Season 3, Episode 1 of Rick and Morty was hilarious while continuing the previous season’s final episode. It doesn’t seem likely that we’ve seen the last of the Galactic Government or the Council of Ricks, or even that we’ve seen the last of Jerry.
Episode 2 of the third season, in contrast, proved to be one of the least funny things I’ve ever seen, not just among Rick & Morty’s episodes, but of any comedy show. Jokes were few and far between, if they even existed at all, and I honestly don’t think I laughed once through the 23 minute episode. It’s possible that I smirked a few times, but that was it.
So what went wrong?
The now-basically-defunct webcomic CAD went through a similar thing with its Miscarriage Arc, where it inexplicably stopped being funny and became dedicated almost entirely to an extremely serious and not-very-funny subject. Rick & Morty jumped the shark in the same way, choosing to forego comedy to instead indulge in an episode about divorce, escapism, and the tendency of divorce to cause children, initially, to absolutely despise one of their parents. Here’s to hoping that Episode 3 re-jumps the shark.
“Heavy-handed” would be an appropriate description, because everything was thrown to the side to explore these serious issues, and, at least for me, it was unwelcome. I enjoy casually exploring the hidden dimensions of the show, such as how, despite what he says, it’s obvious that Rick has fondness for his daughter and grandchildren. However, having the show itself bring these discussions to the forefront in a way that could be described as “anvilicious” (as in, it has all the subtlety of dropping an anvil) isn’t entertaining.
I don’t watch Rick & Morty to explore the ramifications of divorce, and neither do I watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force to examine the long-term effects of domestic abuse on children (Shake & Meatwad). In trying to pull a South Park–where a clasically comedic and silly show explores complex and meaningful subjects, Rick & Morty fell flat on its face and pulled a CAD. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are able to explore topics like divorce, racism (“‘T’ for… Time to leave!”), and politics while still maintaining the hilarity that has given it more than twenty years of popularity, but not everyone is able to strike that balance.
Everyone wants to be South Park, and everyone wants to be Ayn Rand–telling a story that involves complex subjects while still entertaining–but the fact is that it’s not something that everyone can do. If anything, Rick & Morty’s hopefully-finished foray into these areas was a stark reminder to the writers that they should write comedy, not drama. I haven’t seen any Facebook and Twitter posts about Mulan dipping sauce in the past week, not like I did following the premier of episode 1.
I wouldn’t call the episode “Bad.” I would, however, call it “dull, average, and uninspired.” The writers came off as hellbent on exploring these issues, and so they created a story that allowed them to, instead of following the arc of Rick & Morty naturally. If Rick & Morty Season 3 continues along this trajectory, it’s doubtful that there will be a Season 4, and, if they return to zany comedy there is no doubt that “the divorce” will be remembered as Rick & Morty’s “Miscarriage Arc.”
Or, rather, I should say “forgotten” as Rick & Morty’s “Miscarriage Arc.”
All isn’t lost. The truth is that Jerry was always a redundant character. Morty’s naivety and innocence make Jerry obsolete, and Jerry was only ever there to be the butt of jokes–which, basically, is Morty’s job, while Morty also functions as Rick’s Watson. Morty is at least as stupid as Jerry, and both have had their eyes opened to Rick in the same way, and across the same episodes. Jerry was superfluous and unnecessary from the start, and seemed to be there only to create a nuclear family.
That said, I’m not sure that “We should have the parents in this comedy show divorce! That would be funny, right?” was really the best way to go about it, at least not in a show that regularly kills its main cast. Killing Jerry would have been nobler–and even funnier, strange though that is to type out. Fans of the show will understand why that would be, though. Or, hell, having Summer & Morty die in the Council of Ricks, leading Rick to jump universes to one where they’re still alive, and finding there a divorced Beth, would have worked just as well while avoiding the alluring seductress that is “Turn the comedy show into a drama!”
Rick & Morty wouldn’t be the first show that fell to that temptress. And, if it doesn’t quickly refind its feet, it won’t be the last. It’s not over yet, and we’re still early in Season 3, but more of this drama crap will keep people from watching the show, and I doubt we’d see a return for Season 4. Shows on Adult Swim are lucky to make it to four seasons under the best of circumstances. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, perhaps one of my favorite comedies, screwed up when it tried to redesign itself to bring in fresh audiences, in the process leaving its existing audience confused about what was going on and not knowing whether the show was even still on the air. DVRs across America stopped recording it, because its name had changed to Aqua Teen Show Show or something like that. Aqua Teen Unit Patrol, maybe?
Audiences don’t take well to sudden and drastic directional changes, and everything about Episode 2’s headlong dive into drama was a sudden and drastic directional change. For the first two seasons, Rick & Morty handled these matters well, and still delivered funny television. Can the show go back to that? Certainly. Will it? We’ll see tomorrow, but the trailer for Season 3 suggests we’ll be seeing more Jerry, but rather conspicuously never showed Beth and Jerry together. So I think it’s likeliest we’ll see two or three funny, standard episodes, and then one heavy drama episode.
My hopes aren’t high, though, because it’s true: many shows have lost their way because they became tempted to take themselves too seriously. “We have this platform that we earned because of our comedy!” they seem to think. “Let’s use this platform to drop Messages!”
It rarely ends well. In fact, I think South Park may be the only show to have successfully pulled off that leap.