I wrote about Lower Decks last week, about how its reputation as essentially the Rick and Mortification of Star Trek still puts a lot of Trekkies off, despite the fact that it’s the best Trek show since the mid-nineties. Rick and Morty itself is subject to a similar issue: it’s one of the best adult animations around, and yet, it’s almost embarrassing to bring it up in polite company.
That some people see Lower Decks’ clear debt to Rick and Morty as an inherent Bad Thing is incongruous with the fact that both shows are doing pretty well. LD’s fifth season, currently in development, was greenlit months before season 4 premiered. Rick and Morty started off as a ratings smash, and retained impressive numbers for years thereafter. Not many shows get to their seventh season, let alone with a healthy portion of their peak audience still sticking around.
And it hasn’t been an easy road for Rick and Morty. It survived both the 2020 covid pandemic, the 2023 writers strike, and the subsequent actors strike. And it has survived having to recast its titular characters following the original voice actor’s dismissal from the show in the wake of several *** abuse and impropriety scandals. Any one of these things could kill a show stone dead. The pandemic alone axed more projects than a team of Hollywood execs could in their wildest dreams.
We’re now halfway through Season 7, and though the premiere did seem to prove the naysayers right (Morty was barely in it, Rick’s new voice didn’t quite hit the mark, and fan-favourite Mister Poopybutthole didn’t sound remotely like his original incarnation), the show has found its groove again. S07E05 delivers on several long-running plot threads in typically bombastic fashion, and one of the show’s most foundational conflicts comes to a violent close. It took a few half-hours to settle back into itself, but it’s safe to say that Rick and Morty is back. At this point, it doesn’t even occur to me that the voices are being delivered by different people. Many are determined to see this as the worst season yet, but it just isn’t the case as yet. Though we do have the back half to go.
Having to recast the titular roles has barely been an issue, as it turns out. Yes, certain tones and inflections don’t hit in the same way if you really listen for it, but if you’re really listening for it, you’re kinda going out of the way to spoil it for yourself. And that, in a nutshell, is Rick and Morty’s major problem: a vocal minority of its fans are awful, and a lot of them are practically willing the show to fail in a show of support for Justin Roiland (a questionable prospect, given what he’s been accused of and how it led to his exit from almost everything he was working on, including Solar Opposites and and his video game company Squanch Games).
See, Rick and Morty has been a guilty pleasure for a long time. Admitting you watch it is almost as much of a social leprosy as admitting you collect Funko Pops. And that’s more or less because of its more dipshit fans, whose rap sheet includes such delights as doxxing the show’s female writers, causing the police to be called to McDonald’s outlets following their meme-crusade for Szechuan Sauce, and including among their number Elon Musk, who wasn’t involved in any of those other incidents, but who is king of the dipshits. He even waded into Roiland’s sacking, describing him as “the heart of the show” on X Formerly Twitter. And the show didn’t do itself any favours when it included him as a guest star.
But despite all this, the show continues to be a blistering, brilliant odyssey of life, death, and reality set across a fantastic and intricate multi-verse. With *** jokes, and sight gags, and often impenetrable serialisation which at this point serves as a gift to those of us who’ve stuck around. Though the show operates perfectly well for the most part as an episodic monster/gadget/reality-of-the-week comedy, it is at its best when it embraces its rats-nest of interdimensional continuity that leaves intermittent viewers to ask questions like “why are there two Beths?” and “So is he a robot or what?”. Season 7 has shown adeptness at both sides of this coin.
The humanity of the show is as impactful and poignant as ever, as evidenced in this wonderful flashback sequence set to a haunting cover of Oasis’ Live Forever.
The recasting has been relatively seamless. Rick and Morty is as gloriously and grotesquely inventive as it ever was. The writing is showing the usual cracks that afflict a series that goes on long enough for its fans to have favourite “eras” – that impossible dance between trying to keep things fresh while also giving people the things that led them to love the show in the first place. With Roiland’s involvement or not, the show was destined to become more hit and miss as it went on.
But boy can it still hit. Ultimately, the genius of the show remains intact. Rick is the villain of his own story. He’s a prisoner of his own nihilism and toxicity, but they are the engines of his success. And it can only be a good thing if, as a result of the changes brought about in season 7, the toxic elements of the show’s own fanbase decide to clear off, and leave the rest of us to enjoy one of the best cartoons of its generation without having to think about the sort of toilets who might also be watching.