I sit here, slaving over a tepid keyboard struggling desperately to figure out how to start talking about this, because, well, where are you supposed to start talking about something like Rick & Morty? I present myself to you, as a man in the verging on post-coital glow of finishing a series that scratched all of my particular narrative tumours, and delivered a combination of the kind of wackiness and existential horror I would only ever have expected from Hanna-Barbera harvesting the seed of H. P. Lovecraft. It’s a high-concept, low-brow, philosophical, sophisticated show about the human condition by way of dick and butt jokes. At one point, there is a character who takes the name “Fart”. This disparity of tone would be a frenetic skip towards mediocrity in virtually any other show, but the skill of the creative team and the masterful guidance by creators Justin Roiland (Adventure Time) and Community creator Dan Harmon allows this miasma of insanity to become so much more than the sum of its parts.
Even when compared to the strong and bold opening of the pilot episode, the second season finds its feet remarkably quickly, jumping straight into an episode dealing with the dangers of meddling with space-time. Fans with a good memory will remember that the final scene of the finale involved the Smith house destroyed after a house party, and a reckless Rick freezing time to allow himself and his grandkids to recover from their hangovers and clean the house. Six months of frozen time later, they decide to stop procrastinating which naturally, comes with unexplained consequences. The ensuing carnage involves a split in the time stream that threatens all of their existences, including Rick trying to murder an alternative version of himself that he can’t see (thinking 4th Dimensionally). Surprisingly however, and something that was relatively lacking in the last season, we see a moment of pathos, as Rick consigns himself to death in order to save Morty’s life, including telling his grandson to “be better than me”. It’s a momentary break in Rick’s façade but shows how confidently this series can build up and break down its characters.
Whereas the first season dealt with such weighty matters as the frailty and relative insignificance of life as well as the nihilistic pointlessness of it, the issues were dealt with on the macro scale. This is the first time we see a real human moment in the series, and it is something that sets this season apart from the first. Of course the characters become more familiar and the setting more comfortable, but there is a definite humanity that was missing from earlier episodes. Episode two includes an expertly judged guest appearance by Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) as a higher being (the aforementioned “Fart”) who forces Morty to question his commitment to, and interpretation of, the sanctity of life. The final sequence of the following episode (involving the only romance with a hive-mind you’re going to see this year) contains possibly one of the most harrowingly grim attempted suicides I have ever seen in any fiction. This is a show that is completely comfortable with its adult rating, and rather than continuing to deliver the same irreverent zaniness that made the first season great, it tempers that same wackiness with an increased emotional maturity that leaves viewers not just amused but often emotionally spent.
That being said, it never forgets to be funny. This season contains a monologue from the vocal talents of Werner Herzog on humanity’s obsession with our own penises, some truly dazzling (and incredibly catchy) musical sequences from Clement and, as always, great turns from many guest actors, including (of Harmon’s other epic, Community) Jim Rash, Christina Hendricks and Stephen Colbert as characters of the week. It continues the amusingly surreal shenanigans of season one on an even grander scale, from a race of god like beings who value the musical talent of lesser races a la X Factor, and a planet of Amish Cat people who enjoy a good “purge”.
However the crowning achievement of the series is the final episode, which provided the greatest surprise of the season for me in that the seemingly random insanity that came before it was not entirely random after all. Ladies and Gentlemen, This show officially has an arc. It’s been hinted at since the Pilot, and it adds a layer of intrigue to this series that elevates it from disposable popcorn fodder to a genuinely original, often touching, always funny foray into a science fiction universe as beautifully animated as it is grotesquely rendered. The morose final moments of the season will leave fans gasping for more, and I for one am extremely excited to see what they do next. It’s got a lot to do to beat this but if anyone can do it, Roiland and Harmon can.