If you've never seen Rick And Morty, this is the time to catch up. The truly insane animated sci-fi series, which is about the space adventures of a self-loathing mad scientist and his vaguely pathetic grandson, returns for a third season on July 30.
The show was created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, after Harmon was infamously let go from his first cult show, Community, a sitcom-esque foray into infinite alternate timelines. The pair are both executive producers of Rick And Morty; Dan’s the principal writer, and Justin (who drew the original character sketches) also writes, and provides the voices of Rick, Morty, Mr. Meeseeks, fan favorite Mr. Poopy Butthole, and more. I am convinced that they’re both geniuses.
Just like Community, Rick And Morty is not only gut-busting, but also philosophical as fuck. That's probably because Harmon's been using the same eight-step storytelling process (he calls it a "story embryo") since he started writing. He explained the technique to WIRED in 2011: "1. A character is in a zone of comfort, 2. But they want something. 3. They enter an unfamiliar situation, 4. Adapt to it, 5. Get what they wanted, 6. Pay a heavy price for it, 7. Then return to their familiar situation, 8. Having changed."
The process is a riff on the Hero's Journey, or the Monolyth, a narrative pattern found in canonical myths and epics. It's this far-reaching awareness of collective literary and societal memory that makes Harmon's work feel so pertinent to contemporary storytelling; Rick And Morty isn’t too different from Shakespeare’s plays, which essentially satirized the Western canon and the very idea of the archetype, like Harmon and Roiland do now, within their show's freaky, boundless universe. There is little doubt in my mind that authors and screenwriters and comedians will study Harmon’s process in the distant future, when we're all Cronenberg creatures.
I've seen every episode of Rick And Morty at least five times. I'm pretty sure I could write a dissertation on it at this point, highlighting all of the wild, mind-blowing layers within each 20-minute story. But I won't. Not right now, at least. Instead, I rang up Harmon and Roiland and asked them to tell me about their favorite episodes so far. “I’m so proud to have a show that it’s almost arbitrary to pick a favorite — there’s no clunkers I can think of," Harmon said, and he's damn right. But they still managed to name seven of their faves, and, in the process, revealed the tremendous amount of blood and sweat and madness that goes into making the wildest show on television.
“Rick Potion #9,” Season 1 Episode 6
The one where Rick makes Morty a love potion to give to his crush, but it backfires.
DAN HARMON: "Rick Potion #9" certainly has to be [one of my favorites] because the ending is so dark. I think that was the birth of the show in the way that certain first-season Community episodes suddenly awakened you to Community’s potential. “Rick Potion #9” comes to mind because it’s early in the season and it ended with them burying their own dead bodies and taking over one of the infinite timelines and you sort of went, Oh my god, this show — it’s uncomfortably unlimited. Where are they going to go from there?
“Rixty Minutes,” Season 1 Episode 8
The one where Rick gets bored of Earth TV and installs Interdimensional Cable, and also gives the family goggles through which to see their alternate selves.
JUSTIN ROILAND: The first Interdimensional Cable episode is amazing because it’s filled with such absolute drunken nonsense. Our super-talented team of storyboard artists and animators had to sit there for hours upon hours, bringing to life something that it took me 30 seconds to drunkenly ramble into a microphone. And also I feel like the A-story in this episode [in which the alternate self goggles cause a rift between Beth and Jerry] is really strong and great.
“Something Ricked This Way Comes,” Season 1 Episode 9
The one where Rick disapproves of Summer's new job at the devil's store, and Morty and Jerry go to Pluto.
HARMON: As much as Rick and Morty had this important dynamic, there was this whole, different, untapped thing that was Rick and Summer. “Something Ricked This Way Comes” was a re-introduction to that concept.
In that episode we also simultaneously established that you can do sci-fi stories that have absolutely nothing to do with Rick causing them — the Plutonians just come down and abduct Morty and Jerry, and that’s a pretty satisfying story, too. But really, the most important thing is the relationship between Summer and Rick, that triangle of father figures, and the idea that there is a devil — the idea that Rick is jealous of the devil; the idea that being jealous can have nothing to do with whether you’re better or worse at something than someone, you can just be angry at who you perceive as a hack.
And then that fun ending. We were like, “How do we end this story?” And Justin told this story about two kids from his neighborhood who had a troubled childhood, and simply worked out for years and then beat the shit out of their own father. And we just cracked up and said, “Why can’t we end our episode like that?” And I remember it taking me a couple seconds to get over my allergic reaction to that, like, “Wait, well, are they taking years? Are we saying six months have passed? Is [Summer] voting age?” And then getting over that, and having the reward be that some things don’t matter, canonically like that.
“Auto Erotic Assimilation,” Season 2 Episode 3
The one where Rick, Morty, and Summer run into Unity, Rick's hive-mind ex-girlfriend.
HARMON: Just that glimpse into the idea that Rick can have ex-girlfriends — we nailed it. It had to be an entity that you can imagine Rick being hung up on. And that final glimpse, watching Rick go into the garage and basically attempt not only suicide but possibly, given whatever he’s up to physically there, attempting a form of transdimensional complete obliteration — and only failing because he’s too drunk to pull it off. It’s the most brutal thing I’ve ever seen in a cartoon — way more brutal than the absurdist brutality of having to bury your own body in the backyard. And then that combined with Jerry weed whacking his life away. Just contrasting those two versions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, leaving you to wonder which is preferable.
“Big Trouble In Little Sanchez,” Season 2 Episode 7
The one where Summer asks Rick to clone himself into teenage Rick to help her fight vampires at school, and Beth and Jerry go to alien couple's counseling.
HARMON: I’ll have to also go with the Tiny Rick episode. It’s Summer’s pitch that Rick clone himself and get into a younger body, and the next time we see Rick he’s thought about it twice, and decided Summer’s idea is good enough. The dilemma is actually that once he’s in a younger body, that comes with younger value systems. All your life experience, if you downloaded it into a younger body with different hormones, it might just decide that being younger is better than being older, and become the threat. It doesn’t want to be old again, and the solution to that is making the younger Rick listen to Elliott Smith. That was a real easy episode to write, as I recall.
“Look Who’s Purging Now,” Season 2 Episode 9
The one where Rick and Morty land on a planet whose law and order is the plot of The Purge.
ROILAND: This one is one of my favorites simply because it wouldn’t exist if not for the fact that we originally had intended to do a two-part finale at the end of Season 2. We were gonna get Rick in prison, and then the very last episode of Season 2 was essentially gonna be what eventually became the first episode of Season 3 — which is Rick escaping from prison and resetting everything. It spiraled into madness trying to break that second part. We ultimately said, Fuck it, we’ll just write a cliffhanger. After several weeks of me and Ridley popping in and out of the writers’ room, Dan spat the first act of that purge episode within 20-minutes.
It was kind of incredible, and Ridley and I got it, and printed it out, and we’re sitting on the couch reading it, laughing so hard we were crying, and then Harmon’s like, “Alright, ready for the second act?” We hung out in the writer's’ room for the next three hours, just riffing. I kept pitching the idea that [Rick and Morty] are walking around and they find this lighthouse, and this lighthouse keeper’s there and he’s reading a script. And Harmon’s doing this lighthouse character voice where he’s like “Fade in…” We were fucking crying laughing so hard. We were just exhausted, it was so fucking funny. It was one of those moments where we were like “No, seriously, what the fuck are we going to do in the second act?” And it worked. The lighthouse guy worked. I love that episode. It was a patchwork quilt of writing.