Saturday Morning Cartoons is a column that I generally update bi-weekly on Saturday mornings. This schedule, which I’ve held for the year and a half that I’ve been on this review site, was derailed about a month ago when a major leak in my apartment caused me to have to move and subsequently lose internet (and thus the ability to upload and post articles online) until I was able to settle down and get internet installed in my new apartment. Luckily, I now have a non-leaky apartment that finally has internet and I am able to continue my column. I generally use the internet in order to watch the shows and movies that I normally write about (thank you, Japan, for having Netflix with a much better selection than American Netflix). So in the three weeks in which I did not have internet, I had to turn to my own collection of shows that had been lying around un-watched, and unwritten about. One of these shows was one that was given to me, but one I had put off watching for a while because I initially never wanted to watch it. This show was Rick and Morty.
Looking at the sci-fi, comedy series Rick and Morty at face value, its dark and crude humor never seemed to be my cup of tea. For a majority of its existence as a series, I generally avoided it, thinking that it looked like it belonged in the same category of shows as South Park, American Dad, Family Guy, and the like – all of which I don’t necessarily hate, nor am I calling them bad – but all of which I, in general, don’t enjoy watching. But then several friends, all of which who have different tastes in TV, recommended Rick and Morty to me. I was also informed that one of the co-creators of the series was Dan Harmon, who was the creator of one my favorite comedy shows, Community. I would soon find that Rick and Morty has a similar kind of humanistic comedy that Community had.
If you have not seen Rick and Morty, then it’s a kind of hard show to describe without sounding nonsensical. In a nutshell, its about a genius scientist named Rick who goes on inter-galactic, and inter-dimensional adventures with his hapless grandson, Morty. Such adventures often involve a lot of violence, sex, ridiculous rivalries and childish arguments devolving into the destruction of worlds, ball fondlers, money-making schemes, crazy alien monsters, and pretty much any sci-fi concept you can think of. The humor, is definitely crude, but also involves lots of reference humor, with a smattering of breaking the fourth wall thrown in, seemingly haphazardly. In its dichotomy of both randomness and connectedness of themes throughout the show, it certainly manages to be a refreshingly unique take on a style of humor and genre that I had thought had been done to death.
One of my main issues with American cartoons for adults is that there isn’t that much variation. They are usually primarily comedic, mostly episodic, usually crude, and have very little overarching story. To me, a lot of the wacky tactlessness of these shows seems like an adult variation of childish fart humor, turning the cartoons into mostly mindless, heartless comedies. And I’m not trying to say that cartoons for adults are completely mindless and heartless – there’s a lot of heart in many Simpsons episodes, and South Park provides some exceedingly intelligent, though also very obvious, social commentary. My main problem with these shows though, is that I usually don’t care about the characters and I’m usually unable to feel any emotion outside of levity or shock.
Rick and Morty on the other hand, seems to have a side to it, that allows for a greater range of emotions to be felt while watching the show. Much of the comedy, has a darker, sadder side to it, and though you laugh at it, there’s always a kind of depressing undertone to it. For example, Rick’s drinking habit, complete with burps, drool, and endless drunken tirades, is played for laughs. However, it also often brings up the fact that his substance abuse is primarily a way for him to escape his internal turmoil and generally depressing mode of existence. Other shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, whose main characters often appear drunk, portray their drunkenness primarily for humor’s sake, with perhaps the exception of some “very special episodes”. Rick and Morty on the other hand will continue with their themes throughout the series, and always makes sure to reference past episodes or past philosophical conversations. The show could be watched episodically, with each episode taken as its own story, but the humor and the emotions are compounded when watched as a series. This goes beyond your usual running gag, or thematic lesson learned at the end of every episode, becoming a larger chronicle as the series goes on.
But that’s the thing about Rick and Morty, it is both really in your face and really subtle all at the same time. It throws at you so many weird and insane moments and concepts, but when it gets down to it, there are a lot of truly human moments in the show. The series’ main emotional focus is on Rick’s relationship with Morty and the rest of his family, and his attempts to be back in their lives, despite being a total asshole while doing so. The show constantly plays with various philosophical concepts of morality and personal existence, while both covering it up with and at the same time intensifying such concepts with science fiction and comedy. In the end, you really do feel for the characters and many of the episodes end on either bittersweet, or downright depressing notes. It’s very effective on playing with the viewers’ emotions, but never in a cheap way. The brilliance of the show is that it may seem stupid and overly simple on the surface, but a lot of it is actually quite smart and complicated. None of the characters in Rick and Morty are perfect – far from it – they are deeply flawed people, but at the same time you feel empathy for them. The show displays a perfect mix of cynicism and pathos in both its characters and morals. In the end, I am really happy that I did go back and force myself to watch the show, because it surprised me in many ways. Rick and Morty has recently finished its second season, and I restlessly await its third.