism that re-asserts Rick’s identity as an anti-hero, and Morty’s as a savvier and more capable sidekick than we think.
The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy
The Jerry episode of the season pits Beth’s ex against her father, while back home, Summer has a teenage identity crisis and there’s a sight gag about a call centre that’s so funny, you’ll have to pause the episode and rewind.
Rest And Ricklaxation
A classic sci-fi trope gets the Rick & Morty treatment, pitting high and low versions of our heroes against one another, after a spa goes wrong and leads them to examine their toxic behaviour, or rather what behaviours they consider toxic.
Tales From The Citadel
A sprawling, multi-dimensional anthology story that tells a tale of two or more cities, taking in everything from Training Day to Stand By Me, via The Manchurian Candidate. Rick and Morty should go to Atlantis more often…
Morty’s Mind Blowers
The second anthology episode on the bounce is less conceptually astonishing, but runs with the premise that Rick has been wiping Morty’s mind whenever he deems it necessary to its logical, yet insane conclusion.
The ABCs of Beth
While the kids tangle with Jerry’s intergalactic rebound, Rick’s daughter embraces her heritage in a quest to a childhood fantasy, full of messed-up muppets and cannibalistic incest, leaving fans with lots of questions to mull over between now and Season 4.
The Rickchurian Mortydate
An episode that was given the finale treatment by Harmon at the last minute, and it kind of shows. But even an episode that’s weaker than the rest of Season 3 is still more imaginative than whole seasons of other shows, with shrinking Presidents, Middle East politics and a dollop of existential dread.
Rick and Morty Season 1 to 3 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.