Rick and Morty is Fast, Dense, and Fascinating

Rick and Morty has only one eleven-episode season so far, but it’s on its way to being my new favorite cartoon. Film Crit Hulk has a great article calling it the best show on TV, citing its incredibly dense episodes, and the show’s ability to take its jokes and scenarios to their furthest possible reaches in a way that no other show has managed. I completely agree with everything in that article, but I want to expand on it a bit.

See, Rick and Morty is a sci-fi comedy series about the titular duo travelling through space-time on all kinds of wacky adventures. What makes it special to me though is how, perhaps more than anything else I’ve seen, Rick and Morty truly appreciates the gravity of the idea that there are INFINITE possibilities.

Other shows play around with these concepts, and if there’s a show that makes for quickest comparison to Rick and Morty, it’s probably Futurama, which is a similarly colorful and fun adventure show with a strong undercurrent of empathetic and endearing storylines. But in comparison, Futurama feels like it’s playing normal mode, while Rick and Morty’s kicked it up to Dante Must Die.

The show cuts right to the heart of existentialism like a hot knife through butter. Where a show like Futurama might use a dramatic scenario to prove a point about existence, Rick and Morty will slap you across the face with an existential crisis every other minute and ask why the hell you’re lagging behind. To pick one moment that perfectly captures the presentation of this show, in the first episode, in the middle of a chase, Morty crashes into an alien huka with a fetal alien inside. While still running, he pukes up the green alien slime, which ages from infancy to death in a span of a couple seconds–at which Rick says, “don’t think about it,” and the chase continues.

What’s really incredible is that we even understand what’s happening, and the show holds together. It pushes unshakable truths in our faces while thrusting us headlong into the infinite unknown of a universe where every possibility is reality. It bounces between soul-crushingly poignant moments like it’s never satisfied. And that’s exactly what it should do when the main character is the universe’s greatest genius, who’s been everywhere and done everything.

If there’s one show that really has some answering to do at Rick and Morty’s feet, it’s the Doctor Who series, which Rick and Morty was partially modeled after. It makes the idea of a sci-fi adventure show wherein the aliens always act like people, and half the stories take place in London, seem like a giant waste of time. Someone once said that Doctor Who features an inordinate amount of running, but its heart rate must just be slower than Rick’s cause he can’t sit still for a second (unless he’s surfing the infinite channels of multiverse TV).

You know, it’s one thing to have the Doctor: a creature who preaches empathy, always trying not to let anyone die and acting like the permanent good cop; but I think there’s something even more gripping about Rick’s attitude of understanding how people work, and wishing the best, but not giving a single fuck about anything that impedes his way. After all, if you’ve come to terms with the pointlessness of existence, the inevitability of death, and the scope of the universe, why bother with anything but mindless self indulgence? Not to the detriment of self or others, but in the hopes that others can be a part of the fun?

If one thing holds Rick’s manic character together, it’s that underlying heart–his very real desire to have everyone be as cool and crazy and smart as he is. He gets aggravated with others easily, but it’s only because he’s always right–and he knows that’s hard to deal with for others, but there’s nothing he can do about it. We hardly feel sympathy for his son-in-law Jerry, who’s constantly picked on by the show and yet somehow always seems to earn it–and that’s how we find ourselves in Rick’s shoes. Through our frustration with Jerry, we understand Rick’s perspective towards the world at large, and why he’s chosen to laugh it all away.

This show gets to some really powerful messages and never undersells or undercuts them; but it also never dwells on them. You won’t get a sentimental heart-string grabber with this one, just a constant barrage of punches that you’ve gotta roll with. And god damn, is it satisfying to roll along, and embrace that chaos, darkness, fun, and happiness, all at once.

Space Dandy Is Absurd(ly Fun) (S1 Finish)

In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between (a) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (b) the human inability to find any.

Narratively, Space Dandy is, perhaps more than anything, a theater of the absurd. Any time it approaches the illusion of meaning, it is quick to break that down. There are maybe two episodes with clear messages to them, and both are mostly about how life is a pointless repetitive cycle of sitting around. In its second-to-last episode, Dandy has an existential crisis at the realization that he may or may not be the original Space Dandy, but he quickly gets over it when he realizes how pointless it is to keep asking himself. As the opening theme puts it “life is five minutes of introspection.”

The grand finale is one big, epic love story about a vacuum cleaner who falls for a coffee maker, turns into a giant robot, fights a giant battle, wins nothing, and ostensibly kills himself by drinking coffee. He’ll be back in season 2. Whether its in the face of an epic, dramatic struggle full of Bones doing the style of animation they do best and Yoko Kanno providing the moving score that she’s known for, or just in the face of Space Dandy’s crew bumming around, nothing really matters and nothing ever changes. There is no inherent meaning to anything, and Space Dandy is entirely aware of this. It has nothing to prove, really–it’s just a fun show about a dandy guy in space. And its well aware of what it is.

The Book’s Just Writing Itself, Jon (Space Dandy ep. 11)

I think there’s more that this episode is trying to say than what I was actually able to comprehend, but in the midst of its confusion, I caught some cool ideas about the nature of what a book, or any other work of art, is.

In this episode, a book-type alien is the curator of the universe’s largest library. In a way, every work of art is a curation of the influences that go into making it. This could never be more true than it is of Shinichiro Watanabe adventure shows, which are always an amalgamation of styles and influences from all over the art spectrum. Each of his shows is a curated library of other works.

We also learn that the book-type alien cannot move, think, or act on its own, but actually possesses others to do those things for it. This makes a pretty fascinating sci-fi take on how art happens, especially when you think of how many writers claim that they don’t really create a story so much as allow it to manifest and live on its own. This is a literalization of that idea–the book is seriously writing itself.

Tomorrow Never Comes In Space Dandy ep. 10

Space Dandy is usually far too broad to really be called a parody, and it doesn’t have a ton of direct references, but damn if there weren’t a number of them in episode 10. That is definitely a Guncannon with GaoGaiGar’s head inside of it. That is definitely Galaga. In a really obscure reference, Space Dandy pulling a rocket launcher out from behind his back looks exactly like the insane final scene of the Takashi Miike film Dead or Alive, which kind of blew my mind. There’s also a rap about using Yahoo Answers, which slayed me as someone who regularly seems to find answers to random questions there.

Anyways, this episode is the most blatant yet about its message. Meow’s planet is obviously just modern small-town Japan, and his whole hang-up is over wanting to not stagnate living a normal life in a one-horse town. But, as we’ll have already known before the end of the episode spells it out for us, the Dandy crew really just sit around and do the same old shit anyways. In one scene, Dandy declares that, “if tomorrow won’t come, [he'll] just have to chase after it!” But he’s only so desperate to escape this planet so he can go to Boobies, which he does all the time. If anything, he’s chasing after yesterday.

Even though Dandy says to Meow in this episode that “the things we don’t want are the things that happen,” I don’t think Space Dandy is a particularly pessimistic show. It recognizes the laziness and lack of ambition of humanity, but it relishes in the minutia of the every day. It’s less about chasing a big goal or trying to do something totally unique and different, and more about appreciating the things that make the everyday an adventure in itself. After all, no matter how ridiculous the scenarios in this show are, the effects that they have on the characters are pretty much the same. This is a show that is always reliving a new version of the same day, and tomorrow never comes.