(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Rick and Morty. If you do not want this wonderful show spoiled in any way, then stop reading, binge-watch it and return.)
While wandering around the internet for something to write about I stumbled upon an article written by Philip Bunn of The Federalist. The article, titled "'Rick And Morty' Is Incredibly Depressing And Doesn’t Deserve Its Popularity," linked here, is a breakdown of the flaws that the writer found with #RickandMorty.
While one's opinion is obviously their own, mine is the only reason I'm writing this article. I believe that Mr. Bunn might have missed a few things about the show in his assessment. His argument is one not unique. Despite my best efforts to persuade quite a few of my friends, they still just "don't get why the show is funny," which is fine. However, as this is the internet, I will be telling all of you why I believe Bunn is wrong.
Headers are quite convenient, aren't they? They provide a clear distinction between argumentative points. Thankfully, Mr. Bunn's article included them. They are listed below:
- Rick and Morty Is Interesting, But Lacks Narrative Depth
- The Show's 'Alternative Universes' Make It Shallow
- Existential Pessimism Can Create Interesting Stories
- How Has The Show Earned Such Stunning Popularity?
Before I begin my argument I would like to state that I don't think Rick and Morty to be a perfect show. But interestingly enough I would say that some of my favorite facets of the show are its narrative depth and the interesting complexity that the alternate universes reveal.
The Narrative Depth Of 'Rick And Morty'
I can understand where Mr. Bunn comes from. The show, similarly to a show like It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, seems to place very little emphasis on carrying narratives through several episodes. As Mr. Bunn points out:
In no less than three episodes, it appears that something significant has happened [in Beth and Jerry's marriage] that will help them build something like a healthy relationship going forward. However, each subsequent episode resumes the old shtick of a crumbling marriage as if nothing in the prior episode had happened.
He finds this to be a flaw (merely a comedic ploy) and, while it might be just that, I think it to be something different. Here comes the beauty of art: Everyone is due their own opinion.
I believe that Beth and Jerry consistently show no gains in their marriage because of who they are, not just because the show needs new situations.Beth, in the most basic sense, feels as if she's settled for Jerry — he's an idiot who got her pregnant. Her constant feeling of "what if" is something that was addressed heavily in the episode "Rixty Minutes." At the end of the episode, Beth and Jerry have reconciled, making the episode an example that Mr. Bunn cites.
Even though it does make clear strides towards rebuilding their marriage, it still falls apart. It is undeniable to state that Beth and Jerry's main purpose is to fill the half of the episode not centered on Rick and Morty. It is overwhelmingly clear that within Rick and Morty the two main characters are, well, Rick and Morty. Yet, if this story were to truly have no narrative depth, then Rick and Morty (more predominantly Rick) would never have an impact on Beth and Jerry.
Creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon wouldn't bother with Beth and Jerry at all if the show's narratives were as fleeting as Mr. Bunn claims. I would argue that the only reason the marriage is affected at all, both positively and negatively, is because of Rick.
This reinforces the disconnectedness of story events and the insignificance of any character development.
The quote above is the final line in Mr. Bunn's penultimate paragraph in his section regarding the alternate universes, and the continuation of the above quote. The fact that Rick so constantly affects the lives of the family is something that is played out throughout the series as a whole.
Throughout both of the seasons, Beth has tried her best to reconnect with her father. It is really the only reason that she truly remains with Jerry. She might use the moments of reconciliation as her excuse, but, in reality, it is so that she doesn't miss out on an opportunity to reconnect with her father.
And, because her remaining with Jerry has absolutely nothing to do with Jerry, all of his attempts to rebuild the marriage will inevitably be fruitless. As I said above, Beth and Jerry definitely serve the comedic purpose of filling half the episodes, but they are fully developed characters — and that fact matters to the show.
They both have insecurities, desires, and wishes of a much better life — just like every single one of us. In the final episode of Season 2, "The Wedding Squanchers," Rick leaves. The audience knows why Rick left, but Beth and the rest of the family do not.
As they return from tiny Earth to full-sized Earth, the characters's emotions can be seen rather clearly. Jerry is happy. Why? An in-depth analysis is not required: Rick is gone. Now that Rick is gone, Jerry believes that he can finally have the full attention from Beth, the one he loves. It wasn't about getting Rick out of the house; he doesn't want an extra mouth to feed — he wants his wife back.
