Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming has always pushed the envelop when it comes to comedic content. Bizarre and abstract don’t even begin to explain series like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Squidbillies. But what all of these shows have in common is both newness (either a new take on an old cartoon, like Harvey, or an entirely new concept, like Aqua Teen) and charm. Squidbillies is full of vulgar and violent humor, but it’s grounded by the singularity of a character like Early, with his horrible homespun wisdom, as well as the show’s biting satire. All this to say that when it comes to the new half hour comedy Rick and Morty, well … hit the jump for more.
What Rick and Morty does have is pedigree. The show was created and is executive produced by Community‘s Dan Harmon and voice actor Justin Roiland. Aside from Roiland, who voices both of the title characters (something I’ll come back to), the show also features the voices of Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) and Chris Parnell (30 Rock) as the Morty’s parents. Spencer Grammer, daughter of Kelsey, also lends her voice to Morty’s older sister Summer.
The basic setup is that Morty’s grandfather Rick has come to live with his family. While Morty is a feckless, friendless, reluctant and unintelligent companion, Rick is a genius mad scientist, who also happens to be a drooling drunk. Rick takes Morty along on many a madcap adventure through space and time, much to the displeasure of his family, since it means Morty is missing school and being put in constant mortal danger. The family also feels the brunt of Rick’s mad scientist schtick because he often unleashes his prototypes on them as punishment, particularly towards Morty’s dad, who is particularly wary of him.
The concept is one that’s easy to riff with. The adventures through portals that don’t have any rules make it easy to showcase an unhindered creativity, both with the stories and with the animation. Rick and Morty seems to do a fair job so far — in its first two episodes, anyway — of exploring that ability. The worlds are strange and bizarre and with their own rules, and so it’s easy to insert humor visually just from the extreme things they encounter.
Where Rick and Morty falls down, though, is with Rick and Morty. Also, that they both say each other’s names at least once per sentence. Is this Roiland reinforcing which character he is? If it’s a joke (like it was at the end of the Pilot episode) to drill into viewer minds the name of the program, that’s one thing. But it is constant and unending to such a degree beyond that episode, that it moves from grating to meditative repetition, and then back to grating
Rick and Morty themselves aren’t the greatest protagonists (the relationship feels a lot like Early and Rusty from Squidbillies, but doesn’t connect in the right way), and their own show is upstaged by ancillary characters like Morty’s family, who get the best lines, even though most of them are throwaway jokes. Rick gets the brunt of the vulgar and easy jokes made about the worlds he goes to, whereas Morty’s parents and sister get better material that is grounded in the real world.
A character refers to Rick’s adventures as “high concept, Sci-Fi rigamarole.” I agree with the latter two-thirds of that. There’s certainly a chance for the show to get better, but its initial offerings leave a lot to be desired, thanks really to the bar that Dan Harmon and Adult Swim have set themselves.
Rick and Morty premieres Monday, December 2nd at 10:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.