In 2013, Rick and Morty premiered on Adult Swim, and quickly amassed a huge following of fans who became obsessed with the show’s dark humor and sci-fi plots. Created by Dan Harmon (Community) and Justin Roiland, the show focuses on the outlandish adventures of crazy super-genius Rick Sanchez and his timid grandson Morty Smith, both of whom are voiced by Roiland. Here are 12 facts about the Adult Swim animated series, which is set to air the remainder of its third season in summer 2017.
1. DAN HARMON’S FILM FESTIVAL SPURRED HIS COLLABORATION WITH CO-CREATOR JUSTIN ROILAND.
The creative duo behind Rick and Morty—Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland—became acquainted through Channel 101, Harmon’s nonprofit short film festival. Roiland would submit pieces for the festival that were “intended to just shock people” but that Harmon found hilarious.
When Adult Swim contacted Harmon to create a 30-minute animated series for the network, he thought Roiland’s sensibilities would be a perfect fit for the network because, as Harmon put it, “He is the target for a lot of their stuff. And he’s also, like me, really passionate about story and franchise.”
2. THE SHOW WAS INSPIRED BY ROILAND’S VULGAR TAKE ON BACK TO THE FUTURE.
The basic foundation of Rick and Morty spun out of one of Roiland’s earlier Channel 101 ideas called The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti. The relationship between Rick and Morty has always taken cues from Doc Brown and Marty McFly from Back to the Future, but Roiland’s earlier stab at the idea really drove this point home with a lurid twist. At this point in his career, Roiland was simply daring lawyers to come after him, and nothing exemplified his mindset more than his X-rated Doc and Marty:
"I actually made this as a way to poke fun at the idea of getting cease and desist letters. At the time (October 2006) I had nothing to lose and my original intention was to call this 'back to the future: the new official universal studios cartoon featuring the new Doc Brown and Marty McFly' and then I'd just sit back and wait for a letter from their lawyers to arrive. That's actually why it's so filthy. I was just looking to 'troll' a big studio."
Though Rick and Morty’s final form is safely removed from the litigious (and public relations) nightmare that Roiland’s original cartoon was, he says, “some of the raw energy behind the voice performances is sort of still intact, especially for Rick. That’s the beginning of it.”
3. HARMON VIEWS RICK AS “THE SEAM BETWEEN GOD AND MAN.”
Though you can enjoy Rick and Morty simply as a zany cartoon with some crude humor, you can also dive deeper into the human condition and wrestle with the existence of god itself through these characters. Harmon, in a video promoting the show’s second season, talked about how the series is constantly searching for some sort of meaning in the meaninglessness of life.
One of the main conflicts, according to Harmon, is the idea of the creator against the created. This is seen in Rick's apathy toward his own creations throughout the show, like Abradolf Lincler, Rick's half-Lincoln, half-Hitler experiment that's hell-bent on revenge. Harmon calls Rick “The seam between god and man,” and his nihilistic apathy toward his own creations is echoed in Joseph Campbell’s belief that god is an impersonal cosmic force.
On a more cheerful note, Harmon disagrees with Rick’s sentiment that nothing really matters, saying that type of philosophy “gets you nowhere.”
4. THE SHOW’S THEME SONG OWES A LOT TO DOCTOR WHO AND FARSCAPE.
Rick and Morty’s opening theme song is quintessential sci-fi, and to achieve the familiar, otherworldly synth vibe of the genre, the creators looked to both Doctor Who and Farscape for inspiration. When asked about the show’s music in an interview with TVOvermind, Roiland said:
“The theme song is written by the guy who wrote the Wizards of Waverly Place theme song, who is a very good friend of mine. I told him I was a big fan of Farscape and that I wanted to combine Farscape’s theme with Doctor Who’s theme, and that’s basically what our theme song is. It’s this amazing original piece that takes the best aspects of those two themes and mashes them together. Super Sci-Fi.”
An earlier version of the theme can be heard in Roiland's first stab at an Adult Swim cartoon called Dog World.
5. RICK’S BURPING HABIT HAS ITS ORIGIN IN A RECORDING ROOM BLOOPER.
Burping is a big part of Rick’s shtick, but Roiland told Entertainment Weekly that the inspiration for it was a complete accident:
"In 2006, or something, I was recording the voices for this short The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti. I was having fun doing these really crappy Doc Brown and Marty McFly impressions. During the middle of a line a burp came out naturally. It was just so funny and gross. I was like, ‘Well, let’s see if I can do that again for a couple more lines.’ Then, with Rick and Morty, Dan [Harmon, the show’s co-creator] was like, ‘Hey, Adult Swim wants to do a show, do you have any ideas?’ I said, ‘Well, what about these two voices?’ Right out of the gate, the burping was part of it."
Though Rick punctuates many a conversation with a trademark burp, Roiland actually has a tough time getting quite so gassy. He basically tells the audio engineer to keep the tapes rolling as he drinks “a low-calorie beer and a bottle of water” to get the effect right.
6. DAN HARMON HAS A THEORY ON WHAT’S IN RICK’S FLASK, BUT WE’LL NEVER KNOW WHY HE DRINKS.
There are plenty of fan theories regarding what Rick’s drink of choice is (including some otherworldly cocktails), but Harmon has a much simpler theory: “I tend to assume vodka,” he said during a Reddit AMA. Though he understands that Rick’s intellect could lead him to have virtually any sort of intergalactic concoction in his flask, he believes Rick’s old-fashioned booze of choice “anchors his identity.”
So that’s the what in Rick’s alcohol, but what about the why? Well that’s something Harmon and the team are never going to delve into. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Harmon explained his reasoning:
“Justin was really smart about that, saying, ‘No, we don’t want to reveal that Rick started drinking when blah blah blah,’ because then there’s something very shark-jump-y about that, like where you learn that the Fonz didn’t always wear leather jackets. Because people aren’t like that.”