Morty and Summer look as would be expected. They loved their grandfather and they're pissed that he's left them again; that all the faith they'd put into him was for naught. Beth is the most telling. She's somewhere between sadness and disbelief. Rick left her again — the one thing that she feared the most. Not only is she once again left without a father, but she now has no reason to remain with her family. Well, no reason other than the hope of Rick's return.
How is it that I can know all of that? How can I know what each character is thinking?They certainly didn't say it in that moment? The answer is character development. It's one of the key things in any story — even stories that lack any real narrative depth.
One such example is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The characters slowly devolve into larger caricatures of what they were intended to be throughout the series. Outside of the outrageous humor, it is the one thing that keeps the show's high standard of entertainment going.
With Rick and Morty, one might write the show's narrative depth off as soon as they get one glimpse of its humor.
However, the sincerely funny moments are weighed down by ubiquitous bathroom humor.
Not all of the humor is bathroom humor, just as the whole show isn't about humor. The narrative of the show is based around one man who thinks himself infallible through his seemingly boundless intelligence, his grandkids that strive for love and recognition from at least one member of their family, and two parents that are so painfully selfish and ignorant that they ignore their own kids. If all of that is missed, I can see how one wouldn't notice any narrative depth.
The Affect Of The Alternate Universes
The effects of the alternate universes within the show are rarely more pronounced and clear than in Episode 8 of Season 1, "Rixty Minutes." At one point in the episode Summer wants to run away and Morty rushes to her to convince her to stay. His reason, as he shows Summer the graves of dead Morty and Rick?
"Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody is going to die."
Mr. Bunn uses the same instance, Rick and Morty's insertion into a different timeline, in his article. Except, he didn't take it as I did:
…Rick and Morty travel to another timeline and replace a dead Rick and Morty pair with little consequence.
Within the overall arc of the story, there is little consequence in terms of plot — Rick and Morty continue on with their adventures. But this scene, as early as the first season, establishes that there are a very large consequences. Morty has to live every day, "[eating] breakfast 20 yards away from my own rotting corpse."
Again, I can understand why Mr. Bunn might write this off. If one were to go into this show merely thinking it to be a cartoon with no narrative depth, it could be ignored as just a plot point — that Morty doesn't really believe this — but merely something to progress the story.
If the show were as Mr. Bunn thinks it to be, Summer could have easily just run away and returned the next episode. In reality, Roiland and Harmon had Morty rely upon the relationship that he and Summer built over the course of the show to move the plot on. And it works — Summer remains.
Why was Morty able to do this? Because of the alternate universes and the depth they bring. Rick and Morty wouldn't be Rick and Morty without the alternate universes. Because the show relies so heavily on them, their effect runs deeply.
Morty and Rick's characters — and increasingly Summer's as the show goes on — are defined by their experiences with the alternate universes. In his past, they had made Rick callous and shallow.
Mr. Bunn believes that:
The ability to change, fix, redo, prevent, and ignore almost anything that has happened is a convenient device for creating new absurd comedic situations. However, it has the side effect of numbing the viewer to any real attachment to characters that can be easily replaced by alternate timeline versions whenever necessary.
In truth, and most likely inadvertently, he has described Rick's entire mentality. Furthermore, it is an attitude that both the audience and even Rick have come to hate. Rick turned himself in at the end of the second season because he knew it to be the right thing to do. He wouldn't ever admit it, but it is true.
Rick might revel in being the smartest man in the multiverse, and he might take immense pride in his ability to travel between the universes, but the apparent frivolity of it all gets to him as well. In fact, Mr. Bunn's statement that the alternate universes make the show shallow is objectively incorrect — it gives the show most of its depth.
It defines the character of Rick, who is a far more complex character than Mr. Bunn would acknowledge. Even though the show is filled with potty humor and other black comedy, it is most importantly a show about Rick and Morty. Actually, it is a show about how Morty's life is affected by Rick and all that comes with it.
For a show that ostensibly seeks to develop complex characters and an engaging story, this is a significant flaw. “Rick and Morty” strives to be placed in a different category than frivolous, episodic long-running comedy shows like “Family Guy,” but its own philosophy prevents it from achieving that goal.
Now, I have not seen much of Family Guy, but I would imagine that if I were to watch Rick and Morty as sporadically as I watch Family Guy I would be more in line with Mr. Bunn's way of thinking. I do not know how he was able to misinterpret the significance of the alternate universes and their realities.
