Dec 2, 2013

Channel Surfing: Rick and Morty - "Pilot"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
It has been a strange year for fans of the work of Dan Harmon. Set into motion last year with his firing from beloved sitcom Community, he has almost become more notorious than famous. With the success of his Harmontown podcast, he has managed to keep the cult entertained weekly and has even become one of the most insightful ranters in the podcast medium. Harmon is in many ways a comedic savant with a tortured, grumpy outlook on the world around him. It informs his satirical, often highly meta, TV shows that are unique and often bizarre in pleasant and inspiring ways.
While he is set to come back to Community in the upcoming season (the return of Thom Bitches About Community is inevitable), there was that period when things weren't looking too sure. Maybe the show, which he famously ranted against during a summer episode of Harmontown, declined in quality, but it didn't beat down his spirits. If anything, it made him more stubborn and willing to think outside of the box. In fact, it lead to the creation of the latest cartoon series from Adult Swim called Rick and Morty.
As most of you will probably already know, I have a conflicted viewpoint of Adult Swim shows on principle. Many of them are actually enjoyable, but the ones that appeal to lowbrow humor often fail to have a lasting impact. It is both a concept where anything goes, yet also where bizarre things are allowed to be embraced. Few bizarre things, like NTSF: SD: SUV:: and Eagleheart, manage to thrive perfectly in this environment, but it is up to the audience to stay up that late. In some ways, Rick and Morty feels like it is going to fall into that category.
In a move that almost seemed to be perfect timing, Rick and Morty was released over the Thanksgiving period in order to spread the awareness of its Monday night premiere. While this gesture can serve to improve a show's success over time, I do find suspicions in the early release of the pilot episodes on the principle that it feels unlikely that people will watch the episode again on premiere night and thus may forget to tune in the following week out of lack of habit. However, since this is Dan Harmon and he already has a cult audience, the odds aren't quite as stacked.
Yet the show succeeds in the Adult Swim mode of bizarre concepts. Think of Back to the Future where Doc Brown is an alcoholic who uses Marty to go on missions that he doesn't want to. Yes, it does strike a little similarity to Futurama in that regards, but what has come up is far more crass and disgusting. The animation is very crude and there's even a character named Principal Vagina. Even if this reflects potential for the show to go more lowbrow, what centers the incessant burping and butt jokes is the characters. Even if Rick (Justin Roiland) seems incompetent psychologically, he is a scientist who can work his way out of anything. Often a little bit on the insulting side, he is determined to succeed and that is noble. As for Morty (Roiland as well), we get a strong sense of who he is by the first episode's conclusion.
There is some heart in the final moments of the show. Despite everything crass before, the closing moments of the first episode confront Rick and Morty's parents as he explains that Morty's absence from school has enriched him. It is kind of perverse in nature, but almost makes the grandfather-grandson duo somewhat of a kindred spirit. Their wacky missions and nonsensical chases through futuristic airports are fun, giving the show some sort of edge. Determining how much you can tolerate the animation will inform how much you like the series. For me, it is a rough first episode, but there's plenty of merit at its core.
With Harmon credited with co-writing the series with Roiland, it is sure to at least keep the consistent tone of Adult Swim's version of essentially Mr. Peabody and Sherman. With all the episodes probably already in the can, it shouldn't interfere too much with Community's return and thus will potentially give us two really solid shows from him. This one is more debatable on long term quality because while the premise plays loose and fun, it doesn't have nearly the same appeal as Community. It feels less polished and the gimmick of an alcoholic time traveler could get old, whereas the Greendale Seven have the advantage of satirizing a different pop culture aspect the following week.
At very least, this show is low key enough that it will probably not interfere with people's interest in the other. Even if this is more reflective of Harmon's id at the moment, it does almost seem to come from a place of experimentation and not necessarily concerned with quality. The cast, which also features Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke, and Chris Parnell, is nowhere near as compelling as the Community one. It could all improve over the remaining 10 episodes, but at very least, this will work because it is the weird Adult Swim show that chose to be high concept on a lowbrow level of humor. Harmon's meta commentary on the world establishes that quite nicely.
In truth, the only questionable issue is if the show can withstand a 30 minute running time. It managed to succeed in the pilot largely because it was establishing premise and characters. With that gone, how is the show going to work from here on out? It could go either way and with the satire already firmly in place, it may be able to fill the holes as Futurama's sloppy cousin, mixing satire with crude imagery and a whole lot of burping. In a reasonable mindset, it could even follow Community's projection and just ape old sci-fi genres for its entire run. Now that would be a fantastic show to check out.
In the end Rick and Morty's pilot episode is at very least one with plenty of potential. It is sloppy and a little too crude at times, but there is a sense that there's heart in these characters. It never interferes with the story, but it gives the suspense more impact. Even if Morty seems a little too stock character at this point, this show doesn't need to strive to be nearly as complex as Community. However, with Harmon at the helm, there is expectations and assumptions that it may as well be. Otherwise, it will just be another weird show on Harmon's resume, which isn't all that much of an insult anyways.

No comments:

Post a Comment