After nearly two years since the Season 2 finale aired, Rick and Morty is finally back. The adult animated series, from creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, has quickly become a pop culture phenomenon and is now one of the most beloved shows currently on TV. There are quite a few reasons for its success, from the excellent writing to the eccentric characters and highly original plots. Though it might sound like a cliche, there really is nothing quite like Rick and Morty right now.
The show’s pilot expertly establishes the very best aspect of the series, which is the titular duo’s tumultuous relationship. Though they constantly argue and get each other into plenty of trouble, the brilliant and depressed Rick and the awkward Morty desperately need each other. What makes their relationship, and the show in general, so captivating is actually Rick’s self-deprecating attitude, clear depression, alcoholism, and distaste for love. He’s a tragic character who only sees the worst in the world (or galaxies) and other people.
Rick’s clearly been through a lot, and he drowns himself in his work. On the surface, it might seem like he’s merely using Morty for experiments and help. But, deep down, Rick enjoys spending time with Morty, who himself is quite lonely and feels like an outcast. The show often delves into and questions existentialism, which is a theory that emphasizes the importance of the individual and free will. For Rick, there’s no such thing as the individual and there’s really no point to life.
The audience sees this throughout the series and especially in what is arguably the most disturbing episode of the show: Rick Potion #9 from season 1. Morty wants Rick to essentially invent a potion that’ll make Morty’s classmate and high school crush Jessica fall in love with him. Here, Rick continually refuses the idea of true love actually existing. For him, it’s all just a chemical reaction and not something an individual has any choice over.
The episode then sort of backs up Rick’s stance on love and how useless it is when the duo’s plan goes horribly wrong. The potion has a terrible reaction and transforms the entire world into mindless, horrifying creatures. The only solution Rick comes up with is to just abandon this reality, kill their different versions in another reality, which they then decide to call their new home. This obviously disturbs Morty, and this plot thread carries over into the rest of the show where he outright says to his sister that life is meaningless and there’s no point to anything because everyone eventually dies, one way or another—while gesturing to the graves in the backyard where they buried the versions of themselves that they killed.
We see Rick and Morty’s stance on existentialism in another of the series’ more iconic episodes, Meeseeks and Destroy from season 1. The Meeseeks are creatures that exist solely to do one mindless task their master gives them, and then they happily die. The show basically tells the audiences that maybe it is totally fine that human life doesn’t have a huge meaning. Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t need to. These philosophical themes are the driving force behind the show, and make it beautifully disturbing and fascinating.
But there’s also another, simpler reason why Rick and Morty works so well: the show’s obsession with cosmic, Lovecraftian horror that is the source of its boundless and outlandish creativity and storylines, from the weird blue Meeseeks to the parasites the Smith family has to kill in the great Total Rickall episode in season 2. Cosmic horror consists of creatures and concepts beyond human understanding—which people find quite horrifying. In the two episodes where Rick and Morty watch TV on Rick’s cosmic cable box, they view all sorts of eccentric and bizarre shows, like a salesman with ants in his eyes and a man who can’t help but rip his entire skin off.
While Rick, Morty, and the audience must find this horrifying, other people in those different realities view it as normal behaviour also plays into the whole “is existentialism a stupid theory” debate the show constantly plays with. It doesn’t matter what one world and one reality (like our Earth, for example) thinks is normal because that really doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
Rick and Morty is undoubtedly one of the most creative shows on TV, and while only two episodes in, Season 3 is looking to continue this trend.