Rick Sanchez screamed, “Rick and Morty forever!” in the Season 3 premiere, and if the voice actor behind Morty Smith’s much-cooler big sister has her way, she’ll be the voice of Summer Smith for years to come.
“Fuck yeah!” Spencer Grammer says when asked if she’d like to be the next Yeardley Smith, who has voiced Lisa on The Simpsons for more than 30 years now. Rick and Morty Season 4 only just began in November, and with 65 more episodes of Adult Swim’s hit series yet to be released, 30 more years feels possible.
“Rick and Morty is the most fun show to work on, and I’ve always loved animation,” Grammer tells Inverse in a recent interview. “To be able to voice a character on a show that I think is really, really smart and also very entertaining is the dream, right?”
On our half-hour phone call, Spencer Grammer is confident and bubbly, shifting from easy bouts of laughter at her favorite Rick and Morty moments to deep insights into the state of the entertainment industry, the value of the #MeToo movement, or why adult animation like Rick and Morty resonates so well with people in 2020. Like the character she voices, Grammer is candid and unapologetic in ways that are easy to admire.
“There’s something inherently truthful about Rick and Morty at its core that speaks to what humanity is going through right now.”
Aside from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland voicing both title characters, Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty Smith, Spencer Grammer is one of the show’s top-billed cast members, voicing Summer since the very beginning. Like almost everyone involved with Rick and Morty, Grammer had no idea that her next gig would become such a worldwide phenomenon, but she has thoughts on why the series has gained such a devoted following since its 2013 debut.
“There's something inherently truthful about Rick and Morty at its core that speaks to what humanity is going through right now,” she says. “We are inundated with technology and information and media. We don't know what the future is going to hold for humanity when we can see everything and know anything at any given moment.”
We’re overwhelmed. We’re confused. We’re exhausted. We need someone like Morty Smith to grab us by the hand and say, “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?” That TV show might as well be Rick and Morty.
“Rick and Morty's able to tap into those feelings of confusion and maybe even rage or depression and turn it all into a joke,” Grammer says. “The show also helps remind people that there’s still a family unit in this crazy universe, as dysfunctional as it may be. That's cathartic for an audience.” You don’t immediately recognize Rick and Morty as a show about family, but amidst all the wacky sci-fi plotlines and parodies of well-known concepts is an examination of how humans in pain take it out on those closest to them.
Rick spends a lot of time drunk and belligerent, telling his family that they’re worthless and “infinitely replaceable” because he can get a new family in an alternate universe whenever he wants. Yet, with one or two glaring exceptions, Rick always comes back to the same family in the multiverse.
“[Summer] picks up on Rick's bad behavior and calls him out on it.”
These toxic family dynamics at the heart of Rick and Morty deconstruct how we perceive the traditional nuclear family in a way that’s different from the kid-friendly Simpsons, and it’s done through mature science fiction parody. The vibe between Morty and his grandpa Rick is just like Back to the Future. The less-obvious subversion comes with Morty’s parents. Rick’s daughter, Beth, is a brilliant but unfulfilled horse heart surgeon. Her husband, Jerry, is a total doofus, a hapless beta male that “married way out of his league,” Grammer says.
Without a doubt, Summer is the most relatable character on Rick and Morty. Many fans out there, this author included, might say she’s the best character. “Summer adds a great part to the family dynamic as a millennial depiction of a feminist,” Grammer says. “She picks up on Rick's bad behavior and calls him out on it.”
Like many high schoolers, Summer is concerned with her social status, an obsession taken to the extreme often enough that she comes off as vapid. But when she steps outside the orbit of everyday life and into insane sci-fi adventures with her brother and grandfather, Summer becomes the boldest, wittiest person in the room, with the confidence and intelligence to back it up. Her unique brand of millennial apathy usually prevents her from stealing the spotlight. She just doesn’t care enough about going on adventures because it’s not that cool. And yet, some of the all-time best episodes are when Summer does steal the spotlight.
One of Grammer’s favorite episodes is “Rickmancing the Stone,” a Summer standout from Season 3 where, in the wake of Beth and Jerry’s separation, Summer and Morty join Rick on an adventure to an apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of Mad Max. It gives both children the opportunity to express their frustrations in violent ways. Episodes like the Emmy award-winning “Pickle Rick” explore the emotional and psychological fallout.
“I thought it was wonderful to have Summer have a more three-dimensional storyline, and I also thought it was a great episode for Rick and Morty and Summer to bond,” Grammer says. “Because they're escaping responsibility, which is in some weird way what grandparents are supposed to do for their grandchildren. My favorite part about that episode is that it doesn't matter where you go, everyone falls into the same patterns. So she ends up basically becoming her mother even though she's in a world where it's Mad Max, right?”
To Grammer, animation offers an “amazing symbiosis between childhood cartoons and creation and artwork” in a way that can entertain the inner child in all of us while pushing the boundaries of our imaginations with more mature themes. Rick and Morty is the next chapter in the way audiences connect with animated stories.
Grammer grew up enjoying animated series like Beavis and Butthead and Invader Zim; she even says that watching The Simpsons before bed is a nightly ritual.
“Animation has a little bit more freedom to push artistic boundaries as well as comedic elements in a way that can be more subversive because there's a distance between the viewer and the character,” she says. “They’re not a person. They’re an animation. So we allow a little bit more freedom in the way we observe it.”
It’s true -- Rick and Morty is able to get away with some insane imagery just because it’s animation.
Grammer has borne witness to some drastic ways that the entertainment has evolved in the 30 years she's been a part of it. Daughter to Frasier and Cheers actor Kelsey Grammer, Spencer had an uncredited role on Cheers in 1992 as a child and got into acting full-time in adulthood. She played a sorority queen heartthrob Casey in the sitcom Greek, which aired from 2007 to 2011, and while that's a role she cherishes, she also appreciates the smart writing on Rick and Morty that gives her the opportunity to portray a nuanced and strong female character with just her voice.
When I turn the conversation over to Rick and Morty's new season, which is on hiatus until later this year, she promises great things for her character moving forward.
“This season has a few really good Summer episodes,” Grammer says. “I've heard rumors about some next season, too!”
Grammer can’t give me a definitive answer on the release date, but Adult Swim has already promised through official social media accounts that the series will return sometime in 2020.
“They'll be coming sooner than later,” she promises. “There's a lot of pressure for it to be a really excellent show. So why give the audience mediocre episodes? Let's take our time.”
The rest of Rick and Morty Season 4 will air sometime in 2020.
Spencer Grammer is a member of the Inverse Future 50, a group of 50 people who will be forces of good in the 2020s.