[This article contains mild spoilers for Rick and Morty season 1.]
Last year (and some of late 2013 – but mostly last year), Adult Swim dropped 11 episodes of Rick and Morty, from creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon (Community). The half-hour animated series about the twisted misadventures of Rick, a perpetually drunk and spittle-stained mad scientist (with extra emphasis on the "mad") and his 14-year-old grandson Morty gave viewers an experience that was difficult to describe from week-to-week without using the words "bonkers" or the phrase "completely off-the-rails insane."
What set the series apart was at first the outlandish sci-fi gags, involving interdimensional and deep-space travel, and a willingness to obliterate and abandon entire realities – especially when said reality was the victim of "Cronenberging" – only to move on and inhabit another reality in which the titular characters were both already dead. As the season progressed, the difference-maker became something else: the way the absurdity of each and every situation landed with a profound, humanistic thud. Rick and Morty is chockablock with acts of brutal violence played for laughs and moments that vacillate between deep self-loathing lows and dangerously hubristic highs – but no matter if a phlegm monster lives out its life in a matter of seconds, or Morty is left to contemplate burying his own body in the backyard and the family he left behind in another dimension, the series never treats (or lets its audience treat) those outrageous moments flippantly.
The show is funny, dark, and most of all, ambitious. And after talking to Roiland, Harmon, and writer Ryan Ridley at SDCC 2015, it was clear that, despite the first two episodes leaking ahead of their scheduled release, the group's ambition has not diminished, and they are as ready as everyone else to launch into season 2 on July 26.
For Harmon, the leaks are "flattering and frustrating," because "when something leaks, the loss of control is inherently frustrating." And obviously, the people who put all the effort into the series would like it to be viewed as it was meant to be seen, with things like "fully mixed audio and color correction," and during its scheduled air date. But everyone admits it is also flattering, since it means there's a lot of interest in the show. By comparison, as Harmon puts it, "Nobody is leaking the first two episodes of 60 Minutes."
Perhaps the flattering/frustrating aspect of the leaked episodes stems from the fact that the group is incredibly proud of episode 2, which Ridley describes as "very cinematic."
Harmon seconded the impression, saying, "When you are halfway through it you are like, 'Wait. What? I’m halfway through this episode? This is insane.' We were very proud of it."
Season 1 had several standout episodes; namely, 'Meeseeks and Destroy' – which introduced fan-favorite character Mr. Meeseeks (who, consequently, just became a plush doll) – and the acclaimed alternate-reality-hopping-by-way-of-the-cable-box episode 'Rixty Minutes.' While Roiland, Harmon, and Ridley lamented the fact that Mr. Meeseeks isn't getting another episode this time around, there will be a 'Rixty Minutes'-esque adventure that builds on the expectations of what Morty and his family saw their lives could have been in season 1.
Roiland describes the episode by saying:
"Without getting too spoiler-y, it’s basically Jerry ate something he shouldn’t have eaten that was in the fridge and he gets incredibly sick with one of those pandemic type [illnesses], that could turn into a zombie movie situation. But we skip through all that and it just starts with them immediately in an alien hospital. That’s the A-story – Jerry in the hospital and all the stuff that goes down. The B-story is Rick, Morty, and Summer just…Rick rigs the cable box at the hospital and they are just watching insane stuff."
But Roiland is quick to temper expectations, saying the episode demonstrates a kind of sequel-wary self-awareness.
"Keep your expectations… We even make a joke in the beginning where he’s breaking the box apart and the nurse goes like, 'What are you doing?' And [Rick's] like, 'A sequel…' Or what does he say? It’s like, 'What are you doing?' He’s like, 'I don’t know. It worked so good the first time…' It’s a good line."
Winding up in a situation where fans demand more of a seemingly one-off episode or character is certainly a sign things went well in the creative department. But that also creates a certain level of expectation, which can be difficult to reproduce without doing the same thing over and over again. The difficulty factor is then compounded by the fact that Rick and Morty season 2 will consist of only 10 episodes, rather than the 11 of season 1.
Still, Harmon, Roiland, and Ridley are confident season 2 is a stronger collection of episodes overall. As Harmon puts it:
"We have a couple of episodes that are just insane…easily better than anything we did in Season 1. I think it’s kind of like Season 1, it’s a car driving 90 miles per hour in a straight line, and then Season 2 is it taking a corner. So it’s cooler in some respects, but it’s also more out of control and like a couple mailboxes get hit. There’s some points in Season 2 that are lower than low points in Season 1, and there’s some points in Season 2 that are higher than Season 1’s highest. So we’re kind of fishtailing."
Listening to the trio talk, you get the feeling that Rick and Morty has already made a big impression amongst the animation and comedy crowd, and its future is pretty well set. After all, with just one season under its belt, the sci-fi farce was given the opportunity to create a couch gag for The Simpsons. And while that element has increasingly become the best thing about the long-running sitcom, it's also a way for the big dog to bring some attention to other talent it deems worthy.
"Oh, it was awesome," Roiland says. "I mean it was weird because they did the commentary track for the DVD and [The Simpsons producer] Al Jean offered it on that. Then our line producer called to confirm: 'Is that a real thing?' And he was like, 'Yeah.' And then we were in the thick of writing the last quarter of the season. It was crazy. But yeah, what I’ll say is that the guys over there were…we got no creative notes. They were just so supportive and excited. We’re like, 'We’re killing the Simpsons. We’re splattering them everywhere.' They loved it."
Rick and Morty season 2 premieres Sunday, July 26 @11:30pm on Cartoon Network. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Adult Swim