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Rick and Morty is an American adult animated science fiction sitcom created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon for Cartoon Network's late-night programming block Adult Swim. The series follows the misadventures of cynical mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his good-hearted but fretful grandson Morty Smith, who split their time between domestic life and interdimensional adventures.

Roiland voices the eponymous characters, with Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer and Sarah Chalke voicing the rest of Rick and Morty's family. The series originated from an animated short parody film of Back to the Future, created by Roiland for Channel 101, a short film festival co-founded by Harmon. The series has been acclaimed by critics for its originality, creativity and humor.

The fourth season premiered on November 10, 2019, and consists of ten episodes. A fifth season was confirmed in May 2020, as part of a long-term deal in May 2018 that ordered 70 new episodes over an unspecified number of seasons.

Premise[]

The show revolves around the adventures of the members of the Smith household, which consists of parents Jerry and Beth, their children Summer and Morty, and Beth's father, Rick Sanchez, who lives with them as a guest. According to Justin Roiland, the family lives outside of Seattle, Washington. The adventures of Rick and Morty, however, take place across an infinite number of realities, with the characters travelling to other planets and dimensions through portals and Rick's flying car.

Production[]

Development[]

Rick and Morty was created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. The duo first met at Channel 101, a non-profit monthly short film festival in Los Angeles co-founded by Harmon. At Channel 101, participants submit a short film in the format of a pilot, and a live audience decides which pilots continue as a series. Roiland, then a producer on reality programming, began submitting content to the festival a year after its launch, in 2004. His pilots typically consisted of shock value—"sick and twisted" elements that received a confused reaction from the audience. Nevertheless, Harmon took a liking to his humor and the two began collaborating. In 2006, Roiland was fired from working on a television series he regarded as intensely creatively stifling, and funneled his creative energies into creating a webisode for Channel 101. The result was The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti, an animated short starring parodies of Doc Brown and Marty McFly, characters from the Back to the Future film trilogy. In the short, which Harmon would dub "a bastardization, a pornographic vandalization", Doc Smith urges Mharti that the solution to all of his problems is to give him oral sex. The audience reacted to it wildly, and Roiland began creating more shorts involving the characters, which soon evolved beyond his original intentions and their obvious origin within the film from which it was culled. Harmon would later create and produce Community, an NBC sitcom, while Roiland would work primarily in voice acting for Disney's Fish Hooks and Cartoon Network's Adventure Time.

In 2012, Harmon was briefly fired from Community. Adult Swim, searching for a more prime-time, "hit" show, approached Harmon shortly afterward, who initially viewed the channel as unfit for his style. He also was unfamiliar with animation, and his process for creating television focuses more heavily on dialogue, characters, and story. Instead, he phoned Roiland to inquire if he had any ideas for an animated series. Roiland immediately brought up the idea of using the Doc and Mharti characters, renamed Rick and Morty. Roiland initially wanted the show's run time to consist of one eleven-minute segment, but Adult Swim pushed for a half-hour program. Harmon felt the best way to extend the voices into a program would be to build a family around the characters, while Adult Swim development executive Nick Weidenfeld suggested that Rick be Morty's grandfather. Having pitched multiple television programs that did not get off the ground, Roiland was initially very unreceptive to others attempting to give notes on his pitch.[25] Prior to developing Rick and Morty, he had created three failed animated pilots for Fox, and he had begun to feel "burned out" with developing television.

The first draft was completed in six hours on the Paramount Pictures lot in Dan Harmon's unfurnished Community office. The duo had broken the story that day, sold the pilot, and then sat down to write. Roiland, while acknowledging a tendency for procrastination, encouraged Harmon to stay and write the entire first draft. "We were sitting on the floor, cross-legged with laptops and I was about to get up and go home and he said, 'Wait, if you go home, it might take us three months to write this thing. Stay here right now and we can write it in six hours.' He just had a premonition about that," recalled Harmon. Adult Swim was initially unsure of Roiland doing both voices, partially due to the undeveloped nature of the character of Morty. Harmon wrote four short premises in which Morty took a more assertive role and sent it to Mike Lazzo.[28] Adult Swim placed a tamer TV-14 rating on the program, which initially was met with reluctance from the show's staff. The network's reason behind the rating was that it would soon begin broadcasting in prime-time, competing with major programs.

The theme song for Rick and Morty by Ryan Elder was originally used in a rejected Cartoon Network pilot Roiland made called "Dog World", which was referenced in the episode "Lawnmower Dog".

Writing[]

Harmon has noted that the writers' room at the show's studio bears a striking resemblance to the one used for Community. In comparing the two, he noted that the writing staff of Rick and Morty was significantly smaller, and more "rough and tumble verbally". The first season writing staff consisted of Roiland, Harmon, Tom Kauffman, Ryan Ridley, Wade Randolph, and Eric Acosta, while writer's assistant Mike McMahan was also given writing credit. Described as a "very, very tiny little writers' room with a lot of heavy lifting from everybody," the show's writing staff, like many Adult Swim productions, is not unionized with the Writers' Guild of America. The writing staff first meets and discusses ideas, which evolve into a story. Discussions often include anecdotes from personal life as well as thoughts on the science fiction genre. After breaking the story—which consists of developing its consistency and logical beginning, middle, and conclusion—a writer is assigned to create an outline. Roiland and Harmon do a "pass" on the outline, and from there the episode undergoes several more drafts. The final draft of the script is last approved by either of the co-creators. Harmon has admitted that his perfectionism can sometimes be disruptive and cause writing schedule delays. For the most part, this was the reason why the third season of the show consisted of only 10 episodes instead of 14, as was initially intended.