7. THE SHOW’S PILOT WAS WRITTEN IN SIX HOURS.
The first episode of Rick and Morty was written by Harmon and Roiland just moments after their pitch got sold to Nick Weidenfeld, the head of program development for Adult Swim. With Harmon still on Community, schedules would be tight once production on the show ramped back up, so it was important to get working on Rick and Morty as soon as possible. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Harmon said:
"We were sitting on the floor, cross-legged with laptops and I was about to get up and go home and he said, 'Wait, if you go home, it might take us three months to write this thing. Stay here right now and we can write it in six hours.'"
The pilot was written that day, which Roiland described as “kind of lightning in a bottle.”
8. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER INSPIRED ONE OF THE SERIES’ MOST BELOVED EPISODES.
Though the episode “Total Rickall” would have you believe the show was going to do an adaptation of Total Recall, the creators had something much different in mind. In the Blu-ray commentary track for the episode, the creators revealed that the initial inspiration for the episode came from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show.
In the show’s fifth season, it’s suddenly revealed that Buffy had a sister named Dawn, and the show’s characters blindly accept her into the fold as if she has existed the entire time. One of Rick and Morty's writers, Ryan Ridley, elaborated on this in the Y Combinator podcast, saying “Everyone’s pretending—I mean, they’re not pretending—they’re treating her like she’s always been there. But you know that, as a viewer, [Buffy] hasn’t had a sister for the first four seasons. So you find out the supernatural explanation for why that is.”
Shades of this can be seen in the “Total Rickall” opening, when viewers are introduced to “Uncle Steve,” who the family believes has been living with them for years. Without much hesitation, Rick shoots Uncle Steve through the head, revealing it to be a parasite that infected the family’s mind to artificially implant memories.
9. THE SEEDS FOR “TOTAL RICKALL” WERE PLANTED IN AN EARLIER EPISODE.
Unlike a series like Archer, Rick and Morty doesn’t have too many instances where episodes connect to larger story arcs for entire seasons. That doesn’t mean every episode isn’t related, though. Plenty of episodes call back to characters, plots, or gags from previous ones, but the show is at its most interesting when episodes slyly hint at the future.
In the episode “Mortynight Run,” Rick is seen loading a bunch of green space rocks into his ship toward the end. If you look carefully at the rocks, you can see a small pink blob on one of them. Fast-forward to “Total Rickall” and Rick is seen throwing those same rocks into the garbage, pink blob and all. Those blobs turn out to be the same parasites that infest the family in the episode.
10. ONE OF THE SHOW’S MOST ACCLAIMED EPISODES ALMOST “BROKE” THE CREATORS.
The success of Rick and Morty’s first season surprised everyone, so when it came time for more episodes, there was plenty of pressure to deliver. When the second season premiered, it did so with an experimental episode that was a direct continuation of the first season finale.
When the debut season ended, Rick had just frozen time in an attempt to help Morty and Summer clean up the mess from the high school/intergalactic alien house party they just threw. While shades of The Cat in the Hat abound, the cleanup does not go well, as the effects of stopping time has split reality into near-countless distinct timelines in the season two premiere, “A Rickle in Time.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Roiland said the episode "was just brutal and it broke us to a certain extent. We were so close to something amazing and we never really got there from a structural standpoint." Harmon agreed, saying "It went off the deep end conceptually and got really over-complicated."
In the Blu-ray commentary, it's explained that the main issues came from the writers and directors figuring out what the actual effects of freezing time would be, in addition to animating all of the different timelines and how they interact. Cracking the difficult premise and redoing the opening multiple times even put the entire second season behind schedule. Though Harmon and Roiland were convinced the episode was their worst, “A Rickle in Time” is highly regarded by fans as one of the best of the series.
11. ADULT SWIM PREMIERED AN EPISODE IN 109 15-SECOND CHUNKS ON INSTAGRAM.
Rick and Morty doesn’t just subvert expectations on the screen; the show’s creators do everything in their power to go against the grain when it comes to marketing and distribution as well. The most recent example came on April 1, 2017, when the show held its season three premiere without any advertising or promotion—leaving fans to scramble to watch it before it disappeared.
The most interesting exercise in offbeat marketing happened during the show’s first season, though. Instead of debuting the episode “Rixty Minutes” in its normal timeslot, Adult Swim surprised everyone by releasing the episode three days early. On Instagram. In reverse.
The official Rock and Morty Instagram page uploaded 109, 15-second clips of the episode in reverse order, causing fans to scroll and click and scroll some more in order to get the whole story. In typical Adult Swim fashion, they responded to the publicity stunt by saying, "It’s our latest frustrating exercise in audience engagement.”
12. RICK’S CATCHPHRASE WAS A COMPLETE ACCIDENT.
Though Roiland and Harmon are quick to point out that they hate catchphrases, Rick’s fairly ironic “wubba lubba dub dub” has become a staple of the show, especially during the first season. It’s used by Rick to punctuate a joke, and though he believes it comes from Arsenio Hall, it’s later revealed in the episode “Ricksy Business” that the phrase translates to "I am in great pain, please help me” in the language of the Bird People.
The phrase was actually a complete accident on the part of Roiland. In an interview with Noisey, he explained how the line read was originally supposed to be a reference to an old Three Stooges gag:
”We never really intended that to be a catchphrase, but we originally wrote that scene and it was scripted as parenthetical Larry or Moe from the Three Stooges, ‘wub wub wub wub wub.’ And Rick was gonna fall on the ground and do that circle thing they do. And in the recording, that was a last minute rewrite that I didn’t read, and I just didn’t know what the f*ck I was looking at, and I just did it wrong."