Cartoon Crush: Understanding Rick Sanchez

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A little while back a meme went around Facebook in the form of a self-referential teasing passage of text, claiming that Rick and Morty fans were superior to everyone else just on the basis that they watched the show. It read:

“To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. The humour is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of theoretical physics most of the jokes will go over a typical viewer’s head. There’s also Rick’s nihilistic outlook, which is deftly woven into his characterisation- his personal philosophy draws heavily from Narodnaya Volya literature, for instance. The fans understand this stuff; they have the intellectual capacity to truly appreciate the depths of these jokes, to realise that they’re not just funny- they say something deep about LIFE. As a consequence people who dislike Rick & Morty truly ARE idiots- of course they wouldn’t appreciate, for instance, the humour in Rick’s existential catchphrase “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub,” which itself is a cryptic reference to Turgenev’s Russian epic Fathers and Sons. I’m smirking right now just imagining one of those addlepated simpletons scratching their heads in confusion as Dan Harmon’s genius wit unfolds itself on their television screens. What fools.. how I pity them. 😂

Memes are memes, and this one is as dead as any other that has been around for more than a few months, but if you look past the douchyness of it all – and while I certainly don’t claim to know the workings of Narodnaya Volya – I can still say that they’re not entirely wrong when they say that the show certainly is conceptually advanced when compared to other cartoons; such as my recent look at Family Guy and its redundancy.

The Rick and Morty addict-esque fandom aside, the series most definitely is bright and intelligent with its sense of humour. Science and nihilism are mixed and blended in to a (presumably very alcoholic) cocktail with ease every episode, and the characters remain pretty rounded individuals without being overwhelmed by the fantastic world(s) of their side characters. Pretty neat for a show that could have easily ended up as nothing more than some Back To The Future afterthought.

long ass day rick and morty

As impressive as factors such as the voice-acting talent are on show, for me, the success of Rick and Morty is down to series co-creator Dan Harmon. Rick and Morty gives us your atypical American dream of a nuclear family – something so quintessentially sitcom – but the true majesty comes when adding Rick to it. Better yet, the power of Harmon’s writing is to be able to make Rick Sanchez not only, yes, an asshole – but one that you actually want to follow and watch week after week.

“You just about managed to destroy everyone today. The villains, the heroes, the lines between them, my childhood…” – Morty

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Rick is a flawed, borderline evil monster with a drinking problem. He crudely knocks people down (literally and figuratively) on a regular basis by showing them their own disappointing reality. He’s depressed, and often suicidal, and takes most of these personality traits out on his grandson. All of these characteristics could easily sink to the depths of cliché, and yet instead, Rick is hysterical.

He’s a refreshingly no-nonsense anti-hero that slots rather well into our current ERROR 404 internet age of cynicism. Despite this universe being inhabited by deadly viruses, mutants, evil aliens and bounty hunters, Rick Sanchez remains pretty much the biggest threat to anyone, including himself. For a moment, just think of if Rick weren’t even in the show – I’m sure that Morty and the Smith family would be functioning; if not even maybe “happy”. It comes to something when offscreen, on occasion, the voice of Rick, Justin Roiland himself, has recorded his lines completely drunk.

Rick is the business model of every self-absorbed piece of shit

At his lowest level Rick’s character acts as the spanner in the works, the monkey with the machine gun; conversely fuelled by his severe unwillingness to learn from his mistakes and actions. He’s there to disrupt the balance of what could have been for this family, and unbalancing the rest of us who happen to be watching so intently. Rick is the business model of every self-absorbed piece of shit: in that, in this show, for the most part, the world does very much revolve around him. Through both his genius, and destructive malevolence Rick acts as his own God, doing whatever the hell that he wants whenever he wishes.

toxic rick and morty

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Rick is the inciting incident. Despite being the most intelligent of beings he is destined to be the most lonesome and destructive of individuals. He seems to be the only one of the characters with the ability to (occasionally) break the fourth wall and talk directly to us. The only higher being that Rick has to answer to is Harmon himself. And that’s because at the end of the day this is his town, his sandbox to play in.

The true “genius wit” of the character comes from a place knowing that this is what we crave, and not just an increasingly tiresome rendezvous. Week in, week out, we’ll tune in and log on to watch Rick Sanchez do something horrible, as we’ve been manipulated by the sheer brilliance of the writing to enjoy his antics and encourage them like a bad influence, enthusing our friend to be as bad as he can be – while we watch from a safe distance and smirk at the chaos.


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