You can’t keep a good cartoon down. Nor can you easily kill off a bad one.
The plights of The Simpsons, now on series 31 and counting, and Family Guy, slouching towards 18, are ample proof that an animated shelf-life is simply another fiction if it defies a sell-by date and simply opts to rot. Merch money keeps on rolling. On the other hand, Netflix’s excellent BoJack Horseman has decided to cap things at an even six.
Perhaps with this in mind, the return of Rick & Morty has been a long time coming, two years in fact, as co-creators Dan Harmon (the man behind Community) and Justin Roiland tinkered with a fourth season. Now it’s back “like the old days” (yes, the fourth wall is once again permeable).
Since 2013, the animated adventures of a reality-hopping, mad, sad scientist armed with an inter-dimensional portal gun and his adolescent grandson have determinedly hacked their way from cult favourite to Millennial mainstay: an unending stream of fart-jokes, instant memes and, mostly, whip-smart writing.
It has been both gross and grandiose, freewheeling from poignant, “high-concept sci-fi rigmarole” (to borrow the show’s own phrase) via toxic masculinity to solid gags. “Stop raising your father’s cholesterol so you can take a hot funeral selfie” is a stand-up throwaway line lobbed in before this newest series has even got going.
And get going it does. This marks the show’s debut on Channel 4 after it was pinched from Netflix (the former have done a deal with Rick & Morty’s parent TV station, Adult Swim). It’s back by such popular demand that they’ve even whisked it up the schedule from a mooted January return. Is it worth the hype? It’s big and bold — certainly not easy on the squeamish.
Rick & Morty trek through space and time to collect “death crystals” which, in a typical twist, show the holder how they might die, based on their current moment of existence. Then Rick is impaled spectacularly on a rock (spoiler alert: an inter-dimensional cloning machine saves the day). Doctor Ew. It’s a return to form that will delight seasoned watchers — heavy on animé references, unsparing on sci-fi bells and whistles (again, clones).
For a show that has garnered a platinum reputation among Reddit bros for underpinning adventures with existential philosophy, I doubt this opening salvo will win any awards for big thinking (“To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty...” became a mocking rebuke to the more notorious elements of the show’s fanbase, especially after they deplorably decried the addition of more female staff writers). Nor does it purport to be. “There’s a lesson here but I’m not going to be the one to figure it out,” shrugs Rick.
There are some knowing nods to how the world has moved on in two years (“When did this s*** become the default,” wonders Rick, as he wanders from one parallel earth gripped by fascism to another). But the show’s saving grace is its willingness to confront its own flaws.
The 70 new episodes demanded by fans and Adult Swim alike feels like a tall order, and this a self-contained start. But if you’re going to jump the shark, a portal gun helps.
Rick & Morty is on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight.