‘Rick and Morty’ brings new purpose to animation

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When it comes to the most critically praised and polarizing animated television shows of our modern age, one thing ultimately sticks out: weird and depressing is the new hot thing.

This obviously isn’t something that hasn’t been done before, but when you look at some of the most well-regarded and popular animated television shows of the past five years or so, all of them take these elements, digest them, and excrete out creative genius.

Shows like “Adventure Time,” “Bojack Horseman,” and “Archer” consistently put out some of the most bizarre plot lines and characters on television, yet they give meaning where meaning is generally difficult to find.

For me, the best and most brilliant example of all of these shows is Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s scintillating series “Rick and Morty” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

“Rick and Morty” follows the adventures of the sociopathic yet stunningly genius Rick Sanchez and his awkward, sexually frustrated grandson Morty as they go to different planets, hop through several different dimensions, and generally cause a huge, disastrous ruckus wherever their escapades take them.

The show’s outlandish and borderline offensive humor may come off as simple, immature comedy to some, but the context of the humor, coupled with “Rick and Morty’s” dreary, dark themes allow for Harmon and Roiland to explore some of the deeper psychological and sociological issues that society faces on a regular basis. The show can lay out an elementary fart joke that will have you rolling on the floor and then quickly turn around and chuck some of life’s harshest truths at you without a second thought.

For example, in the episode “Rick Potion n9,” Rick and Morty find themselves in a situation in which they destroy the world as they know it. Rick’s solution to the problem is to jump to another dimension that is nearly identical to the one they just destroyed; however, this dimension’s Rick and Morty have died due to a freak accident in Morty’s garage. The Rick and Morty hopping dimensions show up immediately after this freak accident and both Rick and Morty’s reactions to seeing their lifeless, bloody corpses is fascinating.

Rick is completely nonchalant about the whole thing and buries both of the bodies in the backyard while sipping booze and cracking jokes. This suggests that this isn’t the first time Rick has done this, which reveals so much about how vast knowledge can become desensitizing and ignorance truly can be bliss. Morty, however, is launched into an existential crisis. The idea that death is imminent and life is meaningless leads to Morty mindlessly wandering around his house with nothing but a blank expression and a sulk as he processes one of life’s mostly ignored realties.

This one moment in the show not only reveals so much about both of these characters, but it also has real life implications on the people watching it. We learn why Rick is the way he is. His cynicism and complete lack of compassion toward most lifeforms makes sense when you realize that this stems from his firsthand understanding of how vast not just our world is, but all of existence. When you have spent a majority of your life hopping through the universe’s infinite dimensions, nothing could possibly seem important.

It is these types of moments that make these shows so significant. These ideas are being presented in the kid-friendly medium of animation, while at the same time delivering such heavy-handed viewpoints. This accessibility coupled with the meaningful messages behind the madness is the perfect recipe for enlightening the world with punishing realities while simultaneously entertaining the masses.

I’ll be honest, the only purpose of this column was for me to gush about how stupidly incredible “Rick and Morty” is, but it’s worth discussing, as its effect on popular culture and what that means for future animated shows must not be ignored. It’s probably not healthy to consider “Rick and Morty’s” depressing themes as the sole paradigm to subscribe to, but it is only through understanding these themes that we can truly learn how to live with those realities and even embrace them.

Mindless entertainment has its place, but it’s shows like “Rick and Morty” that will remain timeless and continue to be watched and admired for decades to come.