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Rick & Morty

US animated tv comedy series (2013-current). Adult Swim/Cartoon Network. Created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. Directors include Wesley Archer, Jacob Hair, Nathan Litz and Pete Michels. Writers include Eric Acosta, Dan Harmon, Tom Kauffman, Mike McMahan, Justin Roiland and Wade Randolph. Voice cast includes Harry Belden, Ian Cardoni, Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer, Chris Parnell and Justin Roiland. 71 23-minute episodes to date, plus 31 shorts. Colour.

Scientist Rick Sanchez (Roiland seasons 1-6, Cardoni from 7) moves in with the family of his daughter Beth (Chalke) – her husband Jerry Smith (Parnell) and their children Morty (Roiland seasons 1-6, Belden from 7) and Summer (Grammer), fourteen and seventeen respectively – after having been absent for at least fourteen years. Rick persuades Morty to be his companion in what Jerry calls "high-concept Sci-Fi rigamarole"; the rest of the family is increasingly drawn into their adventures, Summer often becoming another companion, particularly in the second and third series.

The show is initially a series of one-off adventures in the Multiverse, with many civilizations and an oppressive Galactic Empire to which Rick is hostile; he is equally hostile to his many alternate-universe counterparts (see Parallel Worlds), some of whom have formed a Citadel of Ricks (and Mortys). Multiple universes play a large part in the show – the viewpoint Rick and Morty from the beginning of the series now live in a different universe, Rick having mutated the inhabitants of their home earth into a place of David Cronenberg Monsters: so they find a universe where they happen to die at the same point in time, bury the bodies in the back garden and move in with the rest of the Smith family. Also, the current Morty is not necessarily the one we began with; nor, strictly speaking, is the Rick; while there are two Beths, no one knowing which is the Clone (see Identity).

Such dark themes are one of the main features of the stories: the B-plot to "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" (30 August 2015) has Summer in Rick's car (on another planet), whose AI has been instructed to "keep Summer safe" while Rick and Morty try to repair the battery by entering the mini-universe (see Pocket Universe) that exists in the run-down battery. The car kills an aggressive passer-by and Summer instructs it not to kill – so when the police arrive the car, heeding Summer's words, creates a copy of the head officer's dead child who repeatedly asks his father "to leave the car alone", then decays into goo. A traumatized Summer instructs the car not to use emotional countermeasures either, which peeves it somewhat; nevertheless it brokers a peace between the planet's human inhabitants and the native race of giant spiders, earning their gratitude and forgiveness.

Increasingly the show has started to build a storyline exploring Rick's character: underneath his cynicism and egotism there are suggestions of ennui, self-destruction and affection for his family (though not Jerry) – in particular for his dead wife, murdered by another Rick. In the season 5 finale we learn much from an alternate-universe Evil Morty, including how Rick closed off the infinity of universes where he is the smartest man in the universe from the infinity of universes where he is not: "an infinite crib built around an infinite fucking baby." In season 7 our Rick, ambivalently aided by Evil Morty, manages to kill the Rick who murdered his wife.

The series is densely packed with sf tropes, usually from Cinema and Television: the two main characters are clearly rooted in Doc and Marty from Back to the Future (1985), while there is something of Doctor Who (1963-current) about the intelligent, mature individual travelling the universe with young companion(s), having adventures. Though there is some Parody of the source material, the ideas are usually explored for their own sake and the fun that can be had with them, e.g. Dogs with enhanced Intelligence ("Where are my testicles, Summer?"), inhabiting dreams (see Dream Hacking), alternative timelines (see Alternate History), Hive Minds, alien parasites (see Parasitism and Symbiosis), freezing time (see Stasis Field; Time Distortion), Galactic Empires, body switching (see Identity Exchange), Post-Holocaust societies and turning oneself into a pickle.

While many sf shows use genre ideas to elicit a cultural clash or as a means to distort/exaggerate the familiar, Rick and Morty uses such ideas as the engine of the plot. It is not simply one of the funniest sf cartoons around; it is one of the funniest shows, period. Harmon had previously created Heat Vision and Jack (1999) and the excellent Community (2009-2015). In January 2023, following accusations of domestic violence, Roiland was dismissed by Adult Swim, with his voice roles recast from season 7 – which was, on the whole, stronger than the preceding couple of seasons. [SP]


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 16:09 pm on 18 July 2024.