First time I’ve written about Rick and Morty (I think it debuted during my downtime at the old joint) and I’m jumping right to the first season. Typical me. Anyway, here’s the lowdown on my opinion on seasons 1 and 2 before I get to season 3.
Season 1: First episode is awful. Like, so bad that I didn’t want to give the rest of the show a shot, but TV viewing habits led to me catching several more. Thankfully, none of the subsequent episodes were that bad, and it really found its stride with the Mr. Meeseeks episode. After that I was sold on the fact that the series had found its voice and wanted more.
Season 2: All around pretty great. It takes what the first season set up and plays off of it pretty well. We get to see the characters interact with each other in interesting ways, and the finale is kinda brilliant in how it sets up the future. The best all-around episode is probably the one where Rick tasks his car to protect Summer. The progression of tactics the car takes as Summer commands it to tone things down is crazy. I can’t say there’s a bad episode in the bunch.
As for season 3? The short of it?
For the most part it kinda sucks.
My biggest problem with Rick and Morty is the way it deals with what should be subtext. Rick is a fascinating character, and his family is largely interesting as well, because of the way they’re clearly dysfunctional. Rick, Beth, and Jerry are all kinda terrible people, and we can see that through their behavior. Morty and Summer are still kids– they show signs of turning into shitty people, but they also have that youthful self-awareness that allows them to see that they’re starting to be too much like their parents and grandfather. They still have hope of coming out of their youth as decent people. All of this is there in the adventures and melodrama of their lives, and it’s cool. But the show feels the need to spell it out far too often. One moment the characters are understandably unaware of their dynamics, or dealing with them in ways that make sense in the way an actual person would behave, and the next they become hyper-aware of the issues they’re dealing with and start talking about it directly. We know Beth shows signs of being like her father and feeling “above” everything around her with the way she treats Jerry and how she feels about her job. But then she says exactly that, as if the audience doesn’t notice. This had happened in the previous seasons, but season 3 put that sort of dialogue in the forefront more often than not. It was especially bad in the Froopyland episode, where all of that comes to a head. The resulting clone identity crisis was neat, but they built up to that moment in such a heavy-handed way that it didn’t have the same impact it should. Still, her scream in the season finale after talking with Rick about it was almost worth it. Nowhere near as primal and terrifying as Laura Palmer’s at the end of Twin Peaks season 3, but still an awesome moment.
What makes this worse is how the dialogue then turns into the characters commenting on the conversation. They start talking about what’s happening the way a fan would on social media or a review. It’s awareness of its own awareness, and it all starts to loop back on itself. I think it’s intentional, especially with the way the season finale played out, but it’s a tendency that’s always been there. It’s interesting from a formalist perspective– the show’s commenting before you can comment, and it’s undercutting you and anticipating you the way Rick would– but it made for some tedious viewing episode to episode.
That’s one of the many things that bugged me about the Pickle Rick episode. The scene in the psychiatrists office put everything on the table. Does that happen in a single session of that sort of thing? I wouldn’t know, but it felt too convenient, and kinda felt like the show, and its creators, really do think they’re smarter than their audience, because how else would we come up with our own opinions on their dynamics without the characters creating and criticizing a viewpoint for us.
And yeah, Pickle Rick really was the low point for me this season. Not only was the psychiatrist scene the worst example of that sort of extreme self-awareness, it also highlighted another trend I don’t dig: I don’t think this series really likes anything it riffs on and parodies.
We get a few references in this episode. We get a Die Hard like set-up. We get rival warriors putting aside their differences to fight a common foe. We get some genuinely impressive action animation. It almost comes off as a cool homage to all that sort of stuff, but again, the show just doesn’t know when to tone down the self-awareness. Rick can’t help but comment on and criticize the situation. He has to tell us what’s being referenced, and he has to take on this air of superiority and above-it-all-ness. It’s keeping in character, but it’s also something that happens every time they choose to run with some sort of genre situation. The show understands the genre they’re messing with, but it also thinks it’s better than that genre because of that awareness. Again, the writers are forming the opinion for you by having the characters give their self-aware opinion. They did the same thing with the Mad Max episode. It makes me wonder if they actually like any of the things they write about, or if the whole show is just a big “fuck you” to genre fiction. I don’t think either of those things are true, but it brings the question to mind. That’s kinda weird.
Despite all of that, there was enough to like in season 3 to make me want to watch future seasons. The season premiere is one of the best episodes of the series to date. Szechuan Sauce gag aside (it worked in the episode, but has become a horrible meme outside its context), it was a perfect cumulation of prior events. Of course the other Ricks would try to off “our” Rick if he became compromised. Of course he would collapse the universal government in the most anticlimactic but appropriate way. Of course Beth and Jerry would divorce. I was disappointed they weren’t gonna carry through with aliens ruling over Earth for a while, but it all led to a pretty great set-up for this season’s tone.
Unfortunately, it took awhile for that promise to really pay off. Things didn’t really pick up until the episode where Rick and Morty got detoxed at the alien spa, and even then it took a good half of an episode before it got really warmed up. The way they dealt with Rick’s toxicity– where his love for family was a part himself he wanted removed– was kinda obvious, the way they built up Morty’s twisted personal was pretty clever. At first we think he’s “cured” or his problems, but he slowly starts to take on this amoral devil-may-care attitude. His “aw shucks” attitude becomes weaponized, and he starts to use it to get whatever he wants. He never does anything that’s overtly harmful or obviously evil, but he essentially becomes a predator who could very easily turn that direction if given the proper motivation. The episode does a good job of not beating you over the head with the implications of his behavior. You wanna root for Morty now that his insecurities are gone, but he’s also pretty damn scary. That may be the best moment of character development in the entire series.
The episode that deals with various interconnecting stories in The Citadel was pretty great as well, and I wanna see more of that plot thread. “Our” Morty may be cured of his evil tendencies, but I want more of Other Evil Morty. And the finale was great. It’s good to see that Rick isn’t the only supremely petty guy in this universe, and it makes perfect sense that the President of the USA would match him in that category. It’s the best example of that sort of “butting heads because you’re too similar” I’ve seen since the Andy episode of Cowboy Bebop.
Yeah, there’s a lot to like about Rick and Morty, but it’s also smug and arrogant at times. Just like Rick. But maybe the show shouldn’t emulate the attitudes of its lead character this thoroughly? You’d almost think those creepy MRA dudes who idolize Rick are right in that the series is on Rick’s side, rather than mocking him just as much as every other character. Rick is fascinating scum, but he’s still scum. Don’t make the show the same sort of scum.