‘Rick and Morty’ a strange work of love

Adult Swim series mixes twisted humor with surprising heart

Over the past several years, Adult Swim has been quietly carving out a niche for itself as the perfect home for personal, creative comedy. Their comedies range from wacky to genuinely avant-garde, making them a sometimes intimidating proposition to the uninitiated, but they’re uncensored and written by people with a deep passion for comedy.

“Rick and Morty” is the latest and greatest in Adult Swim’s winning streak, a hilarious and fully-formed creation from the minds of Justin Roiland (“House of Cosbys”) and Dan Harmon (“Community”). The animated series tells the story of alcoholic mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his impressionable grandson sidekick Morty as they jump through space and time, often creating mad situations that echo into the lives of their family.

More than any series in recent memory, “Rick and Morty” reflects its creators through and through. It’s a mixture of Roiland’s deranged creativity and Harmon’s depressive humanism, filtered through their mutually strange, improvisational sense of humor. In one episode, Rick and Morty go on an adventure to a fantasy land ruled by a sexually aggressive jelly bean king, while Morty’s family becomes consumed with summoning Meseeks creatures that live to fill out a single command – you can practically see the footprints from the writer’s room to the screen.

Adding to the personality of the show is Roiland’s vocal work. He pulls double duty, voicing both Rick and Morty, and their conversations patterns – frequent stammering, belching, name repetition – adds personality and a lived-in charm to the dialogue. The two are unlike any other pair on television, and a big part of that is thanks to Roiland inhabiting the characters.

In the show’s latest episode “Rixty Minutes,” Rick brings the family television from alternate realities, which brings parents Beth and Jerry into crisis as they see the lives they could have had. “Rick and Morty” often employs two parallel stories, typically one featuring Rick and Morty on an adventure and one featuring the family in some state of high concept sci-fi dysfunction, and “Rixty Minutes” is no different. As Rick and Morty watch transdimensional television, including such highlights as Gazorpazorpfield, Ants-are-in-my-eyes Johnson, and action series Ball Fondlers, Beth and Jerry look into their alternate lives and confront their unhappy marriage. That the Beth and Jerry plots consistently stand up to the Rick and Morty plots despite often featuring such challenging themes as impotence and loveless monogamy is a testament to the show’s sharp writing talent, treating the emotionality of their relationship with respect and honesty.

It’s that same honesty, even in the face of darkness, that has set “Rick and Morty” apart from many other shows; when Morty gets assaulted by the jelly bean king, it isn’t played for laughs, and when Morty assures his sister Summer that she still matters even though their parents didn’t plan on her, it’s totally from the heart. It’s a show unafraid to have its big comforting line be, “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”

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