Adult animation has been a recurring trend and a guilty pleasure for many since the surge of “The Simpsons”. Many, if not all, adult animation series have tackled provocative topics, undertaking issues explicitly in comparison to other non-animation series. Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty” further pushes the boundaries of controversy and debate–acting as a channel for social critique.
Created by power duo Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, “Rick and Morty” is currently one of the most successful and controversial shows on air. Constructed as a parody of 90s comedy-science fiction television series “Back to the Future”, the series features teenage Morty, channeling naïve Marty McFly, and mad genius Rick Sanchez, a version of Emmett “Doc” Brown. It is safe to say that this is where the comparison ends.
“Rick and Morty”, or R&M, constantly entertains the idea of exploring multiple universes, or the multiverse, an infinite collection of different realities where the grandfather-grandson pair can pander into various eccentric adventures.
The show stands out with its profane language and somewhat graphic content. While other adult animations, most notably “South Park”, present extreme dialect, “Rick and Morty” utilizes language as a portal to stimulate thoughts. Preserving a sense of realism, “Rick and Morty” tackles social issues of substance abuse, race, and inequality. The series peaks into social reality through the complexity of the main characters.
Rick Sanchez thirsts for knowledge and adventure with an anarchic attitude. His nihilism stems from his exposure to countless realities. He is aware of life’s insignificance and absurdity. As such, he drowns himself in liquor.
With Rick, themes of existentialism, morality, and mental health take center stage. While typically drunk, depressed, and nonchalant, Rick avoids traditional binaries and displays love and self-sacrifice. His catch-phrase “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub” means “I am in great pain, please help me”, revisits Rick’s attitude of suffering at the absurdity of life which is masked by his usual dismissive demeanor.
On the other hand, Morty Smith is torn between his desire for normality and his dream of outlandish adventures with his crazy grandfather. Morty’s family is the epitome of a middle class troubled household. He is caught in between his parents’ struggling marriage: unsatisfied Beth and mediocre yet happy Jerry, who stands in for the exact opposite of his brilliant yet miserable father-in-law, Rick. While he doesn’t admit it often, Morty’s escapades with his grandfather are a break from his distressed reality
This is R&M’s brilliant way of commenting on people’s use of technology as an escape. In addition to the characters, it is the dynamic between them that emphasizes social hierarchies and relations. In many instances, the Smith family sits around the dinner table yet finds nothing to converse about, channeling familial ties at the advent of technology.
In one episode, R&M brings about the topic of gender, envisioning a world ruled by women. This world is eventually abandoned as Summer, Morty’s sister, utters satirically, “Let’s go back to our world which thinks it has gender equality but not really.”
In another episode, social structure and human nature are examined in a parody of the movie series “The Purge”. With the removal of law and punishment, man’s selfish and violent nature is apparent.
R&M tackles the controversial and the untouchable. It has engaged in American and international politics, religion, human psychology, and various explicit topics with no remorse. It studies these themes under a microscope of dark humor and fantastic sci-fi imagination. This show induces laughter, yet it is a comedy that generates thought and addresses the complexities of reality.