[This is a review of the series premiere of Rick and Morty. There will be SPOILERS.]
When FOX's Family Guy jumped the shark last week, many mourned the perceived end of the buddy adventures between Brian and Stewie that had stood out as some of the most enjoyable moments in the show's history. Whether that proves to be a lasting concern or not remains to be seen, but for now, Adult Swim's new cartoon, Rick and Morty, could conceivably fill the void.
Sprung from the cage of live action limitations, Community creator Dan Harmon teams up with fellow Acceptable TV alum Justin Roiland (who voices the two title characters) to deliver a bonkers adventure through space and time that has as much delightfully crude humor as you would expect from an Adult Swim series, but at least twice as much heart.
Featuring Rick - a Doc Brown-esque mad scientist - and his less than bright grandson Morty, the show follows the two as they travel through multiple funky-looking dimensions amid a seemingly endless repository of aliens and monsters in support of Rick's usually non-specific scientific experiments. But while these sci-fi excursions serve as the hook, the series contrasts them with a home life and its related challenges.
In the pilot (which is available on the Adult Swim You Tube page), we see early on that both Rick and Morty are outcasts that don't easily fit in with the rest of their family. Beth (Rick's daughter and Morty's mom, who is voiced by Sarah Chalke) clearly has a somewhat strained relationship with her father that she is trying to patch up. This allows her to be more forgiving of his idiosyncrasies, ignoring the potentially negative effect that Rick is having on her son.
Jerry, her husband (who is voiced by Chris Parnell), is not as eager to forgive, pushing Beth to put Rick in a home even before the couple find out that Morty has been missing copious amounts of school to hang out with him.
Despite what they have in common, Rick's relationship with Morty isn't classically warm or grandfatherly. Morty seems more like free labor and someone to talk at for his grandfather than a companion or sidekick, but Rick's motives aren't entirely self-serving. For example, when he takes Morty on a portal-hopping escapade to an alternate dimension in search of massive, mysterious, and magical seeds that Morty has to smuggle out through global customs in an uncomfortable place, they're just mostly self-serving.
At the outset, Rick and Morty will draw ample comparisons to Doctor Who - which Harmon has routinely cited as an influence, alongside The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - and Cartoon Network's own Adventure Time, but Futurama and the Beetlejuice cartoon also seem like reasonable comparisons (specifically Beetlejuice for the way that it similarly moved between a semi-realistic world and one far more imaginative).
While it's too early to judge whether Rick and Morty will ultimately live up to those comparisons, the pilot does find a way to not get lost in the limitless sandbox of Harmon and Roiland's imagination while also finding a way to base these fantastical stories within a relatable context - something that could serve this show well as it hopes to attain longevity.
Rick and Morty premieres Monday on Adult Swim @10:30pm.