Many episodes are structured with use of a story circle, a Harmon creation based largely on Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or The Hero's Journey. Its two-act structure places the act break at an odd location in the stages of the monomyth: after The Meeting with the Goddess, instead of Atonement with the Father.[28] Roiland has stated his and Harmon's intentions for the series to lack traditional continuity, opting for discontinuous storylines "not bound by rules". He has also confirmed that the writers avoid revisiting old tropes from the show's past, "in fear of that coming off as disingenuous fan service." In producing the series' first season, episodes were occasionally written out of order. For example, "Rick Potion #9" was the second episode written for the series, but was instructed to be animated as the fifth, as it would make more sense within the series' continuity.

Animation and voice recording[]

Animation for the show is done using Toon Boom Harmony, post-production work is done in Adobe After Effects, and background art is done in Adobe Photoshop. Production of animation is handled by Bardel Entertainment in Vancouver, Canada.

Roiland's cartooning style is heavily indebted to The Simpsons, a factor he acknowledged in a 2013 interview, while also comparing his style to that of Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time) and J. G. Quintel (Regular Show): "You'll notice mouths are kind of similar and teeth are similar, but I think that's also a stylistic thing that... all of us are kind of the same age, and we're all inspired by The Simpsons and all these other shows we're kind of subconsciously tapping into." John Kricfalusi's The Ren & Stimpy Show was another strong influence for Rick and Morty, which is why, according to Roiland, the small "w-shaped mouths" that the characters occasionally make is a reference to a similar expression that Ren frequently makes. Talking about the style guide the animators of the show have to follow, season three art director Jeffrey Thompson explained that the characters are often drawn with odd or asymmetrical features, in order to avoid looking "too normal to live in the Rick and Morty universe."

When recording dialogue, Roiland does a considerable amount of improvisation, in order to make the characters feel more natural.

Themes and analysis[]

Comedic style[]

The general formula of Rick and Morty consists of the juxtaposition of two conflicting scenarios: an extremely selfish, alcoholic grandfather dragging his grandson along for interdimensional adventures, intercut with domestic family drama. Co-creator Dan Harmon has described the series as a cross between Matt Groening's two shows The Simpsons and Futurama, balancing family life with heavy science fiction. The series is inspired by British-style storytelling, as opposed to traditional American family TV stories. Harmon has stated that his inspiration behind much of the concept and humor for the series comes from various British television series, such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who. He figures that the audience will only understand developments from Morty's point of view, but stated "we don't want to be the companions. We want to hang out with the Doctor, we idolize the Doctor, but we don't think like him, and that's really interesting."

Occasionally, characters will acknowledge an episode's narrative or hint at the presence of a fourth wall, suggesting that they are aware of the fact that they are characters of a TV show. Thereunder, Troy Patterson of The New Yorker notes that Rick and Morty "supplies an artful answer to the question of what follows postmodernism: a decadent regurgitation of all its tropes, all at once, leavened by some humanistic wistfulness." Sean Sebastian of Junkee says that the show can be both hilarious and deeply disturbing at the same time as it excels at the "intersection between big ideas, flippancy and wit."

Philosophy[]

Rick and Morty has been described as "a never-ending fart joke wrapped around a studied look into nihilism".[44] The series addresses the insignificance of human existence as compared to the size of the universe, with no recognizable divine presence, as described by Lovecraft's philosophy of cosmicism. The characters of the show deal with cosmic horror and existential dread, either by asserting the utility of science over magic or by choosing a life in ignorant bliss.[45] However, as Joachim Heijndermans of Geeks notes, none of them appear able to handle the absurd and chaotic nature of the universe, as Jerry gets by through denial, and Rick is a "depressed, substance-addicted, suicidal mess".[46]

Harmon describes Rick as a self-interested anarchist, who doesn't like being told what to do.[47] He believes that the character's life on a larger scale has caused him mental illness,[41] and opines that "the knowledge that nothing matters—while accurate—gets you nowhere". Matthew Bulger of The Humanist notes that the creators of the series are trying to communicate the message that we need to focus on human relationships and not preoccupy our minds with unanswerable questions, in order to find a sense of purpose and live a better life. Eric Armstrong of The New Republic notes that Morty represents the audience, as he is "mostly there to react to Rick's deranged schemes". The character is transformed by the truths he discovers during his interdimensional adventures with his grandfather. However, instead of sinking into depression, Morty accepts these truths that empower him to value his own life.

Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV.

— Morty Smith, in the episode "Rixty Minutes"

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