He notes that the alternate universes have "the ability to change, fix, redo, prevent and ignore almost anything that has happened." This is something that Rick knows all too well in the show, but it doesn't seem that Mr. Bunn goes any deeper than this.
In the ending of Season 2, there is a shot of Rick looking at a picture of Birdperson and Squanchy. They were two of his friends that he had fought alongside, and it must have been devastating to watched them die at Birdperson's wedding. It certainly couldn't have been easy to see Squanchy sacrifice himself for Rick and his family.
As "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails plays somberly in the background, Rick knows that friends and relationships that are built and created cannot be changed, fixed, redone, prevented and ignored. In fact, they cannot be easily replaced by alternate timeline versions whenever necessary. They are the one finite thing in a place of infinite realities.
That is quite a bit of depth brought by something that doesn't "make up for the vapidity of the overall story." Rick and Morty might be awash in nihilistic philosophy, but the true depth comes from the characters and their experiences within the alternate universes.
In Regards To Mr. Bunn's Third Point
The opening lines of his third section are below:
Morty boils down the lessons he’s learned from his adventures with Rick in the episode “Rixty Minutes,” where he exclaims, “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
While the inconsistent story, distracting do-overs, and meaningless choices are internally consistent with characters that find themselves in a chaotic universe and react accordingly, they do not appeal to a viewer who desires meaningful choices and significant character development.
It is in these two paragraphs where our two opinions, and most likely the opinions of those that like the show and do not like the show, diverge.
Mr. Bunn puts almost no weight into what Morty is saying. He fails to note the Morty's emphasis and the situation that he was in. Whether he did that to save space or because he missed it, it seems as if he is merely doing himself a disservice. That line is the climax of the moment, and the episode itself is based almost entirely around character development.
Jerry and Beth further show themselves and the viewers why it is that they truly think they are with each other and why they are actually with each other. It is revealed that Morty has fully embraced the devastating truth of Rick's philosophy to the point where he believes he needs to use it to keep his sister — the one family member that he can truly talk to — from running away. By divulging the truth, he's given the burden of the alternate universes to Summer just as Rick did to him.
One of the most surprising things that Mr. Bunn says is that the "glimpses into the depths of Rick’s mental illness and regret are quickly overshadowed by the show’s own narrative devices." He also mentioned Beth's teen pregnancy as showing potential.
And as someone that enjoyed the show, I am glad that those two serious topics weren't broached in every episode. I like the episodes that are filled with potty jokes and other dark forms of humor. The episodes that incorporate both are the ones that separate themselves as being the best.
One episode that stands out is the episode "Auto Erotic Assimilation." The title is right down the show's alley in terms of humor. As the show goes on, and Rick comes to grips with just how destructive he is — offset by the hilarious adventures of Morty and Summer, and Beth and Jerry — the show takes a darker turn, even ending with Rick trying to kill himself.
The moment hits hard, and as the song "Do You Feel It?" plays, Rick first kills a rather disgusting monster crying for help before he turns his device onto himself. It was a moment that served as an ending to an episode that captured everything the show was about. It was equally as depressing as it was funny. I would say that any story that can balance such polar opposites would be an interesting one.
At The End Of The Day
How did the show earn its popularity? Simply put: For the things that I listed above, and whatever other aspects are people's personal favorites — art is subjective. My opinion, no matter how much weight I put into it, isn't objective. I might think Mr. Bunn to be wrong, and if he ever gives this a read he might think me to be wrong as well.
As For His Title?
"'Rick and Morty' Is Incredibly Depressing And Doesn't Deserve Its Popularity."
His final thoughts are below:
I can’t help but think that the stunning popularity of a show proclaiming the insignificance of all our lives and choices says something troubling about pop culture. But what exactly it says, I’m not sure.
Despite its flaws, 'Rick and Morty' is not irredeemable. There are nuggets throughout the show that could potentially be pulled together to create some coherent resolution. The third season airs this summer, and for all my criticisms, I look forward to keeping up with it and seeing where the story goes. I hope it proves me wrong, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter either way.
He is right; it doesn't matter that much. Rick and Morty is a TV show. It really isn't a problem that he dislikes the show, but just as he can say it doesn't deserve its popularity, I can say that it deserves a whole lot more popularity than it has.
What do you think about this argument? Let me know in the comments below.