On 30 June 2017, the creators of Rick and Morty, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, unexpectedly announced on a livestream that season three had not only been completed, but would be broadcast on Adult Swim on the 30 July. The internet exploded.
Those who weren’t familiar with the ballsy cartoon must have been absolutely mystified as online magazines continuously published hordes of articles and memes hurriedly designed by journalists genuinely just as excited to report the news as the readers were to receive it. The unexpected release of the first episode of season three on April Fool’s Day had only amplified the public’s excitement.
The basic premise of Rick and Morty is simple enough. Mega-genius Rick Sanchez and his reluctant grandson Morty Smith take themselves on wacky adventures through time and space, accompanied occasionally by Morty’s teenage sister Summer or, much to Rick’s chagrin, Jerry Smith, Morty and Summer’s dim-witted dad and Rick’s son-in-law. But what separates this show from the hundreds of other cartoons attempting to break into the adult market? Despite the growing wealth of cartoons geared towards adults over the last ten years, Rick and Morty has soared in its popularity almost instantly after its relatively recent first season premiere at the tail-end of 2013.
One theory, put frankly, is good old-fashioned nostalgia. Ahh, how we loved to reminisce. Fans are quick to point out the similarities between Rick and Morty and a certain well-loved 1980’s time-travelling film franchise. They would be accurate in their comparison, as Rick and Morty actually started life as a short ‘Back to the Future’ parody flick made for film festival Channel 101, entitled ‘Doc and Mharti’. This was allegedly made as a bitter response to Roiland’s previous show, ‘House of Cosbys’, being forcibly and hilariously cancelled by Bill Cosby’s lawyers. The parallel could account for Rick and Morty’s popularity; after all, who doesn’t love a drunken old man taking his nervous grandson for expletive-filled adventures through bizarre dimensions and intergalactic portals. It’s like a tab of acid without the expense.
Another reason for Rick and Morty’s favourable reception could be due to a wide gap in the animated market. Where do teens and twenty-somethings turn when all Studio Ghibli films have been feasted on? When every Family Guy watched is for the dozenth time? When South Park just isn’t as funny since Towelie disappeared? Enter Rick and Morty, a visual extravaganza with limitless worlds for the characters to explore, and pseudo-scientific complexities enough to rival the most mind-bending Adventure Time story arc. The beauty of this, however, is that magical experience where you can watch an episode of a show multiple times and still discover new jokes and references that you never picked up on before.
The most obvious explanation for Rick and Morty’s insane ratings (the show currently holds a much-coveted 100% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes) is the excellent quality of writing. Somehow, Roiland and Harmon manage to pull off a combination of complex, helpless existentialism, and weird, risqué absurdity in their characters, a lethal and admittedly relatable blend. Whatever season three entails, I hope it continues the Rick and Morty tradition of pointless self-aware technological inventions, inter-dimensional house parties, and awkward family dinners.