Rick and Morty: Science fiction and comedy have never been combined in a wittier, smarter way
The universe(s). Time. Reality. Consciousness. Life. Infinity.
Teenage troubles. Heartbreak. Marriage. Family. (Schwifty) musical talent show. Selfies.
Combine these two seemingly different sets of issues and problems into a show, and you get the hilarious, weird and complex world of adult science fiction animated series Rick and Morty.
The finale of the third season of Rick and Morty was live-streamed on Adult Swim. Although some fans are slightly disappointed with the relatively straight-forward nature of the finale and the absence of some important characters, it still had enough of wacky jokes and plot twists to sustain the dynamic and unique theme of the show.
And it is this theme of Rick and Morty which has not only made the show extremely popular but also re-defined science fiction and comedy, and the strange-but-lovable amalgamation of the two.
From the outset, the premise of Rick and Morty seems very simple. The show is about mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty Smith going on inter-dimensional adventures through space while having to deal with their family members at the same time. But once you are done watching even a single episode of Rick and Morty, you will realise that the kind of ‘adventures’ depicted in the show are those you have probable never seen before.
Learning from the universe
These adventures include super-intelligent dogs in mechanical suits trying to take over the world, blue creatures called ‘Meseeks’ whose only purpose is to fulfill their masters’ request and then vanish, Trans-Dimensional Council of Ricks – an organisation of all Ricks and Mortys from infinite alternate dimensions, a gaseous intelligent being called Fart with telepathic powers, a hive mind called Unity who is Rick’s ex-lover, parasites which can plant fake memories into someone’s mind, marriage counseling which creates violent manifestations of the partners’ perceptions of each other, a situation in which Rick turns himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy, a fantasy world called Froopyland created by Rick for his young daughter Beth, and many other such beings and situations which will leave you absolutely awestruck and rolling on the floor with laughter at the same time.
But the genius of Rick and Morty lies in the fact that it is much, much more than light fun and silly laughs. In fact, the show uses these quirky gags, jokes and humour to depict something much darker and more serious.
The recurring theme of Rick and Morty is the horror and simultaneous beauty of living in an unimaginably vast and complex universe.
You and I are nothing but insignificant beings living on a small planet revolving around a medium-sized star located in a relatively quiet region of one of the outer arms of one among one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.
There are many, many questions about the world and reality (or simulation, depending on what you prefer) around us which have not been answered. There may be some which we cannot even comprehend.
We are trying to find those answers. But we are human, after all. And this means that a lot of us are often obsessed with issues and problems which may seem huge to us, but mean next to nothing to the universe. Rick and Morty is one of the rare shows which contrasts the terrifying but fascinating issues about the cosmos with the petty, self-obsessed issues pestering us humans.
And the character the show uses the most frequently to contrast these two sets of issues is Rick Sanchez.
In the show, Rick (voiced by Justin Roiland) is portrayed as the smartest human being and one of the smartest living beings in the universe. This means that Rick already knows many things about the world around him which the common person is ignorant about. Rick is already aware of the insignificance of human beings in the multi-dimensional universe of the show and thus treats a lot of concepts crucial for other people, like life, death, morality, love, family and marriage, with sheer disdain.
For example, here's what Rick thinks of love:
With infinite dimensions where there are no consequences of good or bad actions, Rick realises that the only purpose for him is the one which he creates for himself. Thus, he leads a hedonistic lifestyle, choosing to focus on crazy adventures, parties, booze, sex and a never-ending quest for power rather than settling down, leading a quiet family life and basically aspiring to become a person the society considers successful and moral.
His lifestyle also has its downsides. Rick is arrogant and often evil. The first episode of the show begins with him telling Morty about how he plans to wipe out all life on earth to get a “fresh start”. These seemingly evil impulses stem from Rick’s nihilism.
Rick gets so obsessed with the grand cosmological and philosophical issues that he has trouble dealing with common problems. A heartbreak in one episode drives Rick to attempt suicide. His plan to turn himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy in another episode also stems from the same psychopathic tendencies to stay away from unnecessary feelings or attachments of any kind.
And this is when Morty’s character comes into the picture. Morty (also voiced by Roiland) balances the show by keeping Rick’s evil impulses in check.
Morty is in his teenage, the time when even the most trivial of problems seem like the end of the world. Like most teenagers, he wants to be cool and popular. He also suffers from low self-esteem and is constantly looking for approval from everyone around him. If the show reveals its ideas about the cosmos and philosophy mostly through Rick, it portrays the other issues – our small human problems – through Morty.
The way Morty behaves during one of the adventures on the show is basically how a normal person would react when faced with the horrors of the cosmos. While Rick does not care about morality, Morty is obsessed with doing the right thing and often checks Rick’s behaviour and persuades him to choose the ‘right’ path. Even though Morty’s character has evolved a lot because of Rick in these three seasons, he is still a teenager who is definitely more concerned about earthly problems and issues than the larger cosmological issues.
Laughing at your problems
So, Rick and Morty is trying to put things in perspective by making you realise the actual scale of your issues and problems.
Does this mean that the show is asking us to ignore our own problems because they are next to nothing when compared to issues regarding the cosmos?
Not at all.
Rick and Morty laughs at our hilariously dark tragedy arising out of the fact that while we are trying to figure out the cosmos and reality and all that it entails, we simply cannot escape or ignore our petty human problems, even if we are as smart as Rick.
Problems are as only as big as you perceive them to be. And because we are human beings, our own issues like love and morality – although insignificant to the cosmos – will always be important for our own survival because we are limited by the things which make us human.
The show sends the message that these two sets of problems are, in fact, interlinked. A better understanding of the cosmos will only make our own problems appear smaller and make the solutions clearer.
For example, Rick realises that if nothing matters in the universe, he can decide what matters to him. This concept is beautifully portrayed in the episode Rest and Ricklaxation, in which Rick realises that what an individual considers to be a toxic part of his or her personality depends entirely on his or her perception of toxicity, because in the grand scale of things, the universe does not care about whether a certain trait in a person is destructive or not.
In the episode Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender, Rick uses the cosmological conclusion about the irrelevance of morality to convince Morty that there are no heroes in the world. The episode thus parodies and makes fun of the idea of superheroes in most comic books and films.
The character who highlights the need to think of both the larger questions and our small problems is, ironically, Jerry (voiced by Chris Parnell). Jerry is portrayed as a failure because he is so narrow-minded and narcissistic that he refuses to look at anything beyond problems which concern him. In the episode M. Night Shaym-Aliens!, Jerry is so obsessed with trying to sell his advertising slogan for apples that he does not realise that he is, in fact, trapped inside a virtual reality, despite several obvious, in-your-face glitches.
While Beth (voiced by Sarah Chalke), Rick’s daughter and Jerry’s wife, is also pre-occupied with the problems of her own world, she is never as self-obsessed as Jerry and evolves to respect her father’s point of view, especially in the third season.
'Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere'
The combination of everyday worldly issues with grand questions about the universe, reality and identity is definitely absurd. And that is the whole point of the show. It cleverly tells us that the only way to look at the overwhelmingly grand scale of things in the cosmos is through humour, especially because we will never be able to look at the universe without bringing our own ridiculous problems into the picture, making it absurd. And absurdity is the basis of humour.
Rick and Morty has done what few other mainstream animations have achieved. It has used the limitless power of animation to unlock a whole new realm of science fiction, where the crazy world of cartoons – where anything is possible – meets some of the deepest, most complex questions of science and philosophy to create humour and plot which is truly original and highly intelligent.
So the next time you feel sad, remember Morty’s wise words: ‘Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die…come watch TV?’
Wubba lubba dub-dub!