Rick and Morty manages to pull in more content in twenty-one episodes than most other shows can manage in a multi-season lifespan. Its comical deconstruction of the sci-fi genre is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and cleverly demented. In its first season, the kid-with-a-mentor story trope took firm bunt to the head, analyzing the whimsical, fun-filled adventures as horrible, unforgiving nightmares in unfamiliar alien territories. Season two follows much of the same beat, never losing a minute of its vivid imagination and bleak commentary.
Rick and Morty stars fourteen-year-old Morty, a neurotic teenage boy, and his wayward grandfather Rick. The latter is a mad scientist who drags his unwilling grandchild throughout the known galaxies, getting into a series of misadventures that always end in disaster. The other main cast members are Rick and Morty’s immediate family, the Smiths. Rick’s daughter, Beth, is an alcoholic with severe abandonment issues; her husband, Jerry, is a milquetoast of a man with low self-esteem; and their eldest daughter—and Morty’s older sister—Summer, is a no-nonsense teenage girl.
One of Rick and Morty’s greatest strengths is how they take advantage of animation as a medium to concoct elaborate tales, vivid backgrounds, and bizarre alien designs. Prime examples include the season opener “A Rickle in Time” which has Rick, Morty, and Summer accidentally messing with space and time, forcing the screen to literally split in two to represent the time anomaly they caused. “Total Rickall” has alien parasites hiding among the family in disguise, prompting a dartboard-throwing-list of all the random characters and gimmicks that the creators could think of (my favorite is Cyborg Amish). The creativity and versatility in visiuals are equally matched in the storytelling department. Outrageous shenanigans involve Rick meeting an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a giant hive mind, an intergalactic Battle of the Bands, and a miniature universe that unknowingly powers Rick’s spaceship. Season Two purposely keeps the show episodic, refusing to dive into the burning questions left behind by the first. There are numerous little nods to the last season though, creating a balancing act that allows newcomers to pop in at any point and let regulars have their cake and eat it, too. Rick and Morty is a busy show and never a dull moment for it.
My biggest problem with the show’s first season were the mundane side stories dealing with Beth and Jerry’s martial issues and Summer’s boring teenage life. Compared to the exuberant and often shocking sci-fi A-plots, these family problems were comparatively bland. Season two integrates the rest of the extended family and their woes within the greater scope of the show. One example is Jerry and Beth attempting to fix their marriage via alien marriage counseling. This method doubly serves to expand on the central cast. Jerry and his self-esteem issues go on the backburner to focus on Beth and her mixed-up inferiority-superiority complex brought on by her abandonment issues when Rick left her years ago. Morty, previously a panicking, confused young man, has since developed a hard shell for Rick’s traumatizing ordeals. The boost in confidence and familiarity means he now acts as something of a moral guardian for Rick, keeping him in line and trying to appeal to his better humanity.
Summer is the character who gets the best character upgrade. As the least interesting character from the first season, Summer’s role gets a boost in the second season to become an unofficial third member to Rick and Morty’s duo. With Morty embracing his role as Rick’s sidekick, Summer becomes the show’s designated newcomer, bringing her own unique skills to the party. I found her proactive pragmatism to be an impressive quality. Morty tends to react when he usually has little choice, and his reaction alternates between complaining and running. Summer offers solutions and deals with the onslaught of bloodthirsty aliens and ghastly situations better than Morty ever did.
But it’s Rick who gets the biggest transformation in the show. He’s a hard character to write for, as he tiptoes between being the escapist character we wish to be and the careless jerk who never learns his lessons. Occasional humble pies are thrown his way, but if season one served as an introduction to his outer persona, season two rewards patient viewers by exploring his inner turmoil. Though we never get more than a bare hint of Rick’s mysterious past (got to save something for season three), we do get a surprising number of emotional scenes that generate sympathy for someone who is otherwise a terrible person. This culminates into a shocking finale that is both amazing and upsetting. His inner dilemma is the heart of the show’s universal themes of existential crisis and the meaningless of life. The fragility of life is peppered throughout the show: pleasant, kind folks turn out to be immoral assassins, or an alien video game is so incredibly immersive that you experience the life of your avatar until his unfair death, a “GAME OVER” flashing onscreen to reinstate the artificial nature of it all. Rick’s ship is ordered to keep Summer safe and does so by killing and manipulating approaching people in sheer disregard for life. Yet it’s never as bleak as it could have been. In a lesser show, they would have taken the idea and created a needlessly cynical world in a sordid bid for comedy. Rick and Morty instead relays the message that pointlessness doesn’t inherently lead to nihilism. It’s also an excuse to dish out jokes that cross so many lines that it wraps back to funny out of sheer audacity.
Extras on the Blu-ray set include deleted scenes and animatics for each episode. The Rick and Morty Season 2 Premiere Party Featuring Chaos Chaos is exactly what it sounds like: the cast and crew having a party while the band Chaos Chaos (whose music plays in an episode) performs. I’d imagine this is an event better worth experiencing than watching on TV. Though some amusement can be derived from the random Rick and Morty-related artwork flying by in the background, at forty-three minutes this bonus is just too long and uninteresting. Commentary exists for all ten episodes, and like the first season DVD, they invite some unexpected guests to lend an outsider’s perspective on the show. Figures this time include WWE superstar Sheamus, actor Abed Gheith, The Howard Stern Show’s Sal Governale, and drummer Richard Christy (who voiced Morty Jr. in a season one episode). Possibly the most appropriate guests are Valve founder Gabe Newell and Valve employees Jay Pinkerton and Erik Wolpaw. Their commentary is particularly insightful as they analyze the cruel themes of the show. Included as a physical bonus in the package is an instruction booklet made in the vein of an electronics manual for the whatever-the-heck-it-is Plumbus seen in “Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate.” There is also an UltraViolet code for a digital copy of the season.
Rick and Morty is exceptionally versatile. Its artwork is creativity, surreal, and inspiring. The plots are varied and subversive, yet also feature nuanced characters and emotional moments. The show can even do all of the above in the same scene. With only ten episodes, this season feels a bit short, but the sheer amount of content packed into each one makes it worth watching over and over again.