Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon has weighed in on McDonald's bringing back Szechuan sauce for one day only while slyly using Rick and Morty to help sell their promotion. McDonald's will offer Szechuan, along with an array of other possibly delightful sauces, at select locations on Saturday, Oct. 7th as part of a wider promotion for their new Buttermilk Crispy Tenders.
The suddenly huge Szechuan sauce phenomenon began as what looked like a throwaway joke on the Rick and Morty season 3 premiere episode, when Rick suddenly revealed his crazed obsession with the long-lost dipping sauce, originally offered by McDonald's for a limited time to promote the Disney movie Mulan. Savvy McDonald's marketing people picked up on the bit, sending Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland a supply of the longed-for sauce. It turns out that McDonald's had a bigger game in mind than just satisfying Roiland's years-long craving for dipping sauce, and they later revealed their gambit by announcing the one-day-only return of Szechuan sauce.
Speaking to Polygon at NYCC, Rick and Morty's Dan Harmon gave his own take on McDonald's Szechuan sauce play, somewhat sarcastically applauding the fast food outlet for spinning a one-off joke into an opportunity to draw Rick and Morty fans into their restaurants:
“I think it’s hysterical. The [version of Mr.] Poopybutthole with the slightly shorter hat and McDonald’s vague allusions to ‘Hey, you seem like someone who likes traveling the galaxy kind of through a portal sort of thing, maybe you should have some Szechuan sauce.’ It’s really funny because if you’re going to get robbed, get robbed by McDonald’s.”
Harmon in his comments alludes to a page on McDonald's website displaying Szechuan sauce promo art that is somewhat reminiscent of Rick and Morty, without being too similar (in a legal sense). The same page contains a description of the Szechuan sauce "personality type" that is filled with vague references to Rick and Morty, but nothing that directly mentions the show or any of its characters. As Harmon puts it:
“Look at that art, look at the font. Look I’m not being sarcastic when I talk about this. If anyone from McDonald’s is reading this, I don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing and clearly neither does their legal department.”
Harmon told Polygon that neither he nor anyone at Adult Swim was informed by McDonald's that they were going ahead with their promotion that only indirectly refers to Rick and Morty, and uses art that is only somewhat reminiscent of the style of the show and has characters that are only slightly suspiciously similar to Mr. Poopybutthole and other Rick and Morty characters.
Since McDonald's probably stayed on the right side of the legal line by kind-of ripping off Rick and Morty to sell their new chicken tenders, this affair likely won't go beyond a few sarcastic/not-sarcastic comments by Dan Harmon, and likely a couple good jabs on the next season of Rick and Morty (if there ever is a next season). After dealing with NBC for so many years while acting as the showrunner for Community, Harmon knows all about dealing with corporations who sometimes treat creatives and their creations as commodities to be cynically exploited, so he has a thick skin about this kind of stuff. At the end of the day, the Szechuan promotion does help Rick and Morty gain a little more exposure while allowing fans to get a taste of the legendary lost dipping sauce, and neither of those things are the least bit bad.
Rick and Morty season 4 doesn't have an official premiere date yet.
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