[This is a review of Rick and Morty's season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Armed with only a single season of 11 episodes, Rick and Morty quickly inspired a fanbase to rival that of other Adult Swim shows, The Venture Bros. or Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The excitement for its season 2 return was high (almost too high), and after its first two episodes leaked online they were swiftly pirated. For creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon (Community) the fervor surrounding their half-hour animated series is both a blessing and curse, finding themselves frustrated by having unfinished work released yet unable to hide their enthusiasm about the series being in such high demand.
During its first season, Rick and Morty quickly established the dynamics of the series: mad genius, Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) leads his 14-year-old grandson, Morty (Roiland) on adventures, while Rick's daughter, Beth (Sarah Chalke), her husband, Jerry (Chris Parnell), and teenage daughter, Summer (Spencer Grammer) deal with the everyday struggles of domesticity. However, all of that is quickly thrown out the window. Over the course of the season it became clear that Morty's adventures with his often drunk and rambling grandfather are generally traumatizing to his already fragile, pubescent psyche, while Beth, Jerry, and Summer's issues are far from mundane (often requiring Rick's unorthodox approach in order for any of them to have a breakthrough).
The season 2 premiere, "A Rickle in Time" picks up events after those of "Ricksy Business", where in order to clean the house after their absolutely bonkers party, Rick freezes time to allow himself, Morty and Summer to return everything to normal before Beth and Jerry come home. Six months has passed since then and only now are they ready to unfreeze time, and life seemingly settles back into a familiar rhythm. But Rick's time-meddling has made them especially vulnerable to disruptions, which initiates a funny scene of Morty and Summer being unable to hug their parents for fear of destroying them (but eventually leads to a total meltdown of reality).
Bickering over who's more deserving of being Rick's hapless assistant, Morty and Summer's argument creates a split in existance - two equally impossible impossibilities. The gag is cleverly represented via split screen, and the two (and eventually four, then eight, then 64!) realities become harder to reunite the more the characters act uncertain. A moment's hesitation from Morty forces Rick out of sync with the other Ricks, which then convinces Rick the other Ricks are trying to kill him. Soon each Rick is firing a laser gun wildly into each possible reality, endangering his grandchildren in order to kill his other Shrödinger-selves.
In the hands of a lesser show, a screen full of mostly identical squares in where characters act only slightly different from box to box could have been a total disaster. But Rick and Morty has always been as smart as it is funny, and by pinning a whole plot of an episode on Everett's theory of many worlds the show is able to explore its characters grappling with uncertainty in a logical (albeit utterly chaotic) fashion.
On the flip side, Beth and Jerry's B-plot (or a "pointless grounded story about their sh**ty marriage" as Rick notes, observing one of the show's go-to dynamics) finds the two going out for ice cream only to be forced to confront their own uncertainties about their roles. After Jerry hits a deer with his car, Beth becomes determined to save its life, eager to prove herself as a horse surgeon - a position she's always felt was beneath her.
A string of setbacks later - from an uncooperative veterinarian to the hunter who had initially shot the deer claiming ownership - and Beth is feeling defeated. That is until Jerry calls in the help of Coldstone Creamery (they'll do anything for their customers) to whisk away the deer and allow Beth to finish surgery and save its life. It's a surprising win for Jerry, the man who earlier insisted he likes wearing his shirts backwards to avoid appearing foolish, and one that cements his role in Beth's life - that of a supporting though often inept husband. Beth too is given some satisfaction with her life choices, proving that even though she didn't become a human surgeon as she'd have liked, being a horse surgeon isn't without its rewards.
By comparison, Beth and Jerry's story isn't anywhere as outlandish as Rick, Morty, and Summer destabilizing the timeline, but as is so often the case on Rick and Morty, their more grounded adventure works to balance the utter insanity of the other. That tricky balance of wacky adventures paired with moments of real, emotional breakthroughs for the characters doesn't happen on accident, and it's what allows Rick and Morty to rise a notch above your average animated comedies.
And surprisingly, of all the characters it's Rick who comes to learn the most about himself. Once they've figured out how to reunite all their various selves back into one (by stealing the technology from and then savagely beating an alien time-cop voiced by Key & Peele's Keegan-Michael Key), Morty is endangered when one of his many selves can't get the latch on his time-collar to secure. Summer has already returned to a normal existence and Rick is about to as well, but when Morty falls through the cracks of reality without his collar, Rick jumps in after him, giving Morty his collar instead.
As he floats through a timeless hellscape, Schrödinger cats floating all around, Rick comes to accept his sacrifice: "I’m okay with this. Be good, Morty. Be better than me." That is until he spies the damaged collar and decides he "is not okay with this!", fixing the collar and returning himself to the correct existence. Rick's lightening fast change of heart is probably funniest beat from "A Rickle in Time" and it's one made all the funnier by his earlier acceptance of his fate. It's an added bit of poignancy that makes the laughs stronger, and it's a clever blend Rick and Morty has grown more adept at using over time.
"A Rickle in Time" is a strong start for season 2, utilizing an impressive visual gimmick along with a well of paradoxical sci-fi tropes. The season 2 premiere illustrates that the series has become comfortable with combining the truly bizarre with the sincere, a unique staple of Rick and Morty.
Rick and Morty airs Sunday nights at 11:30pm EST on Adult Swim.