Here’s a thing about me: I love TV comedies about terrible people. It’s a weakness. It’s how I ended up watching shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Archer and The Thick of It. Only one of those I actually had to stop watching because the people were so terrible that I couldn’t stand it anymore and that was The Thick of It. Everything else is just seeing how awful terrible people can be to each other in their own direct circle of influence.
When a bunch of my friends started watching Rick and Morty, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. As far as I knew, it was an Adult Swim show, which I don’t really have the best track record of enjoying. Still, after seeing a couple of episodes with a friend and watching the ‘X Gonna Give It To Ya’ scene from “Something Ricked This Way Comes,” I decided to give it a shot.
Good life choices were made that day, I think.
(Trigger warning for mentions of rape and sexual assault.)
Rick and Morty is about terrible people. Well… one terrible person mostly in the form of Rick Sanchez, a genius scientist who’s also a drunken sociopath who takes his grandson Morty Smith on adventures across dimensions. Morty is a sweet, but rather dumb teenager who struggles at school and more so on trips with Rick. Rounding out the cast is Morty’s older sister Summer, who gets more involved in Rick and Morty’s adventures as the series goes on, and Morty’s parents Beth and Jerry, who’s marriage is in a rough patch.
As Rick and Morty starts, it is very typical Adult Swim fare with bizarre animated adventures with no great consequences happening to our main characters from week to week. However, in the episodes ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’ and ‘Rick Potion #9,’ we start to see a shift in tone that makes the show go from silly to brilliant. In ‘Meeseeks and Destroy,’ Morty is nearly raped by an anthropomorphic jelly bean in the bathroom of a tavern. Most shows would have portrayed this situation as comical, but it’s actually terrifying. Morty manages to escape, but he’s still clearly traumatized from it and the tone of a lighthearted episode up to that point suddenly grows heavier as Rick understands what happened to his grandson without words and later shoots the rapist dead with a blaster gun.
It says a lot that I’ve never seen a comedy show portray rape with the weight it should actually carry. At best it can be seen as gallows humor, and insensitive at worst. There’s a later episode where Jerry is nearly raped as well and while the scene doesn’t quite have the same weight as the scene in ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’ and there’s a bit of an awkward humor moment when it appears that Jerry is describing a past experience, Rick and Morty doesn’t downplay the trauma experienced by the characters in those moments and they’re never mocked by their scene partners for it. It’s kind of weird to describe a show that features a jerk mad scientist who’s always drunk as being “mature” about that kind of topic, but hey, if the speed suit fits.Another mature moment comes in the following episode ‘Rick Potion #9’ when Rick and Morty end up escaping to a similar alternate universe when a love potion gone wrong ends up “Cronenberg-ing” the planet. The Rick and Morty of that universe end up dying after everything is solved and the main Rick and Morty take their places. Morty is absolutely traumatized by the situation, wandering around his house in this new dimension in a daze after having to bury himself to a soundtrack of Mazzy Star. It comes back beautifully in the episode ‘Rixty Minutes’ when Morty admits to his sister as she’s about to run away from the parents who never wanted her in the first place and tells her “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone is gonna die” as a way to convince her to stay.
AND IT WORKS.
From ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’ on, the show mixes the wacky adventures with a lot of black humor as we understand that Rick has his own emotional baggage he hasn’t really talked about yet. There’s even weirdly emotional moments, especially in the first two episodes of season 2 when Rick nearly sacrifices his life to make sure Morty will live and is at peace with that choice and Morty has to make a hard decision at the end of the very next episode that compromises his own morals. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at home wondering how a show on the network that gave us Too Many Cooks is so freakin’ layered.It’s also just legitimately funny as hell. It really takes a chance to use its sci-fi concept to create legitimately funny scenarios such as Rick creating a business dispelling curses just to screw with The Devil, creatures made to serve and die getting angry when they can’t help Jerry improve his golf game, so they resolve to kill him instead, Rick creating a theme park in a homeless man or just the entirety of ‘Rixty Minutes.’ The only episode that openly grated at me with it’s concept is how stereotypical the society of women from ‘Raising Gazorpazorp’ was, but it also leads to extra character development for Summer, which was exciting.
Less Robot Chicken and more Futurama, Rick and Morty is an awesome and hilarious sci-fi animated comedy about a family coping with the universe and just how terrible their grandfather can be. Weirdly mature and poignant at times, Rick and Morty just goes to show that sometimes, you can’t judge a show by its network.