Over its two season, Rick and Morty has made itself into one of the most subversive cartoons we’ve ever seen. It’s partly a product of its showrunners, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, and the network it’s aired on. Rick and Morty‘s target audience is well-accustomed to weird and twisted television, making it eminently suited for its home on Adult Swim. Harmon’s background of meta-humor and Roiland’s history of “out there” writing make for a perfect team, and Season 2 proved that its successful initial run was far more than a flukily great set of episodes.
All season long, we’ve seen a darker edge take hold on a show with an inherently heavy premise. The short pitch of Rick and Morty seems innocent enough: A kid and his grandpa go on weekly adventures through space and time while their family deals with sitcom-esque B-stories back at home. In true Dan Harmon fashion though, every relationship carries weight. Rick plays himself off as a sociopathic genius, when in fact he’s lonely, depressed, and needs his family. Morty is generally simple, but constantly struggling to balance his own morality in difficult situations. Morty’s parents exist in a broken marriage that’s constantly in peril. Everywhere you look, there’s an intriguing character study.
This culminated in the Season 2 finale. In it, Rick found himself invited to the wedding of his best friend, Bird Person. After balking initially, Rick found himself talked into opening up emotionally in supporting the union, marking a huge step in his character development. This was soon unraveled, when Bird Person’s wife Tammy turned out to be under deep cover for a galactic law enforcement agency. Things went south from there, as Rick and his family were forced to go on the run because of his own spotted history with the law.
Keeping in mind that Rick and Morty is generally an animated comedy, all this shows a depth that’s not present anywhere on Adult Swim. Season 2 has seen our titular duo stumble upon a planet in the middle of a Purge, escape alien parasites that feed on memories, and save Earth from a race of music-centric super-beings. The fact that it’s had the time to flesh out its characters in the midst of all this isn’t just impressive: It’s unparalleled.
The Season 2 finale continues on with Rick and company hiding out on a barren miniature planet, facing capture and imprisonment should they ever return home to Earth. After overhearing a heated conversation between his daughter Beth and son-in-law Jerry, Rick’s character does a complete 180. He leaves his family behind, and turns himself into the authorities to allow his family to continue living their lives. In the closing moments, we see him in prison, with a fellow inmate asking, “What are you in for?” Rick simply (and astutely) answers, “Everything.”
It’s a conclusion that shows us the true depth of a character that any other show would have simply treated like a gimmick. Rick and Morty is equal parts depressing and hilarious, and balancing those two elements is nigh impossible for most writers on primetime dramas. To see Roiland and Harmon succeed at this balancing act for an animated show on Adult Swim is a testament to their talent, and to the no-holds-barred approach that’s made their show into one of the best TV has to offer. Whatever Season 3 has in store for us is unclear, but the year-and-a-half wait will certainly be more than worth it.
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