Netflix UK TV review: Rick & Morty Season 4
Mark Harrison | On 18, Jun 2020
This is a spoiler-free review of Season 4 – scroll down for our spoiler-filled episode-by-episode observations.
One of the drawbacks of a freewheeling format like Rick & Morty is that the more it changes, the more it stays the same. The animated sitcom chronicles the hilarious and often existentially terrifying adventures of outer-space edge-lord Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty, (both voiced by co-creator Justin Roiland). Hot off a massive 70-episode renewal, the fourth season hits the fourth wall hard, scattering itself somewhere between anarchic storytelling and an arching storyline.
While there’s little serialisation to speak of, this run of 10 episodes pinballs between soft reboots, hardcore meta-references, and an occasional dollop of aimless snark. As with any show like this, there’s a worrying trend towards its unpredictability becoming formulaic. It’s not that any of these stories are predictable, but rather that shock value and self-regard sometimes become the ends instead of the means for the storytelling, with no coherent ending to justify its generic navel-gazing.
The paradox is that this makes the season feel more repetitive because we’re more aware of the formula. To give a spoiler-lite example, Episode 1 goes out of its way to distance the show from its vocal hardcore fandom (by having a succession of alternate realities automatically lead to a more repetitive show), but several other episodes are more directly formulaic, whether merrily parodying heist movies or pointlessly barging into high-concept premises with open contempt.
On the plus side, the show retains its appeal to big-name guest stars, barring one misjudged turn by the King of Bad Rick & Morty Fans Online (no, not Kanye, the other, non-acting one) in Episode 3. Taika Waititi, Sam Neill, Kathleen Turner, Jeffrey Wright all lend their voices to Season 4, and that’s just in Episode 2. There are, sadly, few other episodes that strike the same balance between A and B-plots from earlier seasons as well as this outing, which ties the usual “carnage at the Smiths’ home” subplot with a rare solo Rick adventure, making the most of the weird and wonderful one-off characters in both strands.
That said, this season makes spectacular use of useless patriarch Jerry Smith, with his solid-gold individual B-plots either bolstering some of the weaker outings (especially Episode 4) or out-scoring the A-plot for big laughs (especially Episode 5). Chris Parnell’s vocal performance is reliably milquetoast-y, but the writers take the character’s hilariously pathetic personality above and beyond what we’ve seen before, up to and including the all-timer of a post-credits scene that closes the season.
But around the relatively grounded Jerry, episodes contort themselves into less organic story shapes in a bid to surprise viewers, or occasionally just reheat twists and denouements that we’ve seen in previous (better) episodes. For all its repeated soft reboots and extreme meta-referencing, the best episodes of this run feel like they’re gunning for the sort of back-to-basics adventuring that will sustain future seasons.
At its best, this is still one of the fastest and funniest shows on TV, but then the opening salvo of that mammoth episode order is less representative of the show at its best than ever before. Though not fully capsizing into diminishing returns, Rick & Morty Season 4 is less itself in pursuit of not being the show its critics think it is. And yet, by the time misanthropic meme machine Rick tells another character “If there’s ever a saying about me, I’ll fly into the sun”, there’s a definite feeling that Season 4 protests too much.
Rick and Morty Season 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.
Season 4: Episode by Episode (contains spoilers)
Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat
In the first of many soft reboots in this run, a crisis within infinite realities is only the B-story to the season premiere’s meta-textual spoiler warning, as Morty becomes fixated on dying old and loved while Rick just tries to get killed enough times to get home.
The Old Man And The Seat
Everyone needs a little bit of love, and in a dizzyingly good thematic double-header about loneliness, the Smith family fend off a potentially world-ending dating app while Rick unexpectedly bonds with an alien who dared to use his special toilet.
One Crew over the Crewcoo’s Morty
“You son of a bitch, I’m in!” Ocean’s Eleven meets Ocean’s Twelve, in a funny and colourfully subversive dissection of heist-movie tropes that devolves into a chummy, convoluted run-around with the showrunners’ famous pal Elon Musk. Granted, it’s not as bad as the Simpsons’ similarly fawning Musk episode, but that was in the 26th season – there’s very little excuse for Rick & Morty to be so unhip so soon.
Claw And Hoarder: Special Ricktim’s Morty
This Funko-friendly dragon’s dirge lives down to its tortured episode title, revolving around a painfully unfunny and repetitive tract involving “slut dragons”. Still, it’s livened up by one of those aforementioned solid-gold Jerry plots, involving a cagey cat voiced by Matthew Broderick.
The show’s first Christmas episode since Season 1’s Anatomy Park is a resounding return to form, which gets a lot of time-travelling mileage out of a fractured snake society and takes Jerry’s comedy value to hitherto-unseen heights. Comfortably, the highlight of Season 4.
Never Ricking Morty
A contemptuous meta-romp in which the writers seem to have a full-blown mid-season crisis about the show’s renewal, burning ideas on a less-than-enjoyable anthology episode that steers in ever-decreasing story circles up its own backside.
A run-of-the-mill “Rick and Morty take on face-huggers” episode that jumps up a notch with a masterful structural gag; plus, it still manages to get plenty of well-placed jabs at Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels and alt-right YouTubers before and after the penny drops.
The Vat Of Acid Episode
Probably the closest to a back-to-basics Season 1 adventure of the run, this episode finally strikes a proper balance between self-critical meta-humour and good old-fashioned sci-fi comedy, as a defensive Rick lets Morty make his own mistakes across time and space.
Childrick Of Mort
A planetary paternity crisis yields a plot that brings the entire Smith family into Rick’s orbit for once but sends them spinning off into separately funny bits while Grandpa does the Family Guy chicken fight thing again, this time with a deadbeat deity.
Star Mort: Rickturn Of The Jerri
Feeling like a hangover from the last season’s abbreviated run, the epic finale brings back Beth’s clone (from Season 3’s The ABCs Of Beth) as well as Tammy, Phoenixperson, and Dr Wong, tying up their loose ends in a soft reset that walks so that (hopefully) future seasons can run.