Hit animated series Rick and Morty is no stranger to the absurd, astounding, and downright bewildering, as fans like myself can attest to. Whether it’s the subtle metaphor of a hive-mind ex who colonizes planets, forcing you to literally see her everywhere, or taking out pent up aggression in the wake of your parent’s divorce via Mad Max style wastelands (as with the case of Monday night’s long-awaited episode), something lies beneath the surface. Beyond the cutting punchlines from our favourite alcoholic scientist, the pathetic attempts to survive by a shaky kid, and even beyond the Lovecroftian horrors that lurk in dark corners of the universe lies truths. Stark truths on how we humans are, as well as the existential nature of being. It comes to a point where we can no longer ignore the poignant reality of everyday life buried under the wondrous extravagance of this animated sci-fi comedy.
One of the key principles of the Rick and Morty universe is how the flaws of individuals are not buried or mitigated by the euphemisms of implications. Flaws of the characters in the show are worn openly on each person’s proverbial sleeve. If someone were to ask you to define each member of the main cast, one of the first three things that’d come to mind would undoubtedly be a personality defect. Rick is a callous, bitter drunk who worships his self-interest and intellect in place of a god he has philosophically killed. Jerry is trapped within his own mediocrity, and fails to adapt in a constantly evolving environment. Beth is burdened by her own indecision, which burns through her potential, and leaves her going in circles. I could go on.
These flaws are never hidden, rather they are confronted on an episode by episode basis through exaggerated aspects the story so demands. And this ongoing process of interpersonal improvement is one in which we see gradual and fleeting moments of progress, but they are never solved easily nor instantly. Lessons are learnt, and you might even notice a difference, but they remain relatively intact. Because we as a people function that way, as complex if not more so as a melting pot of neuroses and moments, both public and private. Not like the polished 2D-Lean-Cuisine-Instant-Meal characters you see in sit-coms, or popcorn comedy flicks that are more cardboard cutout props than anything.
The second thing you’ll notice after you set aside the Birdpeople and matter altering farts is that each episode tells a story that is fundamentally relatable on a universal level. Take the episode mentioned earlier, where Rick runs into his hive-mind ex, who colonizes planets at a time through mind control assimilation. This renders the inhabitants of the planet just copies of her who “lose themselves”. At first, you assume that she is an unhealthy influence on him, and is only vying to bring him into the folds. But then the entire infrastructure of the planet begins to crumble. Alien race wars divided by nipple shapes break out, and chaos breaks loose.
We soon realize that Rick is the unhealthy influence on his ex. And in the final scenes, when the two are forced to part ways for the sake of each other’s well-beings, and because we all come to realize on a smaller scale level, Rick is ironically better at making his ex lose herself when she’s around him, we feel the heartbreak. That crushing sense of loss after they come to the conclusion that they will never work. You and I will never know what it is like to travel through time and space, to defy the laws of science, or to have someone you know bend an entire planet to their will using mind powers. But we can very openly identify with the element of heartbreak, and being unable to compromise the self enough to continue with one another.
Rick and Morty has risen to cult following status, and for all the right reasons. Under the hood of wild and ridiculous adventures lined with brutally hilarious one-liners, there’s heart. There are characters we find ourselves invested in, because we see versions of ourselves within them, and there are experiences and emotions comparable to our own. It’s funny to think that the most human show on the air right now is a cartoon, and some might say there’s something poetic about that. But me? I’m just along for the ride, in the hopes that maybe I’ll learn a little something about myself.