Still from Rick and Morty Season 3 trailer, courtesy of Adult Swim via YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeAw6aXHzcY]
Many people are quick to write off animated shows (especially those on Adult Swim) as low-brow and meaningless, funny at best but nothing more. Live action sitcoms seem to purport more cultural significance and certainly more critical acclaim, but the cult followings of TV shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty suggest that there may be something to these morbid, satirical animated sitcoms that fly just under the radar of the general masses.
With the third season premiering on July 30th, fans are guaranteed an even darker and more nihilistic set of adventures starring Rick, a disgraced, alcoholic mad scientist, and Morty, his perpetually anxious 14-year-old grandson. The show is obviously ridiculous, but its existence as an animated series, and one that primarily chronicles crazy unrealistic sci-fi exploits, makes it unexpectedly well-poised to explore nihilism and the futility of our human existence.
Animated shows in general have a much easier time dealing with the surreal, the other-wordly, and the impossible; the medium simply affords show creators more leeway when crafting storylines and adventures. It’s a cartoon- there are hardly any boundaries, both with the writing as its own entity and the plot content.
Shows like Southpark have demonstrated that animated series can truly get away with far more than live action sitcoms can. Without a real human face to the characters, there is less liability, and less to “take seriously”; however, this is also exactly why Rick and Morty can reveal to audiences bits of cold, hard truth about our lives and what they mean in the grand scheme of things.
Rick is essentially the chaotic god of the show’s universe – he easily jumps through time, transforms into various creatures and objects, and travels the multi-verse, all the time dragging his poor timid grandson through the confusion. In the season three trailer, a characteristically drunk, foaming-out-the-mouth Rick grabs Morty by the shoulders and warns “welcome to the darkest year of our adventures yet.” With his extensive scientific knowledge and wherewithal, Rick might seem to be this complicated, messed up world’s only hope – but each terrible, inhumane thing he has seen in his journeys has made him completely numb to everything. He doesn’t care – it seems that even if he did, he has no control.
Having seen nearly every broadcast episode of Rick and Morty thus far, I can confirm that it has been grim enough for the average viewer. On top of the violence and existential crises that the two title characters muddle through, there are family issues, substance abuse tales, and the typical trials and tribulations that all 14 year olds face (other than, say, stumbling upon the dead corpse of a you from another dimension and having to bury yourself in your backyard in a different dimension). Morty eventually adopts a version of Rick’s fatalistic mindset, clearly seen when he tells his sister Summer “nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
Still from Rick and Morty, “Rick Potion No. 9” (Season 1, Episode 6, 2014.)
This blend of unsettling sci-fi adventures and hard-to-watch yet close-to-home real life scenarios offers the audience, especially a Millennial audience, a revealing look at how little control any of us really have over our own lives, and frankly how insignificant our actions really are. Yet, paradoxically, Rick and Morty does seem to give some fans a newfound appreciation for the little things like having friends or a family to turn to when times get tough – or, at the very least, something to talk about on a blog.