Rick and Morty
Justin Roiland has been pumping out a steady stream of off-beat awesomeness for some time now. He's not afraid to push the envelope, and we can definitely respect that. From cease and desist letters from Bill Cosby's lawyers for his House of Cosby's series, to The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti, Roiland is frequently using fantastic humor and creative style to shake things up.
The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti you say? Yep, as you probably guessed, this is the one that laid the ground work for what we've come to know and love as Rick and Morty. If you think about it, Back to the Future isn't that far off; a mad scientist and an impressionable teenager team up and embark on a crazy adventure through space and time.
In 2006 Roiland was let go from his current job, which he described as "intensely creatively stifling." And it must have been, in the months to follow he poured his creativity into a webisode for Channel 101, a non-profit monthly short film festival in LA, co-founded by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab.
The webisode might not be what you expect, and is definitely NSFW. It's a sort of mashup between Back to the Future and the Rick and Morty we know and love, peppered with plenty of vulgar obscenities. It becomes clear that with Roiland working on the project alone, with the ultimate goal of trolling a big studio, we forgo all censorship.
The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti very loosely follows, you guessed it, Doc Brown and Marty McFly, or Doc and Mharti. In the webisode, Doc Brown urges Mharti that the solution to all of his problems is to give him oral sex. The Channel 101 audience thought it was wild, and it is, but it was surprisingly well received. Roiland began creating more shorts of the pair. The shorts quickly evolved beyond their original intentions, but before long the webisodes were put on the back burner. Time passed as Roiland continued his voice acting with Adventure Time and Disney's Fish Hooks, and Harmon continued working on his new series, Community.
Fast forward to 2012; Dan Harmon is fired from Community. Adult Swim is in search of a new prime time show, and approached Harmon shortly after he was fired. Dan had never found Adult Swim to match his particular style, and didn't really have any experience with animation. Harmon phoned up his old friend from Channel 101, Justin Roiland, in hopes he had some ideas for an animated series. He did. Thank heavens he did. Roiland didn't waste any time, and brought up Doc and Mharti immediately; but this time renamed as Rick and Morty.
Doc and Mharti was originally nothing but a few webisodes, and Justin and Dan had originally thought they might bang it out in 11 minute short episodes. Adult Swim, however, had other plans in mind, and stipulated that they must be half hour episodes. With not much of a story to go off, Harmon suggested they create a family around Rick and Morty for some filler. It was actually Nick Weidenfeld, a development exec at Adult Swim, who suggested Rick be Morty's grandfather.
With the idea of what we today know as Rick and Morty, the two settled in on the floor of Harmon's still unfinished Paramount Pictures office from Community, crossed their legs, opened their laptops, and wrote the entire first draft in just six hours. It's hard to believe so much genius could come out of just six hours of binge writing; although, not to discredit, Justin Roiland has definitely been playing with this idea for some time now. The Harmon and Roiland combination may be one of the greatest comedic genius writing duos to ever walk the face of Earth C-137. A bold statement, I know, but certainly well deserved; and realistically, if you've read this far into Rick and Morty, you're likely not here to dispute it either.
Interestingly enough, Justin Roiland voices both Rick and Morty, and if you haven't seen his Rick Sanchez method acting, it's definitely worth the watch. Roiland gets drunk and frankly, a little belligerent, to ensure he captures the truest version of Rick. Yes, the belches are all real. Roiland has considered his Rick voice to be "a horrible Doc Brown manic impression".
Adult Swim wasn't too sure about Roiland voicing both characters, especially with how underdeveloped Morty was at the time. It wasn't until Dan and Justin submitted some revised plot developments, resulting in a more prominently voiced Morty, that Adult Swim's repeated groans turned into yeses.
Let's dive right into the pilot. It reeks of Back to the Future. It doesn't take long for Rick to cast himself in Doc Brown's image, and although Morty isn't quite the cool kid Marty, you can't deny the striking resemblancen of the pair. Rick quickly asserts himself as an alcoholic genius, and is certainly a bad influence on his innocent teenager grandson. The story casts off with Morty in some trouble at school, for missing half a semester while on adventures with his grandfather. Morty won't be aloud to go out with Rick anymore, so Rick devises a plan to help Morty catch up on his grades.
Not only does the show mimic a ton of other fantastic pop culture, they manage to maintain a high level of originality. From Freddy Krueger's Scary Terry, to a anatomical parody of Jurassic Park the series does a fine job of touching in past pop successes, bringing a touch of familiarity to an already edgy series.
The series doesn't just parody other pop culture, and has certainly gained a following of its own. At the end of the second season, Rick gets nostalgic about a long discontinued Mulan Szechuan Sauce. Rick proclaims he'll have the sauce brought back, even if it takes 10 more seasons. The episode generated so much traction, swarms of fans began demanding McDonald's bring the sauce back into production, both online and in store. After a slough of incidents between fans and less than thrilled McDonald's staff, the restaurant giant finally buckled under the pressure and released a limited edition come back for the now infamous sauce. Although McD's may have given in to end the unfortunate occurrences of demanding fans in restaurants, they were able to spin the situation into one of the most creative marketing campaigns of any restaurant. To kick off the re-release McD's sent Roiland a few liters of the sauce, along with a personalized note, packaged up in a pelican style case, appropriately marked C-1998M.
Surely some pop culture references and edgy dialogue can't be the only reason for the show's success. Maybe we see a little bit of ourselves, consciously or not, in our favorite intergalactic septuagenarian. Dan Harmon stated that "we’ve all been Rick. But Rick really does have bigger fish to fry than anybody. He understands everything better than us. So you give him the right to be jaded and dismissive and narcissistic and sociopathic"
If you're interested in learning a little more about the original shorts, you can watch them on Vimeo
Thanks for making it to the end. We'll be sure to throw down more Rick and Morty lore soon. Sadly, we've got a ways to go before season four drops.