Wubba lubba dub dub! Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty is finally available on Netflix UK and All 4 – and if you’ve never heard of it, you need it in your life.
Co-created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, the animated series follows an alcoholic genius scientist called Rick Sanchez, who rocks up on his daughter Beth’s doorstep and takes his grandson Morty Smith on adventures to different planets and dimensions via portals and his flying car-cum-spaceship.
In short, it’s one of the finest animated sitcoms on television at the moment, and a must for fans of oddball sci-fi favourites like Futurama, Adventure Time and Doctor Who (we’ll get to that).
With three seasons on Netflix UK, and the show starting to air on E4 in the UK, as well as be available for free on All 4, here are 10 reasons why you need to get Rickety riggedy wrecked on this show:
1. It’s Dan Harmon’s new show
As detailed in the fan-favourite podcast tour documentary Harmontown, the creator of NBC’s Community went through a bit of a rough period before this show was greenlit. Fired from his own show after Season 3, he pitched to and fielded offers from other networks and when offered carte blanche by Adult Swim, he co-created Rick & Morty with Justin Roiland.
Harmon was re-hired for Community Season 5, but this was clearly the best thing to come out of his enforced hiatus. By his own account, he wielded what influence he had to get Roiland’s vision on-screen, but also helped to develop the concept, based on The Real Animated Adventures Of Doc and Mharti, a bowdlerisation of Back To The Future that he created for Harmon’s Channel 101, by adding in the rest of Morty’s family for a more rounded sitcom.
For fans of Community, Channel 101 or anything else Harmon has put his name to in the past, you can expect much the same mix of humour and heart that typifies his story-circled writing for previous projects, but with the tantalising promise that the network let him do what he wanted, without restraint.
2. It’s Doctor Who with the stabilisers taken off
The BBC’s perennial sci-fi is functionally a family show that’s enjoyed by kids and grown-ups alike. As ambitious and complicated (or timey-wimey) as it gets, it’s hardly a patch on some of Rick & Morty’s dimension-hopping travels.
Back To The Future is a more obvious influence on the two lead characters – although the show has never complicated proceedings with time travel – but the scientist-companion dynamic also applies to Who, and travelling to strange new worlds and encounters with weird and wonderful aliens comes as part and parcel of the show itself. It’s all of that, but for an Adult Swim audience.
That’s not to say it’s just what would happen if Peter Capaldi’s Doctor were more like Malcolm Tucker, or that it’s simply more risque. The show is very funny, but it’s also impeccable, well-written science fiction, taking each and every scenario to its logical extremes – even when that logic is supremely twisted. Compare the endings of Who’s Into The Dalek (Season 8 Episode 2) with Rick And Morty’s own Fantastic Voyage riff, Anatomy Park (Season 1 Episode 3) and you’ll get an idea of the difference.
3. Rick and Morty
Specifically, the characters, not the show overall. The pilot episode of the series opens with a drunken Rick roughly awakening his grandson because he has a surprise for him. The “surprise” is that Rick has built a nuclear bomb with which he plans to exterminate humanity and give the Earth a fresh start. Morty fights him and Rick concedes, passing out.
It’s a microcosm of the typical conflicts between grandfather and grandson, but the fact that it’s the very first scene of the show should tell you something. See also: the perilous situations in which Rick deserts Morty during the title sequence every week. Rick’s personality becomes more refined as the series goes on, but crucially, he never really changes, leaving Morty as both his moral compass and weary companion.
Rick routinely exploits his grandson and explains why later, but the series is smart enough to buck expectations, so you can never be sure if Morty is in the right, even when he’s doing the right thing. On top of all of this, the banter between the characters, who are both voiced by Roiland, is hysterical to hear whenever it really picks up any steam.
4. The deeply dysfunctional Smiths
As mentioned, Harmon’s main contribution was to help develop Morty’s family, the Smiths – mum Beth, dad Jerry and older sister Summer – who have quite enough dysfunction to be getting on with before Rick shows up. Beth and Jerry married young when she got pregnant with Summer and their marriage is starting to show the strain.
However, while Rick and Morty blast off for adventures in other worlds and realities, each episode normally has a sub-plot involving the other Smiths getting into trouble with some other-worldly tech. In Season 1, Episode 2, Lawnmower Dog, a helmet intended to make the family dog Snuffles smart enough to use the bathroom actually leads him to attain self-consciousness and rally other dogs to join him in a mech-suited revolution.
As with our introduction to the titular characters, it’s par for the course. Beth and Summer’s misadventures are usually related to unhappiness with their lot in life, but Jerry causes everything to jump up a notch with his intense stupidity (which makes him an endlessly mockable foil to Rick) and compulsive need for affection. Season 2 continues to mix up the formula by splitting up Rick and Morty or having other members of the family travel with them.
5. Intelligent writing
The show is certainly very goofy in tone and has proven itself more than willing to do sight gags where a character briefly arrives on a planet with bum-shaped islands farting into the sky of a poop-flooded world. But it gleefully embraces silliness without forsaking intelligence and prizes the intelligence of the viewer above all else.
