Screen: Adult Swim

Rick and Morty Continues After Totally Unfair Holiday Break

It's the cartoon known as the other Dan Harmon show.

Tonight, Rick and Morty, a new-ish animated show on Adult Swim, returns after a three-episode run in December.

It's a very good time to catch up since all three of those episodes are easy to find. "Anatomy Park," the third episode, which features guest star John Oliver, is on YouTube for free and the first two episodes are on Adult Swim's website, free to watch for most cable and satellite subscribers.

The biggest claim to fame for the show, especially as Community was gearing up to return for a fourth season, was that Dan Harmon was the co-creator. It's a fact Cartoon Network has been trumpeting, taking the unusual step of putting the names of Harmon and the other creator, Justin Roiland, on title cards.

But as tempting as it would be to try to pin every joke and nuance to Harmon's sensibility, co-creator Justin Roiland, who also voices to two title characters, is the person at the reins with a team of writers and directors while Harmon is more in a script-overseer role. Roiland created its predecessor, an absolutely filthy (and very NSFW) Channel 101 pilot The Real Adventures of Doc and Mharti. It was a dirty Back to the Future parody, while the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim version, Rick and Morty, adds Dan Harmon's sense of story structure, pop-culture parody, and whatever weird secret sauce it is he has that made Community nearly unwatchable in his Season Four absence.

Luckily, whether you like Harmon and Community or you can't stand either of them, Rick and Morty stands on its own as a frenetic, much-smarter-than-average Adult Swim cartoon that would probably be just as at home in FOX's Sunday-night lineup. It's half-hour-sitcom length versus the 11 minutes of a lot of Adult Swim cartoons. And rather than having a lo-fi/low-budget look, its simple art style gets nutty and sophisticated in the inter-dimensional or dreamscape vistas that make up the duo's weird adventures. The show's voice acting and dialogue pacing also make it feel more like something that stands alongside Archer than, say, Robot Chicken or Squidbillies. Roiland is no slouch at bringing something weird and hilarious to the animation table. He also made five episodes of the insane House of Cosbys for Channel 101.

So, who are Rick and Morty? Rick is a drunken science genius, basically Doc Emmett Brown on a never-ending bender. His sweet, dim-bulb grandson, a very pubescent Morty, is dragged along to help on whatever wacky science mission Rick needs to complete, such as smuggling giant energy-rich seeds from an alternate dimension (more on that in a bit).

Whether you enjoy Roiland's voice performance of the stuttering, monologue-prone Rick and naïve, wailing Morty will have a lot to do with whether you'll be able to embrace Rick and Morty. But before you get turned off, please let me point out that I initially found John Roberts as Linda on Bob's Burgers to be the one element of the show I couldn't get behind. By a few episodes in, though, Linda became one of my favorite characters on any animated show and I now can't imagine anyone else doing the voice. Same with Roiland; whatever he's doing with Rick in particular (is it supposed to be a take on a drunken Dan Harmon?), it completely works for me. The off-putting mid-sentence belching from the pilot is considerably toned down in the episodes that follow, and that helps.

The rest of the voice cast includes ubiquitous voiceover man Chris Parnell as Morty's disapproving dad, Jerry; Sarah Chalke as Morty's highly successful horse surgeon mom, Beth; and Spencer Grammer as Morty's popular high school sister Summer. The pilot contains such throwaway lines as…

Principal: Mrs. Smith, this is Principal Vagina. No relation.

… as well as this critical exchange, which takes place in a different dimension while very dramatic music is played:

Morty: Oh, geez, Rick, I really don't want to have to do that!

Rick: W-w-well, somebody's gotta do it, Morty! These seeds aren't gonna to get through customs unless they're in someone's rectum, Morty!

Morty: Ohhhh.

Rick: They'll fall right out of mine. I've done this too many times, Morty! I mean, you're young! You've got your whole life ahead of you. And your anal cavity is still taut, yet malleable. You gotta do it for grandma, Morty! You [long belch] gotta put these seeds inside your butt!

Unfortunately, the plan fails at the customs checkpoint where, amid a fantastical variety of funky aliens, they discover that a new machine for detecting things up people's butts has been installed. Cue action chase scene.

The first episode sets the tone: Rick and Morty are going to have crazy adventures involving Rick's random science projects, often for mundane reasons like altering Morty's school grades. (As Morty astutely points out when Rick builds a machine that can tap into people's dreams, "In the time it took you to make this thing, couldn't you have just, you know, helped me with my homework?")

Tonight's episode, "M. Night Shaym-Aliens!" guest stars David Cross and is about a world where everyone is nude, explains Roiland in this preview clip:

The jokes in Rick and Morty, luckily, aren't all about butts and nudity (though there's plenty of that). The second episode, "Lawnmower Dog," has a clever rise-of-the-dogs storyline as well as extended riffs on both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Inception. "Anatomy Park" mixes Jurassic Park with Fantastic Voyage; it's about a theme park inside a diseased old man's body. And the family dynamics are fairly grounded for such a weird show; Rick and Jerry clearly hate each other, but Rick loves his daughter and has a genuine fondness for Morty, despite putting his life in danger every week.

Ready for adventure? Get on board now, while it's still early in the 10-episode first season.

Rick and Morty airs Mondays at 10:30 PM on Cartoon Network.
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