Like most Adult Swim fare, there's a manic quality to Rick and Morty, but co-creator Dan Harmon instills an oddly emotional realism to it, helping it stand out amongst the crowd.
The series follows Rick, an alcoholic mad scientist, as he drags his slightly dimwitted grandson Morty on a series of adventures across time and space. While Rick has no qualms roping Morty into his own self-serving schemes and even knocking off a few of his classmates along the way, there's a thrilling freedom to watching Rick indulge in his bad tendencies.
As Harmon explains toTVGuide.com, part of Rick's appeal is the fantasy fulfillment of "wanting to be the smartest [person] in the room and telling everyone else that none of their problems matter ... and just burping and walking away." Though over time, Harmon says, people will start to understand Rick is the way he is because he "has seen a lot of things that would challenge a normal person's ability to continue thinking that certain things are sacred."
Of course, no matter how much we may understand Rick's intentions, he will never be an entirely sympathetic character — which is exactly how it should be. Rick and Morty is the yin to Community's yang. Whereas the latter is about people rising to their own potential and finding happiness in each other, Rick and Morty wallows in the petty insignificance of humanity, all the while serving Clone High quirk.
Thanks to the sci-fi theme and incredible animation, Rick and Morty displays an unhindered sense of creativity. There's not much that would be considered "too far" in this world, something that originally posed a problem since the series remains somewhat tethered to reality. But Harmon and co-creator Justin Roiland, who voices Rick and Morty, found a way to balance these competing notions.
"The happy medium we arrived at was, let's look at what Rick does as skateboarding," Harmon says. "If you're a mom of a teenage kid and your kid goes out skateboarding everyday he might come home with a broken arm. It's really dangerous ... If a portal opens in the middle of the cafeteria, that's just like a really cool kick flip."
This allows the show to avoid getting bogged down with "how" or "why" questions, while still letting the characters feel relatable. Or at least as relatable as characters can be on a series that features a cyborg dog searching for his missing testicles. But like any parents whose child is involved in what they perceive as dangerous activities — be it skateboarding or inter-space drug smuggling — we see Morty's mother Beth (Sarah Chalke) and father Jerry (Chris Parnell) struggle to protect their son and keep their family intact.
"The relationship between Jerry and Beth, this sort of flawed marriage, that's way out of my wheelhouse," Roilland says. "That's Dan at his best in terms of the dialogue. The complexity of that in a cartoon sitting right next to me doing Rick and burping and dragging Morty up some giant monster's butthole or whatever, I find the juxtaposition of those two things to be really complimentary in a weird way."
That juxtaposition gives Rick and Morty a delightful Beetlejuice feel, as it seamlessly shifts between the sci-fi absurdity and the family's banal home life. On Monday's special Christmas episode, the family will be front and center when Jerry's parents come to visit. And even Rick gets in the giving spirit when he and Morty try to save the life of a homeless man ... by going inside his body (ala The Magic School Bus).
Watch an exclusive sneak peek of Monday's episode featuring John Oliver as a doctor who runs an amusement park inside the homeless man.
Rick and Morty airs Mondays at 10:30/9:30c on Adult Swim.