Adult Swim’s TCA press tour panel for “Rick and Morty” quickly turned to the psychoanalyzing of Dan Harmon. Harmon’s the executive producer of the new animated show (which premieres in December), and was there with co-creator and writer Justin Roiland, but Harmon’s turbulent history with network television, his firing and rehiring at “Community” and his general tendency to overshare with brutal and sometimes ill-advised honestly on social media (in a way that delights journalists) were generally more alluring than “Rick and Morty,” a quirky (natch) series about the adventures of a mad genius grandfather and his grandson.
Asked first about the differences in terms of network notes between Adult Swim and NBC, Harmon called Adult Swim’s Mike Lazzo “a bona fide actual genius,” meaning that “he has the autonomy and the humility, the mental power to take a script, recognize it as what it is — which is a document, words on paper — then tell you what his reactions were as an individual as he read it… He never says ‘I don’t think people are going to like this.'” “He gives us a note and lets us figure out how to address it,” agreed Roiland. “On the NBC side it’s even better — next question!” Harmon concluded.
But he wasn’t done addressing the differences between the two. “At Adult Swim, we get to do whatever we want. My job is to supposedly protect Justin from the big bad suits, which don’t exist at Adult Swim. I’m actually the guy who’s the agent of compromise. Over at ‘Community,’ it’s not actually that much different. I pitched ‘Community’ because I wanted to do a mainstream network sitcom. It’s a big, complicated machine when you have a giant network like Sony and NBC,” Harmon allowed. “You’re seeing a bunch of crazy stuff on screen in ‘Community'” because, compared to similar studios, “they were incredibly permissive.”
When asked why he wouldn’t just stick to cable given the restrictions placed on anyone working with a big network, Harmon insisted the “constraints come with a different way to reach an audience,” noting that he “grew up on network sitcoms,” and that if they vanish a few decades from now, he wouldn’t forgive himself for not “stepping up to the plate as much as possible: thank god I got a couple licks in there by this time.”
As for how he’s been able to have these dramatic turns in terms of his professional relationships while continuing to work, Harmon joked “I walk with God and he protects me.” “I don’t politic, I lay all my bets with what I can contribute, I surround myself with loyalists and people that I would die for,” he then said with more seriousness. “I would rather die than make bad stuff for people because I’m a terrible dishwasher, I’m a terrible lover and I’m a terrible pet owner, so this is my only recourse to make something I’m proud of.”
Asked whether he can keep his creative voice without saying the things that tend to get him in trouble, he said “pharmaceutical medicine is making leaps every day” before admitting “I don’t want to try.” He spoke of letting out the thoughts that bounce around his skull before they get worse, and if the resulting occasional turmoil (taken out of context, he added, which doesn’t seem entirely fair when one of these incidents involved his own podcast/live show) allows a blogger to get “a couple of clicks on their Bacardi ad,” so be it. “I am on honest ground and that is worth so much.”
As for “Rick and Morty”? Roiland said it’s “very ambitious for an animated show — there’s very little reuse,” while Harmon confessed to learning that some things — like an explosion — can be just as difficult in animation as in live action. The influences cited were “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Doctor Who” and “Back to the Future.” And as for whose fault the “Community” parting was — Harmon is willing to give the divide up black “90/10 in favor of all the richest people everyone who’s powerful and controls things. I’m sure that they meant no harm and they’re really good people.” Whatta guy.