In just a handful of seasons, “Rick and Morty” has gone from a relatively modest riff on interdimensional travel to a cultural force big enough to sustain an entire warehouse worth of merch possibilities. So far, these episodes have found its two central characters unleashing destruction on a galactic scale and — in their best-case scenarios — just barely managing to get things close to normal again. Along the way, they’ve managed to rope the rest of their immediate family into the ever-escalating mayhem.
The mythology of this Adult Swim mainstay gets deeper by the chapter, not just with the unlikely grandfather/grandson team, but the flurry of details that whoosh by as they meet new characters of various sizes, species, and forms of matter. So, with a dense back catalogue to sift through, one big question remains: Where’s the best place to start?
So, in a constant quest to help newcomers to the show find the ideal entry point into the series (and to prove to everyone the microverse car battery episode is vastly under-appreciated), we’ve collected every installment of the show and assembled them in a vaguely scientific ranking. Just so this isn’t a completely knee-jerk emotional exercise, we’ve also added a little bit of context to explain why each episode deserves its place in the show’s hierarchy.
And let’s be honest: 94 percent of the people who clicked on this story have already skipped down to see where “Pickle Rick” is, so let’s skip the pleasantries, say “Chuddily duddily ho ho ho!” and get to the list.
(We’ll continue to update this list as new episodes make their way to air. For each episode, we’ve also tossed in our picks for each episode’s best quote, some of which singlehandedly moved up their respective episodes a slot or two.)
“Rick & Morty” was always going to do “Alien” at some point. Apart from adding on a Mars Attacks Ex Machina, recasting Rick as an aggro conspiracy theory YouTuber, giving Summer a reign as an accidental empress of a planet of parasitic creatures, this is as straightforward a genre template as the show gets. Where this episode continually impresses is the massive scale of this civilization…at least until it’s all annihilated by Gundam swords and the Space Cruiser’s secret weapons cache. Is it all gratuitous? Of course. But when all else fails, “Rick & Morty” usually gives a feast for the eyeballs. (Also worth noting: When the two head back to the planet to pick up Summer, their plates of pancakes are on the dashboard. In this world, not even an interplanetary rescue mission can stand in the way of finishing breakfast.)
Best Quote: ”I know! It’s like, pick a lane: Are you face huggers or industrialists?” – Rick
This probably isn’t the least-entertaining “Rick and Morty” episode, but it’s the one that has been most undercut by other episodes doing its standout elements better. Playing with reality as an illusion, nefarious alien entities trying to wrestle technological secrets away from Rick, and Jerry watching an alternate reality crumble around him have all been utilized elsewhere to stronger effect. But this still has a solid David Cross performance and “My man!” never gets old, no matter how many times the episode returns to it. Some “Rick and Morty” episodes are simply a collection of disparate, amusing component parts, and that’s OK.
Best Quote: ”You’re missing the point, Morty. Why would he drive a smaller toaster with wheels? Does your car look like a smaller version of your house? No.” – Rick
Now that we’re well acquainted with some of the intricacies of this particular multiverse, it’s hard to believe that a gathering of Ricks was once a surprise for the show. But even with introducing the bevy of Citadel-bound alternate Ricks, it’s hard not to get over just how weird the rest of this episode is. Seeing a wall full of tortured Mortys is just as unsettling is any mutant Cronenberg, and the farewell Keyser Soze moment of a vengeful rogue Morty disappearing into the crowd is a fun twist on some of the other end-of-episode resets. But above all, let’s all take a second to appreciate the unadulterated commitment to the bit that the chair-pizza-phone combo deserves and gets. The rule of threes has rarely been so satisfying.
Best Quote: “So a few thousand versions of me had the ingenious idea of banding together like a herd of cattle or a school of fish, or… those people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers.” – Rick
This show’s guest star balance is a precarious thing. Sometimes, all the glory goes to the newcomers and the Smiths’ contributions just seem empty by comparison. So as much as Liam Cunningham and Matthew Broderick add their own delightfully odd seasoning to this D&D riff, it’s the most forgettable of the first-half Season 4 batch. The show’s trolling of people’s desire for 90’s pop-culture ephemera, Jerry’s ever-expanding pitifulness, and the soul-bonding gag all have a bit of an autopilot feel to them. Still, it’s absolutely 15 times funnier that the talking cat’s mouth doesn’t move and the non-reveal reveal of its intergalactic war crimes works as a tiny self-contained short on its own.
Best Quote: “Power of Twelve Feet!” – The Wizard
Regardless of where this lands on the list, it’s hard to deny how much fun the animation team has with this Voltron setup. Tinkering with the rainbow-colored activation and the mechanical ferrets bounding out of volcanoes, there’s palpable glee radiating off the screen. The mashup with the Organized Crimeiverse stories, loosely borrowing from Scorsese and Scarface, is a muddy-enough proposition. Trying to layer on some satire about cultural appropriation while going back to the “multiple, slightly different versions of everyone in the Smith family” well just ensures that this one gets pulled in too many directions. Yet, for every on-the-nose, off-brand version of “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” there is a gun that shoots lasers out of a modified Rick mouth while it half-heartedly shouts “Bangbangbangbangbang.” Balance in all things.
