You don’t have to be a nice person to write comedy. In fact, certain events this year may have reminded us how it helps not to be. Comedy, it has often been observed, is almost always funny when it’s mean. Comedians, whether they’re insulting North Korea or denying allegations of decades of sexual abuse, typically need a certain kind of skewed, often cynical outlook. It’s this in part that allows them to reconfigure the world, to twist it, into the material for good comedy. And while some comedians may be charming people, keeping the darker elements of their work out of their personal lives, others can be at times, quite plainly, dicks.
The two creators of Rick and Morty, Justin Roiland (voice actor for the Earl of Lemongrab on Adventure Time and creator of the now-horrifying unauthorized web series House of Cosbys1It was horrifying to begin with, but now it’s even more horrifying.) and Dan Harmon (best known for this show, Community2Which I imagine you haven’t heard of, as I don’t think it gets much attention on the internet.) would seem to exemplify this. Both are, at the least, prickly personalities, judging by the various disputes with employees that have sprung up on both Rick and Morty and Community. Both bring to the table a certain hard, usually heavily cynical comedic edge, albeit in two very different flavors.
Their two distinct voices define the show3Notably, these are not the two distinct voices of the two titular characters, both voiced by Roiland; he is reported to have a long history of talking to himself., with, if I were to grossly oversimplify, Roiland providing the whiz-bang cosmic non sequiturs and Harmon the fleeting moments of sentiment and emotional honesty that provide necessary shading to the show’s hard-edged characters. What they both share is a desire to undercut moments of expected sentiment, and a gleeful urge to tear apart the formats of both family sitcoms and twisty sci-fi in pursue the most comedically satisfying outcome at all costs.
Take, for example, standout episode “Lawnmower Dog”, in which Rick (Morty’s grandfather, and a dimension-hopping, alcoholic, mad scientist) builds an intelligence-enhancing helmet for Snuffles, the family dog. Rick lays out the initial salvo of cynicism right away, telling Morty’s father “I thought the whole point of a dog was to feel superior, Jerry. If I were you, I wouldn’t pull that thread.” Morty is the only one who defends Snuffles as good enough, for being just what he is. At first, the episode’s ensuing chaos seems a tad predictable; Snuffles gains hyperintelligence, builds a robot army, and enslaves the human race, commanding them to roll in feces and bark out Christmas carols for his amusement. The story twists back towards sentiment when the family’s lives are saved only by Snuffles’ loyalty toward Morty, the only human who treated him well. What the hazy fog of good feelings briefly obscures, though, is all the ways that the relationship between Rick and Morty mirrors that between Morty and his dog. Rick has a genuine affection for his grandson, but that never stops him from putting Morty in horrific danger, or emphasizing his mental superiority and Morty’s mental deficiencies, at every opportunity4As the season progresses, Rick’s true reasons for keeping Morty around are explored in horrifying detail.. Rick doggedly follows his own maxim vis-a-vis avoiding thread pulling, and quashes any attempt by Morty to improve himself, or do anything that might drive him away from Rick or make him cognizant of their somewhat abusive power dynamic.
It’s an uncomfortable relationship by design, and Rick and Morty never allows sentiment to fully obscure that discomfort. It isn’t an easy show to watch. But it is incredibly light on its feet, with manically clever design, and it has given us some of the funniest moments I have seen in a long long while. For that, even more than its many other virtues, I declare it one of the best animated series of the year.
Next time: Somewhere, lost in the clouded annals of history, lies an animated series that few have seen. A mysterious show, called “My Choice For Top Animated Series of 2014″. Which is… maybe not the best name for it. Let me get back to you on that.
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|1.||It was horrifying to begin with, but now it’s even more horrifying.|
|2.||Which I imagine you haven’t heard of, as I don’t think it gets much attention on the internet.|
|3.||Notably, these are not the two distinct voices of the two titular characters, both voiced by Roiland; he is reported to have a long history of talking to himself.|
|4.||As the season progresses, Rick’s true reasons for keeping Morty around are explored in horrifying detail.|