My favorite science fiction, animated, humor series “Rick and Morty” has just walked away with a Creative Arts Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Animated Program.’ If you were to ask Rick Sanchez what he thinks of his show acquiring an award, his answer might be: “Urp. There might be signs of intelligence on Earth, after all.”
Rich Sanchez is the brainchild of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, whose main characters started off as a spoof on Back to the Future’s two main characters, Doc Brown, eccentric, time-traveling genius and Marty McFly, his mostly useless, not to bright, co-adventurer in time.
Rick and Morty are parodies of those two characters writ large where Rick is an interdimensional super-genius whose capacities are known across the galaxy, who spends most of his waking hours inebriated, semi-conscious, filled with nihilistic self-loathing and engaged in self-destructive behavior. None of this changes the fact he is orders of magnitude smarter than anyone else in his Universe, except maybe for his other selves. Morty tags along, a running gag, a straight man spoiler, much to the consternation of his dysfunctional family.
This animated duo won the Outstanding Animated Program award for their surreal adventures in the fan favorite, S3:E3, titled ‘Pickle Rick‘ where Rick, not wanting to attend a family therapy session, turns himself into a pickle.
You heard me. A pickle. Yes, from there the story proceeds right into the sewer at a breakneck pace, literally. This is part of the charm of this show. You are never quite sure where the show will go next. Their adventures are often surreal, over-the-top forms of mega-violence, metacognition, and metaphorical nonsense, sometimes in equal amounts. But there are also times when the nature of the show borders on some of the most real emotions and perspectives the Human experience has to offer.
Rick, the self-proclaimed smartest Human in the galaxy, has used his super-science to travel to other worlds, cross dimensional boundaries, steal interdimensional cable from across the Multiverse, cure alien diseases and leave a trail of destruction across the galaxy, often as a testament to his vanity or hubris. Rick engages in all seven of the deadly sins with equal vigor. His grandson, Morty, by the third season has become a co-conspirator, a not-quite equal partner in their adventures and in his own way a limiter on the extreme behavior Rick is known to engage in on his own. Rick would never admit this, claiming Morty is a means of hiding Rick from advanced technology designed to recognize him from his advanced brainwaves. The problem being you don’t know whether you can take Rick seriously or not.
Rick and Morty is part science fiction and part cosmic farce filled with some of the most irreverent science fiction stories you have never seen. Or worse you have seen them and this show is happy to undermine your memories of them with just how ridiculous they are. For me, this is part of its appeal. I am a complete fan of this show, even when it is a story I can’t quite get with, there is some underlying thematic element, or story subversion which redeems it for me. I love this show.
It’s rude, irreverent, transcendental, contemptuous and often disgusting, Rick and Morty is intelligent television disguised as bullshit television which makes discerning whether its good or just pretending to be good, that much harder to determine. I have watched this series from the beginning and have found it to be a layered experience, catering to the hidden knowledge of geek culture, science fiction and occasionally science fact.
Dark, morbid, and insanely nihilistic, Rick Sanchez is a god-like being whose meta-consciousness about the fundamental nature of the Universe makes him the smartest, saddest man in any room. Meeting himself repeatedly across the Multiverse (and hating himself every time he does so) he’s convinced his super-intelligence has no meaning in the absurdity that is the Universe. Rick is his Universe’s Doctor (of Doctor Who fame) who has the sum total of all knowledge in the Universe but spends the bulk of his time rediscovering what it means to be Human.
Rick isn’t a fan of his humanity. He spends the bulk of his time running away from his family, consisting of his under-achieving daughter, Beth, horse-surgeon, and her feckless, lazy and often unemployed, husband, Jerry. Rick adventures with his emotionally-aware but intellectually-challenged grandson, Morty. Lately, he’s added his selfish but morally-centered granddaughter, Summer, to the mix. I worried she might disrupt the relationship of our protagonists but her addition has only added a layer of nuance and pathos.
Rick’s family relationships are at best toxic, and yet they are the most centering thing about Rick. He always returns to his family, no matter how he appears to feel about them and does whatever it takes to keep them safe, when he doesn’t screw it up, which is part of the reason I love this show.
Rick doesn’t always get it right. Currently, Rick and Morty are living in an adjacent reality when one of their adventures goes horribly wrong and the Earth is horribly destroyed by a genetic plague unleashed by Rick. This plague is the accidental side-effect of creating a love potion for Morty to get the girl of his dreams, Jessica. Needless to say, it goes horribly wrong and in this instance, it was completely unable to be undone. Rick and Morty destroyed the world on Episode 6! What other animated series destroys their world and just moves on by using the Many World’s Interpretation as a convenient escape hatch? The show bends your mind and forces you to expand your expectations of what is possible.
Rick is a knowledge addict who must constantly create new things to feel alive. When combined with his many other addictions, he can find himself overwhelmed and often out of his depth. This is why I believe Morty (and Summer) are Rick’s idea of a fuse. Something to limit how crazy Rick is willing to get in any one moment. With the understanding that without the two of them, Rick is liable to create catastrophe on an epic scale.
This is at the heart of many of the best Rick and Morty stories as Rick is challenged by his humanity to do something truly Human, to care about someone or something, to make a moral choice he would otherwise ignore, or to do the right thing when he couldn’t be bothered otherwise. In this way, Rick is not like the Doctor; he is not inclined to help anyone and only heaven can help you if you find yourself on his bad side. Despite this, Rick has both a number of significant friends as well as a large entourage of people who just want to show up for Rick’s legendary parties.
Morty serves as Rick’s conscience, his limiter, and his moral compass in a Universe Rick can scarcely be bothered to care about. Whether Rick admits it or not, Morty’s value to him cannot be underestimated because throughout all of the Multiverse, the only companion to a Rick, is a Morty.
Knowing Rick, it would not surprise me to discover, Morty is in some way more connected to Rick’s existence than he likes to let on. His love-hate relationship with his family, however, has never stopped him from seeking them out, even when he migrates to a new dimension. I suspect one day we will learn why Rick continues to seek out his family of oddballs when he has access to the entirety of reality.
I love this show and can’t wait until the next season starts which is promised to be very soon. The series is rumored to have been green-lit for 70 more episodes and the recent Emmy win can only confirm the decision to back the show.
Editors’ Note: Wubba lubba dub dub, is an expression you hear Rick say all the time, but it doesn’t mean what you might think. It’s not a statement of excitement but a colloquialism of the Bird People which indicates “I am in great pain. Please help me.”) Rick is a very complicated man.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.