While Rick is an alcoholic and Morty is implausibly naïve and Jerry is a complete idiot, the characters are also well-written enough that you genuinely care about them, and the more infrequent emotional moments land just as powerfully as the funnier beats. In terms of animated shows, it comes very close to BoJack Horseman for the amount of emotional mileage it gets out of an outwardly ridiculous premise.
Plus, the show takes sci-fi seriously, even while spinning hilarious sitcom situations of it. The sheer audacity of this sustained balancing act has to be seen to be believed.
6. Impeccable voice acting
Justin Roiland provides the voices of both Rick (as a Christopher Lloyd-esque rambler who belches between words and, sometimes, syllables) and Morty (as a shrill, terminally indecisive teen), as well as a bevy of distinctive supporting characters.
Outside of the lead roles, the show is very well cast. Chris Parnell (best known as 30 Rock’s Dr. Spaceman), Sarah Chalke (Elliot from Scrubs) and Spencer Grammer (daughter of Kelsey) voice Jerry, Beth and Summer respectively, with Parnell doing particularly good work as the emotionally fragile man of the house. They’re so secure in their roles that the show even makes room for improv in their scripts before they go off to be animated (best typified by the half-improvised Season 1 episode, Rixty Minutes).
The series also attracts some terrific guest voices. You can listen out for David Cross, Dana Carvey, John Oliver, Alfred Molina and Rich Fulcher in the first season, and Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks, Patton Oswalt, Kurtwood Smith and the always delightful Keith David (who plays the US President one minute and an alien called Reverse Giraffe the next) in the second.
7. Colourful characters
The design of the show is wonderfully distinctive, with routine detours through whole new worlds for the sake of throwaway gags, including background alien characters who are seldom used for any more than a few seconds of painstakingly designed local colour.
Inarguably, the most iconic and notable of these aliens so far is Mr. Meseeks, a name that refers to any one of a number of randomly generated blue gonks, who pursue menial tasks to completion before puffing back into non-existence. They’re the B-plot of Meseeks & Destroy (Season 1 Episode 6) but as the title suggests, they actually outshine the Rick and Morty adventure that week. The characters have a weirdly cute look, coupled with Roiland’s throat-wrecking vocals, which has made them the series’ most merchandisable characters to date.
Our personal favourite is Birdperson, an alien superhero type voiced by Harmon, who shows up to a party later on in Season 1. The characters come thick and fast and none of them are ever boring to look at. You’ll never get accustomed to seeing Cronenbergs or Abradolf Lincoler or Pencilvestyr on first viewing, and there’s always a new character coming in the next episode.
8. Endless quotability
We could put this under “Intelligent writing”, sure, but it’s worth marking how the show’s wit has the same flavour as Community and the influence of Harmon and several other former writers from that show is clear in many of the snappy retorts or philosophical monologues. Mostly, though, the show has got serious catchphrase game.
To pick one example, Rick’s primary exclamation “Wubba lubba dub dub” is first thrown out as a Three Stooges-style exclamation whenever he laughs off a particularly traumatic bout of faffing about, but takes on a more poignant meaning towards the end of the season. It won’t stop you shouting it to others who’ve seen the show as a secret (if not subtle) identifier. Well, that and “Hey, I’m Mr. Meseeks, look at meee!”
9. Creative movie spoofs
You may have noticed that a lot of the episode titles we’ve mentioned are rip-offs of movie titles, which is hardly uncommon in sitcoms (after 26 or more seasons, The Simpsons is now resorting to laboured and sometimes excruciating puns in its titles) but doesn’t necessarily mean that the show is doing a straightforward spoof that week. In fact, the episode titles are referenced in the trailer for the Season 1 Blu-ray: “I don’t think they put a lot of energy into it. I think they saved their creative energy for the show.”
Case in point: Lawnmower Dog features the aforementioned dog uprising, but the main story is a dream-sphere adventure that takes on both Inception – “If this is dumb and makes no sense, then neither does everybody’s favourite movie!” – and A Nightmare On Elm Street. In the latter regard, we’re introduced to Scary Terry, who is at once an enjoyable parody and an understatement of what Freddy Krueger was turned into in every successive sequel to Wes Craven’s slasher: a profanity-spewing, macabre prankster rather than a truly frightening, cold-blooded killer.
This three-pronged approach is comparatively rare. As you’d expect from a show that started as a deliberate corruption of Back To The Future, the series is hyper-aware of the pop culture texts around it while remaining staggeringly original, but movie spoofs have become a springboard to some of the show’s most memorable moments.
10. Post-credit stings to rival Marvel
Sitcom end credit tags have been a staple of broadcast television for a long time, but Rick & Morty takes the Marvel approach by keeping something back until the very end of the credits. Just like the deliciously weird end tags from Community’s Season 6, the tags often expand upon some smaller aspect of what was going on in the episode in darkly funny style.
The medium of animation provides even more freedom, offering a glorious blank canvas onto which throwaway gags from earlier in an episode can be fully rendered and paid off. Frequently, they act as the cherry on top of each fully rounded slice of sci-fi comedy and more than enough incentive to keep going on more adventures. Or, as Rick puts it in the very first episode: “Rick and Morty forever and ever, hundred years, hundred days. Dot com.”
Rick and Morty Season 1 airs at 10pm on Fridays on E4, with episodes then available to catch up for free on All 4. Seasons 1 to 3 are available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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