As with all great comedies, the cult cartoon’s cynicism conceals its big heartby John McTernan / October 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
©Adult Swim “Disperse! There is no sauce.” That was what police had to shout to queues of students on campuses across America just over a fortnight ago. The people assembling around McDonalds restaurants were the hippest of the hip. They were fans of cult cartoon Rick and Morty, a programme about a mega-genius inventor and his anxious grandchild who go on adventures together. What these fans wanted was a taste of the limited re-release of Szechuan Sauce—a condiment which had had an initial release in 1998 as a tie in with the Disney movie Mulan but which had featured prominently in the premiere of the third season of this cult cartoon (all three series are available now in the UK on Netflix). It was a slow burn that brought things to this pass. The third season premiered in the US in April. It was a normal episode—featuring inter-dimensional travel, multiple universes, aliens, murder, Mexican stand-offs, family breakdown and more—until the final scene. Rick and Morty are back on Earth and in the garage where most of Rick’s experimental work takes place. Rick launches into a monologue: “And I’ll go out and I’ll find some of that Mulan Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce, Morty. Because that’s what this is all about, Morty. That’s my one-armed man. I’m not driven by avenging my dead family, that was fate. I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget sauce, Morty. That’s my series arc, Morty. If it takes nine seasons. I want my McNugget dipping sauce, Szechuan sauce, Morty. That’s what’s gonna take us all the way to the end Morty. Season nine, nine more seasons, Morty. Nine more seasons until I get that dipping Szechuan sauce. For 97 more years, Morty. I want that McNugget sauce, Morty.” If you have watched the show that style of dialogue will be familiar, if you haven’t then this gives you a flavour of its knowing, transgressive, self-referential style. “In a long horror sequence Rick and Morty hear the villain saying ‘You can run, but you can’t hide!’ and decide that actually they can, and do so successfully” This episode fuelled a social media demand for Szechuan sauce that McDonald’s met—initially cleverly with a special 4lb bottle sent to creator Justin Roiland—and then less adroitly with the limited release on 7th October, which led to disappointed crowds. (A fuller release of Szechuan sauce is forthcoming.) On its own this alternative universe—where a hipster cartoon boosts sales for the most global of brands—is fascinating. Yet Rick and Morty is far more than that: it is undoubtedly one of the greatest creations of the new Golden Age of Television, and if you are missing it, you are missing out. On the face of it, this isn’t a series you would put up against the Departed or the Wire as the peak of modern televisual creativity. It is a crudely drawn cartoon with equally crude lead characters—scientist Rick is a burping, farting alcoholic. Morty is utterly naïve. Yet, it is one of the most intellectually profound and profoundly satisfying television programmes ever made—in this or any other universe. (Which is not surprising when you know that the programme’s co-creator is Dan Harmon, whose Community is another modern classic.) This show brings to life some of the leading edge ideas in physics and philosophy as the heroes—they are that, and not merely protagonists—enjoy (endure?) their adventures. This is not to say it’s too serious, or wears its learning heavily. It plays with TV formats—breaking the fourth wall as they say to viewers they will see them next week and often opening with the end of adventure sequences they never explain. It challenges clichés—in a long horror sequence Rick and Morty hear the villain saying “You can run, but you can’t hide!” and decide that actually they can, and do so successfully. It is also, at times, gloriously filthy—in the best way possible. You’ll have to watch to see that—I’m not going to tell. As a quick glance will reveal, it is a glorious riff on Back To The Future. Morty is Marty and Rick is Doc (an early version was called “The Real Adventures of Doc and Mharti.” Knowing that is not essential to enjoying Rick and Morty, but it does enrich it, as does understanding the scientific and philosophical jokes. But, in the end, as with all great comedies the cynicism—and it is some of the harshest in modern television—conceals a big heart.