[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episode 1, “Mort Dinner Rick Andre.”]
As far as season premiere traditions go, “title character’s hopeless feelings leads him down interdimensional path that ends up with him or his crush absorbing all knowledge of existence” is a good one to stick to. After months away, “Rick and Morty” makes a return with plenty of the show’s hallmarks. Still, as a jump-start to a new season, there’s enough in this time-jumping kickoff to make it feel like much more than a formula.
It starts with a familiar “Rick and Morty” opening: dropping everyone in the middle of an escape from some unexplained mess that the two are barely going to survive. At first it seems like the pair are doomed, with Morty piloting a ship through Earth re-entry minus a steering wheel and some functioning heat shields. But just when all hope seems lost mere minutes into a new season, Morty gets a call from his permacrush Jessica, asking if he’d like to hang out that night.
The power of potential love calls back Morty from the brink, saving him and Rick from a certain fiery death (and cures his black eye by the time the two have made their way home from the crash). When they arrive for what they assume will be a peaceful night of romance and recuperation at the Smith household, they find their evenings ruined in multiple ways by the arrival of Mr. Nimbus (another in a growing list of Rick foils voiced by series co-creator Dan Harmon). A kind of Atlantean mind manipulator bent on controlling more than just life under the ocean, his sudden presence throws off Morty’s date plans and sets a temporal comedy of errors in motion.
To impress Mr. Nimbus, Rick sets up a scheme to age wine in an alternate dimension where time travels much faster: Stash a few bottles on a farm across the rift for a few minutes and come back with drink worthy of a Sea Lord nemesis. Of course, that plan goes sideways awfully quick, as some mistakes in shepherding the wine between worlds inadvertently spiral into the death of a helper, some fast-forwarding shenanigans, the creation of a portal-worshipping cult, and the hypercharged arrival of the singularity.
It’s a welcome regrouping for the show, which last season seesawed between uninspired genre parodies and giant episode swings that built out entire universes in mere minutes. “Mort Dinner Rick Andre” may not have the high highs of snake assassins or story trains, but this is as steady and consistent as “Rick and Morty” has been in a while. Threading together a trio of storylines (Beth and Jerry prepping for a night of passion with Mr. Nimbus gives the show a chance to add a wrinkle to their relationship that goes beyond his incompetence and her frustration), there really isn’t a part of this episode that drags. Everyone has clear objectives for this whole episode, none of which get lost in the millennia’s worth of evolution and destruction happening over the course of the night on the other side of the portal.
Just as Season 4 began with Morty trying to guarantee a life with Jessica and ending up with the ability to see all possible given outcomes, Season 5 begins with Morty trying to guarantee a happy night with Jessica and her ending up with the ability to conceive the fullness of spacetime. It’s a nice little inversion of the final result, even if the paths to get there were markedly different. (Mercifully, this one did not involve any giving birth to dozens of wasp hybrids from their exploding skull.)
And just as last season debuted in the wake of the premiere of “Solar Opposites,” Season 5 arrives in the immediate wake of “Loki,” another project led by a “Rick and Morty” alum. That show’s head writer Michael Waldron (who wrote last season’s toilet-centric episode) is now a steward of the multiverse in the MCU. Watching the first third of that season and this premiere only underlines how much faster and wilder “Rick and Morty” moves than any other show on TV, even if both series use similar-looking gateways between stops on the timeline.
The last bit of odd coincidental timing involves Jim Gaffigan playing the accidental dimension traveler who helps Morty get the wine back and kicks off this entire generations-in-a-split-second tragedy. This is the second of Gaffigan’s animated dads this weekend — he’s also one in the new Pixar film “Luca.” His merdad there is also struggling with a conundrum of how to deal with shifting between worlds, so he seems to have the kindly, mustachioed, bumbling father figure voice down at this point.
The show has always wavered on Summer as a character, and this early hint of her being central to the episode’s success seemed like a welcome one. That she ultimately gets relegated to being the delivery person for the last shell thievery twist is a bit of a letdown, but if this is seeding the idea for more teamups with her as the season goes on, let’s go for it.
The effortless way that “Mort Dinner Rick Andre” hops back and forth between the goofy menace of Mr. Nimbus, the accelerating chaos in Wineland, and the first-date awkwardness playing out in the living room (“Nintendo 69” is gonna be a thing now, isn’t it) makes it less reliant on jokes. But Morty calling out the prospect of meeting an older version of himself in an empty void as “stripped-down Sundance” is a high bar to set for the rest of the season. And, as we’ve noted in the past, it’s always nice when the show acknowledges just how much Rick has destroyed Morty’s teenage years (“I haven’t been to a full week in school in years!”)
“Mort Dinner Rick Andre” reassembles the writer/director team of Jeff Loveness and Jacob Hair, who last combined on “The Vat of Acid Episode,” which went on to snag the show an Emmy. That one felt like a “Rick and Morty” special edition, like “Pickle Rick” and “The Ricklantis Mixup” before it. The show knows how to upend its own expectations, but it’s just as satisfying to see it harness some of the manic sitcom energy it thrives on without having to be a rehashing of some unrelated property.
Rick and Morty have escaped danger in many an episode-ending reset, but Rick being driven away (and not popping back up in the end credits scene) does offer the possibility of the show tackling some longer arcs. Maybe next week’s episode doesn’t revolve entirely around a jailbreak, but if “Rick and Morty” wants to toss in some more serialized stuff into Season 5 instead of trying to constantly outdo itself, that might be a way to keep this early momentum going.
At the very least, the new opening credits sequence ending with a gallery watching Morty make a putt proves the show isn’t out of absurd tricks quite yet.
“Rick and Morty” Season 5 airs Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.