I want to start this thing by saying that Never Have I Ever is an excellent show. This coming of age Netflix sitcom about an Indian-American girl navigating high school might be Mindy Kaling's best work yet (the Office alumna created the show with Lang Fisher and wrote a couple of episodes), but I have one gripe with Never Have I Ever: Its Rick and Morty joke.
It's becoming increasingly common to see other shows and movies use Rick and Morty as a shorthand for toxic, white-dude culture, and while that's accurate for at least some of the fanbase, it's also become lazy trick for writers to tell you everything you need to know about their least-likable character.
Warning: Light spoilers for a specific scene in Never Have I Ever's sixth episode.
In Never Have I Ever, the joke comes in Episode 6, titled "... been the loneliest boy in the world," which shifts the focus from our protagonist Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), to her nerdy high school rival, Ben. We quickly learn that Ben's life isn't so great either, even if he's rich and his dad is a Hollywood lawyer for celebrities like Kanye West. Then comes the Rick and Morty joke.
It's not enough to reveal that Ben is a sad loner whose parents are too busy for him. To really drive the point home that he's a lame white dude, we learn that he also spends his free time talking about Rick and Morty on Reddit. That's not exactly cool high school behavior, especially when we see him complaining that the show's devoted subreddit has become too focused on memes and not fan theories. (Yes, I feel a little seen here, but let's move on.)
Ben starts chatting with another Rick and Morty fan with the username TheRealPickleRick69 and they decide to meet up at a local pizzeria to watch basketball. But when Ben shows up, it turns out his new friend is a middle-aged man who was born in the year 1969. It's a twist we definitely saw coming, but the joke's not done yet.
Rick (that's his real name) says he just wants a bro to make Rick and Morty jokes with. "I joked about getting a Mister Meseeks for the office and my coworkers looked at me like I was a total Jerry," he says. Ben replies that Rick and Morty themselves are pretty far apart in age and sits down with his new friend. Seconds later, the final twist hits: Rick is actually an old pervert who wants to watch Ben blow on his pizza, and Ben gets the hell out of there.
There's nothing inherently offensive about Never Have I Ever making a dumb joke at the expense of Rick and Morty fans. It's a fandom that's proven to be surprisingly toxic both online and off, harassing female writers of the show and practically rioting at McDonald's when a special promotional Szechuan sauce ran out. It's also a hugely popular show that can handle a few hits (Mindy Kaling is punching up, not down).
The problem, however, is that making fun of white guys for liking Rick and Morty just feels stale. It wasn't that funny when American Vandal did it in 2018, and it's a lot less funny now. Having two annoying bros actually make a meaningful connection might have been interesting, but portraying the show's fans as two-dimensional trolls is played out and unoriginal.
Then again, maybe Never Have I Ever is trying to make a point with its Rick and Morty burn. In a show focused on a trio of non-white high school girls, it makes sense that the white guy would get the most basic backstory. Sure he's sad and his parents ignore him, but he's not very three-dimensional, especially compared to Desi and her friends. Reducing its most prominent white male character to a dumb cartoon he likes might be a clever dig at the way other shows and movies have stereotyped minorities and women for decades.
Maybe I'm giving Never Have I Ever too much credit. Or maybe not enough? Or maybe Rick and Morty fans just have to accept that until some other hugely popular geeky show comes around, we'll have to get used to being the butt of lazy jokes on TV shows that we all know can do better.
Never Have I Ever is streaming now on Netflix.