'Rick and Morty' Season 4 wants to be 'The Simpsons.' Fans won't let it.
Rick and Morty forever, right? That seems to be the plan given Adult Swim’s massive 100-episode deal with the show’s creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, but from what we’ve seen in Season 4 so far, becoming a show that lasts forever might not be what diehard Rick and Morty wanted after all.
“On any given day you’ll feel like this thing can go for 20, 30 seasons,” Roiland told Entertainment Weekly in July. “We have characters that don’t really age, it’s very Simpsons-esque. There’s so much we can do to keep riding this train.”
Roiland’s comment hints at what the creators seem to want for Rick and Morty: a more procedural episodic format that eschews long-form plotting in favor of a looser, more fun-loving approach to telling funny, ridiculous stories that have no lasting consequences.
At the end of every episode, The Simpsons gets a hard refresh, so even if Homer Simpson loses his job, everything returns to normal for the next episode. This is traditional procedural storytelling that most classic sitcoms follow, animated or otherwise. The opposite, serialized story arcs that play out over many episodes, is becoming increasingly common in modern TV, even in comedies where it was once a rarity.
Rick and Morty falls somewhere in between, but the show emulates The Simpsons in the sense that Morty’s never going to grow up. Even if some things change, a lot will always stay the same.
When discussing Season 4 in the same Entertainment Weekly interview mentioned above, Roiland spoke about incorporating episode stories with serialized arcs in Rick and Morty:
“We have serialized stuff we check in on now and then that’s sprinkled over the top of strong episodic episodes,” he said, urging fans to watch all of Season 3 ahead of time.
So far, however, with the exception of a Season 4 premiere the followed up on the new family dynamic established in the Season 3 finale, every story in the new season takes a gimmicky episodic approach to a random idea that ties up neatly in a quick 20 minutes.
One episode was all about Rick’s ridiculous and extravagant private toilet for pooping on an exotic planet. Another made fun of every heist movie ever. Rick himself calls Episode 4 “the Morty gets a dragon episode” in the first few minutes.
These are the kinds of stories Harmon and Roiland want to tell — and most of the time that’s what we get from Rick and Morty — but the extremely vocal fans seem to rally against it. The show’s diehard fanbase has a reputation as one of the most obnoxious on the internet. Many of them worship Rick Sanchez and come to emulate his edgy nihilistic worldview despite the show presenting Rick as a terrible person. It can sometimes feel like these Rick and Morty fans are ruining Rick and Morty for the rest of us.
“It’s a huge bummer,” Harmon said of the phenomenon in a GQ profile. “Do I worry about them ruining everything? Yeah, I do. Once the title of your show becomes a way of describing a demographic, that is toxic.”
The fans also seem to always clamor for something more from Rick and Morty, clinging to the series’ more dramatic moments and churning out convoluted theories that overcomplicate the show and desperately seek answers to questions it poses but never resolves.
The series often incorporates meta-commentary and breaks the Fourth Wall every now and then, but twice already in Season 4, characters have told someone to stop asking questions and to just have fun instead. Harmon and Roiland are saying this directly to the fans as if to say we shouldn’t take Rick and Morty so seriously that we overanalyze it.
Sometimes a talking cat is just a talking cat with no deeper meaning or significance — which is what Harmon said about the new character. But it’s also deeply ironic that in the same episode the talking cat tells Jerry to stop asking questions, Rick barks at his granddaughter, “Don’t tell me how to enjoy things!” It speaks to this ongoing identity crisis at play in Rick and Morty and its fandom.
Rick and Morty likes to challenge its viewers in these kinds of ways, but how long will light trolling and a lack of answers remain charming? For the series to thrive for years to come, it needs to be a little more like The Simpsons, embracing a lighter approach to telling different stories in a half-hour animated procedural. Forget about Evil Morty. Stop asking questions. Just have fun.
Or, as Bart Simpson might say: Don’t have a cow, man.
Rick and Morty Season 4 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.