How ‘Rick and Morty’ Creators Animated Trippy ‘Back to the Future’ Riff for Adults (Emmy Watch)

Creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon get darker and more complex—think Philip K. Dick— in Season 2 of the animated sci-fi comedy on Adult Swim.

Rick and Morty

“Rick and Morty”

Adult Swim

While animated sci-fi series “Rick and Morty” began as a hallucinatory “Back to the Future” riff, in its second season on Adult Swim it’s turned more Philip K. Dick in its trippy embrace of alternate realities and alien worlds. Sociopathic scientist Rick Sanchez enlists naive grandson Morty in a series of mind-bending, intergalactic adventures, putting their dysfunctional family in continuous peril.

For creators Justin Roiland (“Adventure Time” voice actor) and Dan Harmon (“Community” creator), the first season was all about the crazy inventions, while the second concentrated more on exploration. “We’re trying to make sure that we never paint ourselves into a corner conquering the nihilism of an infinite universe,” said Harmon.

The comedy is both smart and low-brow with scattered sci-fi and other pop cultural references along with plenty of sex and scatological humor.

The flat animation style, meanwhile, evokes both “The Simpsons” and “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”


“We try to get into the nitty gritty of straight-ahead animation as much as possible, but a lot of times it’s build-based rigging and puppeted characters,” added Roiland, who voices Rick and Morty and was  influenced by “The Secret City,” a space-themed drawing instruction program on PBS hosted by Mark Kisler.

Season 2 highlights included “Total Rickall,” which implanted false memories and introduced fan fave Mr. Poopy Butthole, a Mr. Peanut parody; “Big Trouble In Little Sanchez,” in which Rick assumed a young body to help thwart a vampire threat at his granddaughter’s high school and refused to leave; and “The Ricks Must Be Crazy,” in which Rick and Morty ventured inside the miniature universe of his car and encountered rival scientist Zeep Xanflorp (Stephen Colbert).

“That episode really pulls back the onion layers on Rick’s ship because not only do we get to learn about the battery but also this very advanced AI security system that he’s installed in it,”
Roiland explained.

In Season 3 the series will continue to get darker, like the evolution of “Community,” according to Harmon. “Part of the biggest challenge of a third season show is not smothering these characters with some backstory gimmick such as why Rick drinks,” he said.

Added Roiland: “The second season was about the price of knowing Rick and in the third season we are now starting to explore the infinity of the universe within Rick’s liver.”

Returning to the theme of conquering nihilism, “Underneath people’s fear of everything getting ruined is their suspicion that everything’s fake,” said Roiland. “And from the [broken] pieces you can reveal the fact that there was nothing to worry about —that there actually is, perhaps, love or good and evil or a consciousness to the universe.”

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