Justin Roiland believes Rick and Morty, his animated sitcom which he co-created with Dan Harmon, can continue churning out interesting episodes as long as the show’s meta-humor doesn’t backslide into unnecessary explanation. As Roiland and Harmon have pointed out before, some questions that arise in Rick and Morty aren’t meant to be answered.
It’s funny, for instance, that Rick was horrified by a planet-on-the-cob in Season 2’s finale, but when fans ask for explanation on bits like that, the show’s creators get, understandably, a little frustrated. The point of the on-a-cob gag, of course, is that there is no real reason it frightens Rick.
In a phone interview with Inverse, Roiland explains the difference between allowing the show’s fans to generate theories and adding so much unnecessary context to each small joke that explication zaps joy from the show. “We don’t want any midi-chlorians in the show,” Roiland jokes, referring to the Star Wars prequel films in which the mysterious “Force” was reduced to a strange biological phenomenon that disappointed fans. “Do you know what I mean? We don’t want to answer questions that shouldn’t be answered,” he says.
Of course, it isn’t enough for American film franchises and TV series to simply tell riveting episodic stories in a sequence anymore. Every genre film has to include a littering of “Easter eggs,” a term used to indicate small bits of information tossed out to indicate future developments. The strongest examples of contemporary Easter eggs in Rick and Morty is the visual gag that connects the show to Disney’s Gravity Falls, which Justin Roiland worked on.
A weaker example of Easter eggs, forced into a story only to lay the groundwork for future installations, is the post-credits sequence in Kong: Skull Island.
The film’s stars, after having survived their ordeal on the mythical isle of beasts, were brought into a secret facility, which felt a lot like the ones owned by S.H.I.E.L.D., the secret group uniting the original Marvel movies, only to be told that Kong isn’t the only monster on our planet. Kong: Skull Island ends not on a shot of the survivors’ boat getting to safety, but on a highlight reel of other monsters from kaiju lore; Skull Island is only one in a series of monster vs. monster movies which Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. plan on releasing over the next years.
Perhaps because Rick and Morty is the biggest hit Adult Swim has ever seen, fans of other science fiction series seem hopeful that its creators will jump on the extended universe bandwagon and start building a complicated mythos — one fans can play around in. In the same interview, Harmon says fans and showrunners must be working at odds with each other in order to prolong their relationship. He says:
A fan is at their best and highest form when they’re thinking about the show on a level that the showrunner in peak form just isn’t. The best way I’ve been able to put it is: If you ask your parents, “Are we going to the zoo tomorrow?” […] and they say, “I don’t know yet,” they’re being bad parents. If you ask a showrunner, “What state was rick born in?” That’s a good showrunner, who says, “I don’t know yet.”
This sentiment, of course, comes from the creator of NBC’s Community, a sitcom which employed serialized jokes that only paid off after repeat viewings. Harmon’s writing, including the work he does on Rick and Morty, does tend to reward obsessive fans for their engagement with his stories, by hiding little indicators of sub-plots in the sets or in carefully worded dialogue. Of course, today’s fans might take Mr. Meeseeks (Season 1 Episode 5, “Meeseeks and Destroy”) popping up in the background of Blips and Chitz (Season 2 Episode 2, “Mortynight Run”) as evidence of a developing plotline. It’s not, though; it’s just in-universe coloring.
Though Harmon and Roiland say they’re “very dedicated to canon,” a concept Harmon calls “sacred,” they tried to keep things feeling fresh in Season 3. That means we won’t get background explanations for many of the show’s conceits, at risk of them landing awkwardly like the Star Wars prequels’ explanation of midi-chlorians. For instance, we all may be curious about what happened to Rick’s wife, but Harmon and Roiland won’t give their fans that information unless the reveal moves the story along.
That bait and switch, aimed at fans now primed by the deluge of prequels, sequels, reboots, and extended cinematic universes floating around in American media, was the center of Rick and Morty’s Season 3 premiere. Without his ability to avoid giving people the very thing they want from him — earnest reflection and affection — Rick Sanchez would simply be an archetype. It’s Harmon and Roiland’s continued dedication to fan satisfaction, and their avoidance of modern storytelling pitfalls, that will keep our attention on Rick for seasons to come.
Rick and Morty Season 3 continues on Adult Swim on July 30 with Episode 2.