‘Rick and Morty,’ a logic to its madness
The new Adult Swim animated series goes this way and that
November 27, 2013
Many comedy story lines begin somewhere and then wander aimlessly, as if the writers simply came up with a starting point and then let themselves free-associate. When this works, it can be hilarious. When it doesn’t, viewers tend to wander.
Adult Swim’s new animated series “Rick and Morty,” about a below-average teenage boy whose grandfather, a mad scientist, forces him to help him on dangerous adventures, works because the writers’ free associations are unexpected but somehow logical. Although the show has the tastelessness and mild nihilism of much of Adult Swim’s programming, it also has enough real laughs to make up for them.
In the premiere episode, airing next Monday, Dec. 2, at 10:30 p.m., Grandpa Rick (voiced by one of the show’s creators, Justin Roiland) takes his grandson Morty (also voiced by Roiland) out of school so he can accompany him to dimension 35C, where Rick needs some “mega seeds,” supposedly for his research.
When Morty breaks both legs, Rick journeys to another dimension, which has medicine so advanced that Rick is the only old person there. He takes advantage of this celebrity to spend time with young women.
Although he cures Morty’s injuries after his return, his dimension-skipping gizmo is out of power, so they have to smuggle the seeds through “interdimensional customs” in a body cavity of Morty’s.
When this plan goes wrong and Morty hesitates to shoot some security guards, Rick tells him, “They’re just robots.” Only after Morty kills one does Rick say, “It’s a figure of speech, Morty. They’re bureaucrats. I don’t respect them.”
The journey has probably unintended consequences: Morty impresses a pretty girl at school, and his parents, Jerry (Chris Parnell) and Beth (Sarah Chalke) decide not to put Rick in a nursing home.
The second episode provided for review has two plot lines that build manically. First, Jerry asks Rick to make the family dog smarter so he’ll stop peeing on the floor.
“I thought the whole thing about having a dog was to make you feel smarter,” Rick says. “I wouldn’t pull that thread, Jerry.”
The device that Rick puts on the dog’s head leads it to create its own army of super-intelligent dogs who proceed to take over the family and then the country, neutering overaggressive males. And they also play poker.
Rick and Morty, meanwhile, try to enter the dreams of Morty’s math teacher, “Inception” style, to persuade him to give Morty better grades. When the teacher fights back in his dream, they enter the dreams of someone else in the dream.
Repeated several times, this leads to a confrontation with a Freddy Krueger-type villain — or, as Rick describes him, “some sort of legally safe knockoff of an ’80s horror-film character, with miniature swords for fingers instead of knives.”
It turns out that the slasher’s nightmare is going to school with no pants and unprepared for class. Throughout, Rick and Morty argue whether this story is any more confusing and illogical than “Inception.”
Morty and Rick’s relationship is clearly a parody of Marty and Doc’s in “Back to the Future.” Rick sometimes blathers incoherently, and Morty is unpopular and unintelligent.
Morty realizes that Rick, who appears to be an alcoholic, is almost purely selfish: “You’re like Hitler,” he says, “but even Hitler cared about Germany or something.”
A more tasteless reference comes in the math teacher’s dream, which occurs on an airliner. Wearing Islamic attire, Rick says that he and Morty are going to “9/11” the plane.
Other jokes are so adolescent that they feel innocent. The head of Morty’s school introduces himself as “Principal Vagina — no relation.”
But a lot of the writing — by Roiland and the creator of NBC’s “Community,” Dan Harmon — skillfully mixes bad taste and wit: The newly verbal dog tells the family, “Snuffles was my slave name. You shall now call me Snowball, because my fur is pretty and white.”
Too many shows on Adult Swim have led us to expect little more than gross-out jokes or witless black humor. “Rick and Morty” could have come from another dimension.
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