Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rick and Morty: My New Most Favorite TV Show!

Rick and Morty is one of the most intelligent and funny TV show's I have seen in my life. The characters are very realistic and sympathetic, and it exhibits a blending of realism with completely outlandish science fiction situations providing ripe opportunity for humor. Like all of the best science fiction, the story lines are peppered with accurate scientific facts and semi-plausible explanations, although scientific accuracy is not so belabored as to dull the dark, witty humor and surrealism. The artwork is detailed and beautiful, and there is an attention to detail rarely seen in animated TV, to the point where I feel compelled to watch each episode several times. It is near the level of brilliance of shows like Futurama, or what The Simpsons was in the mid 1990s.

The premise of the show begins with the assumption that the infinite multiverse hypothesis is true. That is the hypothesis where existence as we know it is following along only one of an infinite number of possible histories, so the universe where you did not procrastinate yesterday and got your work done on time, as well as the universe where you did procrastinate and did a half-hearted job, have both universes existing in parallel time lines with significantly different futures, perhaps one which leads to World War III, and one which leads to you earning the Nobel Prize. In the show, characters travel between all the different possible universes.

Image © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. posted here under fair use for critical commentary.
Rick flips through a cover-flow of all the different Ricks in all the parallel dimensions.

Rick Sanchez, a somewhat degenerate mad scientist who constantly belches and stammers when he speaks, is one of the only humans with a sufficiently advanced understanding of science to travel between different realities. Although apparently interdimensional travel is a common thing for a multitude of other alien races, so much so that there is an "interdimensional customs" which looks a lot like customs at the airport.

Rick is divorced and lives with his daughter Beth, a 34-year-old veterinary heart surgeon employed at a horse race track, and her husband Jerry Smith an incredibly mediocre man with a not-so-successful career in advertising. Beth and Jerry have a very tenuous relationship. Married to Jerry after she got pregnant while they were still in high school at the age of seventeen, Beth is always thinking about leaving Jerry but never does. Their daughter Summer is seventeen years old and is a most ordinary teenage girl constantly focused on her smartphone. They also have a son Morty, who is fourteen years old and seems to be a little bit on the dim-witted side, but who occasionally displays flashes of wisdom.

Image source:
Fan artwork of the characters: (from left to right) Rick, Jerry, Beth, Summer, Morty, with their dog Snuffles.

So Morty is Rick's grandson. Being the youngest and least strong-willed, Morty is the easiest for Rick to boss around and always becomes Rick's sidekick on his various misadventures traveling between parallel dimensions to exotic places and times throughout the universes as they quest for things to help Rick do his scientific experiments. It has also been revealed that Morty is Rick's choice as a sidekick for slightly more devious reasons.

Frequently the rest of the family asks Rick to use his superhuman scientific prowess to solve idle problems in their lives (like opening a jar of pickles), and the solutions to these problems often degenerate into extreme and surreal situations that unfold while Rick and Morty are off in some other dimension on one of their adventures.

Although the humor in the show is quite dark, there is one aspect of the show I noticed that is completely unlike most other shows in this genre: death of any character, no matter how minor that character is, is permanent and is almost never something taken lightly. I don't know if this is a conscious effort by the authors to break from the trend set by shows like South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or Futurama which treat the death of characters with either impermanence or flippancy (or both), or if this is just some way for the authors to make the dark humor even darker in a Monty Python sort of way. Either way, in Rick and Morty, when a character dies on screen, not only do they never come back, but more often than not, there is some brief imagery or some mention in dialog of the fact that the recently departed had a personal story, or that they had a family, and that surely there would be others who would mourn the loss of that person. However what happens to the body after a character dies is completely up for grabs, and nothing is sacred.

Likewise, the characters in the show are genuinely caring of one another, completely upending the cynical "no hugging, no learning" trend set by shows like Seinfeld, and mimicked by myriad other shows, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This makes the characters more endearing, even if it means sacrificing a little comedy for drama. In this way Rick and Morty is show a bit more like Futurama.

Image © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. posted here under fair use for critical commentary.
Notice the painting on the wall in the background: it is the famous photo Sallie Gardner at Gallop. It is little details like this that make the show really stand out.

At the time of this writing, Rick and Morty is still very new, having just wrapped-up the first season with 11 episodes. But already there is a huge community of fans. The first episode I saw was the sixth episode "Rick Potion Number Nine," and that alone was enough for me to see that this was really something worth the devotion of my time. Hopefully the fan base will grow and the show will be successful, and will stay fresh for at least a few more seasons.

Image © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. posted here under fair use for critical commentary.

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