Created by Community showrunner Dan Harmon and Adventure Time voice actor Justin Roiland, Rick And Morty is subversive, self-aware and unafraid of looking at the dirt under the fingernails of sci-fi. It’s the spiritual successor to Futurama by way of South Park and The Twilight Zone, and the freshest cartoon we’ve seen for years. We caught up with Roiland and Harmon to chat about how Rick And Morty came to life.
You experiment with high-concept philosophical stories. Do you think it is a great format to explore them?
Dan: For sure. Animation has that innocence to it that makes the childish part of you feel spoken to. That allows you to go darker without feeling too cynical, without repelling the audience.
It’s like a children’s book for cynical children – speaking to the part of you that wants to go out and put a firecracker in a frog, just to see what happens. In a cartoon someone can pull a teleportation device out of their pocket for no extra expense, but in live-action it’ll cost you…
You also experiment with some ideas that break down ideas in other media. Was this the intention?
Justin: A lot of that was derived from inventions or devices that Rick could have – what if he had something that made a dog smart, or could freeze time, [and] the Meseeks Box was another one of those.
I feel that was sort of a driving force in Season One. In Season Two, we didn’t focus so much on the inventions – we looked towards more concept-driven ideas. There was less influence from pop culture – there’s a lot more original ideas here. Season One, we used things that inspired us, like the Inception episode and the Needful Things storyline where we subverted those concepts.
Dan: There’s a finite supply of any of these approaches, right? One of our writers is Mike McMann, and when he’s not doing Rick And Morty he’s writing Star Trek companion guides and things, so he and [writer] Ryan Ridley and Justin and myself… we just talk about movies we like, or things we’ve learnt on the Discovery Channel and stuff it’d be neat to have. I value our ignorance – I think if any of us had PhDs or anything, everything would get boring really fast.
I do think it’s important for Season Three to get back on the simplicity shtick, though. Once you’ve addressed Logan’s Run and dystopic futures and teleportation, and you’re ignoring time travel, there’s a handful of inventions, a handful of sci-fi concepts, then where do you go? This is the first time we’ve had a proper conversation about a general, guiding process on the show…
Justin, what’s it like ‘talking’ to yourself when playing Rick and Morty – is it a lot of pressure?
Justin: Not at all; it’s actually really fun. I always have a solid script to start with, and a lot of times I’ll go through the Morty lines first and then do Rick, go back and forth in real time and see what comes of that.
Sometimes my brain is wired so I’ll say something in a dyslexic way or stutter a certain way. That’s stuff we’ve adopted and used as part of the show, so that’s pretty awesome.
There’s an improvisational tone to the show that’s rare for animation.
Justin: It’s a rare, interesting production model to adopt. We only do it on one episode [per season], and the rest of the season is a little more thoughtfully put together. It takes me all of a minute and a half to ramble out a bunch of nonsense, and then these guys [animators] have got to work for months and months to animate it [laughs].
It’s good for the board guys, though: they get to collaborate and contribute creatively and add things I’d never have thought to add.
So does Dan’s ‘story embryo’ method of writing come into the more structured episodes, then?
Dan: Oh definitely. I can’t see story beyond that circular model. The whole point is that it’s so minimal you don’t need anything else to go with it, but that can eclipse the creative process.
Justin is more creatively in charge – we collaborate as partners, but if Justin doesn’t like something we’re not gonna do it. On the production side, he’s really busy – he’s picking the colour of aliens’ shirts, he’s picking the shape of the wheels on alien skateboards, so one trick we picked up on in the writer’s room is that we only need to use half embryos: that way you can do two of those in half the amount of time.
We’re trying to boil things down… creating as many things as possible in the smallest amount of time so that we can ‘follow the laughter’ and choose the best ideas in what is effectively a limitless show.
Rick And Morty: Season 2 will start to air on Adult Swim in the US on Sunday 26 July at 11.30pm. For more on the best TV shows, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.