The Film (5/5)
Reviewing the second season (or any season other than the first) of a popular television series is tricky. Are you writing for the people who are already familiar with the first, or should you use the word count as a platform to draw new fans in?
Let’s try both!
For the uninitiated, Rick and Morty is an animated series on Cartoon Network’s [adult swim] shingle about an old scientist and his grandson who go on adventures across multiple dimensions. Sounds pretty simple, except that Rick is a foul-mouthed nihilistic drunk and Morty is a 14-year-old doofus. They live with Morty’s family – Beth (his mom and Rick’s daughter), Jerry (his dad), and Summer (his 17-year-old sister). Beth and Jerry’s marriage is grossly dysfunctional and codependent, Summer is a typical teenager, and Rick pretty much holds them all in contempt.
That’s the basic nutshell, and it sounds pretty routine on paper. Crazy characters go on wacky space adventures, while drinking and cursing. And sure, that happens quite a bit. But what makes Rick and Morty special is that it takes the wacky adventure schtick and wraps it up in brilliant writing that can bounce seamlessly from a dumb gag to an incredibly insightful meditation on how flawed people interact with one another. And sometimes it’s the dumb gag itself that doubles as the insightful meditation. I’ve seen throwaway lines on Rick and Morty that have more depth and understanding of humanity than other sitcoms have demonstrated in their entire runs.
And on top of that it’s all built around incredibly inventive – but also easy to understand – sci-fi elements. From alien planets to portal guns to cross-temporal travel, Rick and Morty does for science everything that The Big Bang Theory pretends to do, and then some.
But all of that is demonstrated in Season 1, which you should go seek out immediately if you haven’t seen it. The first episode is a little wobbly, but by the second it’s found its stride, and by the time you get to the Mr. Meseeks episode you’ll be a fan for life.
Which is why it’s a good thing that Season 2 capitalizes and expands upon everything that made the first season so great. It picks up immediately where Season 1 ends, and – like most second seasons do – uses its newfound success to build a season-spanning arc that picks up threads from the first and carry them forward. All of the characters are given more room to grow and develop, the storylines and plot devices have gotten even more sharp and smart and precisely constructed, and it’s still just incredibly funny.
There’s an episode that riffs on The Purge that may be one of the most excessive, gratuitous half-hours of basic-cable television I’ve ever seen, with a spot-on needle drop and a pitch-perfect use of profanity. There’s another episode that spends its entire runtime dwelling on the nature of creationism and what role a ‘God’ should play with its creation, that also features psychic spiders and a space car that murders people. There’s another episode that dwells entirely on space time, quantum physics, and existential uncertainty (and features a testicle-head timecop played by Keegan Michael-Key).
But the crown jewel of the entire season would have to be Mortynight Run, in which a trip to an arcade sees Morty trying to save a life that everybody else wants to end. There are so many threads and ideas that each could have been their very own episode, but they’re all tightly woven together and paid off impeccably, ending with an unflinching look at how one character has to come to terms with their own ideals betraying them.
And then that’s paid off with a fart joke. Which is probably the best summation of Rick and Morty as you’ll ever see.
It’s beautiful, but that’s not necessarily an accomplishment, as it’s a modern animated series made with modern technology; it’s almost impossible for it to be anything but beautiful. But the art is great and the direction is spot on and everything looks and sounds fantastic.
Every episode has at least one commentary, there are deleted animatics, and in every case is a user’s manual for a Plumbus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about I’ll just save the explanation and let you discover that on your own.
It’s a pretty great package for a phenomenal show. Honestly, I can’t praise Rick and Morty enough – it’s one of the best animated series to hit television in a long, long time.