Best Quote: “Morty, we’re not attractive strangers next to you on a flight to Paris, traveling alone to get over a breakup, so this is no time to be coy!” – Jerry
Has anyone had more fun playing the Devil than Alfred Molina? (Him singing along with some fierce violin playing indicates “no.”) The rapid fire O. Henry-ish set-ups of cursed charms ends up being a little more fleeting than the premise hints at, but this episode does provide some of the shows most GIF-able moments: Rick setting fire to his trinket-cleansing store and a bulked-up Rick and Summer pummeling some Nazis, to name a few. Sprinkled in among the inventive new ways to curse at unsuspecting customers, we get a tiny glimpse into what Rick is like when he’s really lonely and that he may have more affection for his immediate family than he lets on.
Best Quote: “Some voids can’t be filled with Jamba Juice…” – Mr. Goldenfold (Close runner-up: him gleefully shouting “I haven’t learned a thiiiiiiiing!” as he exits the store after Rick cures him.)
An episode that’s a testament to all the different horse-civilization terms you can come up with if you really put your mind to it. The horse half is the only one that really works here, but if you’re going to be beholden to blockbusters from the ‘90s for major plot points, you could do worse visually than people riding sentient sperm on a mission to save Las Vegas from total destruction. And actually, with a well-crafted trebuchet joke and a new catchphrase, there’s still plenty here to like.
Best Quote: “I always knew your hormones would cause a world war between humans and cannibalistic horse people, I just didn’t know it would be like this.” – Rick
Let’s get one thing clear: Werner Herzog deserved an Emmy for this. Both halves of this episode have their share of laughs, such as Jerry fighting back and forth on whether to sacrifice a specific part of himself for the good of the universe and a Jan Michael Vincent-heavy reboot of “Rixty Minutes.” The two never quite mesh all the way (Rick’s “We pretty much nailed it the first time…” says it best), but the non-Herzog guests are also stellar. (How has Gary Cole never been the star of his own medical drama?) And some extra plumbus knowledge always comes in handy.
Best Quote: It isn’t a quote, but Justin Roiland laughing at his improv in both of the cable episodes is pretty delightful. (Oh, and the whispered “Lil’ Bits.“)
A fun superhero team-up gets inverted when they face the biggest enemy possible: a drunk, nihilistic Rick. Morty gets the chance to play hero, but this is another episode that’s been more satisfying in slightly different iterations. Much like “Pickle Rick,” there’s a shocking amount of detail in the Rube Goldberg experiments that come before each of the Vindicators’ untimely horrific deaths. Even if this felt like a slight missed opportunity to truly upend the superhero squad subgenre, it still did give us the absolute delight that is Lance Reddick as Alan Rails. Toss in Gillian Jacobs’ brilliant Supernova monotone and you have an ideal example of why the more pedestrian “Rick and Morty” episodes have more to offer than most shows’ alternatives.
Best Quote: “Really, you don’t say? You would’ve used a ghost train? Hey, everybody, the ghost train guy would have used a ghost train.” – Rick
A solid revisiting of the multiple Ricks concept, this also doubles as a half-hour refresher course for anyone who’d been away from the show for a few years. There’s daring, there’s danger, there’s a few Shoney’s jokes. Still, it’s almost impossible to separate this episode from the way it was released, appearing out of nowhere as every fan’s April Fools’ fever dream. The lasting impact of the Galactic Federation showed that the series wasn’t going for a hard reset and that it wouldn’t simply explain away the psychological toll that Rick’s actions have visited upon his family. But naturally, to cut through the interdimensional dread, it also unwittingly sparked a craze for impossible-to-find ‘90s Disney promotional fast food dipping sauce. Six of one.
Best Quote: “Okay, have fun in what’s left of my brain. I’m gonna transfer to yours. Oh, there’s not enough room for all my genius, so I’m leaving you with my fear of wicker furniture, my desire to play the trumpet, my tentative plans to purchase a hat, and six years of improv workshops. Comedy comes in threes.” – Rick
The show hasn’t shied away from showing Rick and Morty’s toxic side, but looking at the two’s codependent relationship while splitting them up for an entire episode is a savvy self-imposed challenge. The Rick half of the episode gets to play around in the always fruitful “devious animal” sandbox with Rick training a few crows to prove a point. (Season 5 really proves how this show can make non-verbal animals surprisingly expressive!) Morty’s half takes the “how have they never done this premise yet” idea of a walking, sentient portal, proving that in the grand scheme of things, Rick might not be the worst person to be saddled with. There are some pneumatic tubes, another memorable entry into the show’s ranks of Terrifying Character Deaths, and a pretty great Tennis song at the end to cap it all off. Everybody wins! (Except for Garbage Goober.)
Best Quote: “Bird….quaaludes…” – Two Crows
Make a show about a genius scientist and before long, it’ll be brimming with God Complexes. Not only does this episode benefit from bringing the whole Smith family along for the ride, it makes the journey less about survival and what gets created in each person’s own image. Yes, the episode ends with everyone learning a lesson, but all Jerry really wants to do is skip rocks and roast some marshmallows. (This episode really fills out the rest of the “Rick & Morty” Main Characters Unwittingly Becoming Leaders of a Fledgling Civilization punch card.) It’s a classic five-way “be careful what you wish for” tale, one with arguably too much Zeus-punching. Beyond that, it shows how much this family starts to absorb each other’s anxieties the more time they spend with each other.
Best Quote: “I am! I am!” – The Clay Children
Up next: Armothy, a little purging, and the garage monologue that kicked everything off