The series creator looks back on the first season’s memorable and controversial moments.
Prep your portal gun, people – the season finale of Rick and Morty is going to be one heck of a party.
After a whirlwind debut season filled with sex robots, testicle-covered aliens and Cronenberg-ed characters, the celebrated Adult Swim series is bringing it home with what looks like a mind-bending kegger. For Executive Producer Justin Roiland – who came up with the characters while parodying Doc Brown and Marty McFly at parties – the real thrill has been seeing his creations break free of their Back To The Future-inspired roots and develop their own identities and following in less than six months. With their first round of off-color adventures coming to a close and a second season already in production, Roiland takes stock of the sci-fi shenanigans and dark humor that helped make Rick and Morty a hit, while offering some insight into what proved to be the show’s most disturbing sequence thus far.
James Gartler: You must be really pleased with the enormous success of this first season…
Justin Roiland: I am kind of shocked, but because I’ve been so busy it hasn’t really sunk in. The overlap has been pretty insane because we started writing season two almost two months ago, or maybe even more than that. It’s gotten crazier and crazier. Now that we’re going to be done with season one, I think there might be a little bit more of an opportunity to just focus on writing season two, which is nice. I’m definitely super excited about the pick-up and really happy and thankful for it.
JG: How did you get the good news?
JR: We actually knew about it quite a while before it was officially announced. The show premiered in December and it was before that that Mike Lazzo of Adult Swim was saying, “Let me know when you want to start talking about season two.” That was sort of the unofficial pick-up. I want to say that it was towards the end of us delivering the season one animatics possibly, but I have the worst memory.
JG: How are you going to celebrate when you get the chance? A vacation perhaps?
JR: Yeah, maybe. I would like to go to San Francisco. I haven’t been there in a while. I love the North Coast, north of the Golden Gate, that whole area. That might be something to do for a couple of days, maybe a week. Dan [Harmon – Co-Creator] always goes on these cool trips out of the country so maybe I’ll follow in his footsteps and try that. Or maybe I’ll just sit around my house and play video games and get caught up on all the titles that I haven’t had time to play, like the South Park game.
JG: Out of all the nutty characters introduced this season, I particularly loved the blue Meeseeks. They were very funny and yet you really felt for them as they struggled to fulfill their purpose…
JR: I agree. That episode turned out really unique and special. The conceit of those characters and just following the fun energy in the writer’s room and letting that be our guiding light and not getting too bogged down in logic and just making a crazy fun episode – I feel like we pulled all that off. It comes through and I think that’s one of the reasons why people love that episode so much.
The other moment that I feel really landed well was the end of the love potion episode [“Rick Potion #9”]. It was just a page of script that said: “We’ll play Mazzy Star while we see Morty bury himself and walk through his living room and see his parents fighting.” To see that come together as successfully as it did was really cool and definitely something I’m super proud of.
JG: One of the more unexpected moments came in “Meeseeks and Destroy,” when Morty was nearly raped by Mr. Jellybean in the washroom. That sequence really walked a fine line and I was surprised by how much of a visceral a response it provoked…
JR: That was a sequence that I was very hands-on with. It was a structural component of the story that needed to happen. We had issues with Standards & Practices on it and there was a brief period of time when we were worried the whole story could fall apart due to them saying, “No, you can’t do this to a 14-year-old character on a cartoon show.” I wanted to make sure that we weren’t making light of that kind of thing. I remember the first storyboard I got for it was very cartoony. Mr. Jellybean was climbing up Morty’s back and it was not as weighty and grounded. I was just like, “This needs to feel like a scene from a Jodie Foster movie. It can’t be jokey. It needs to be feel really straight and dramatic and horrifying because it is.” It’s a horrible thing. It’s such a jarring and unexpected twist in the story. Morty goes into that bathroom like he’s still trying to win this bet and he’s in this whimsical land and he’s inching closer to winning it, and he leaves and he just doesn’t even care. He’s pretty much just learned the lesson that, “Rick was right, this place is chaotic.” It was just such a pivotal point. Luckily, Mike Lazzo really helped explain it to S&P and said, “Look, this is important to the integrity and structure of the episode. If you take this out what do we replace it with?”
I was actually really concerned when that aired and I saw a lot of people reacting, like trigger warnings and this stuff…I guess it made sense because here they are watching this cartoon. Maybe they watch cartoons because they don’t anticipate triggers being in a goofy cartoon that they’re watching. It’s like, you’re not going to watch Jodie Foster’s The Brave One if you’re susceptible to triggers…but to then be watching SpongeBob or whatever, a cartoon, and to have that happen? I totally understood. I was like, “Oh Jesus, damn. I didn’t intend to cause anybody any distress,” but at the same time it’s like that was what we set out to do – create a really dramatic moment that was real. I was kind of shocked at how effective it was in that respect, so effective that people were having triggers.
I had never even heard of that before that episode either. That’s a term that’s used for victims or anyone who has any sort of horrible experience that they would just as soon forget, regardless of what it is. We all live lives on this horrible planet and there’s all kinds of horrible shit that happens to everybody. So any kind of trigger […] causes anxiety or reminds you of an uncomfortable experience. I was kind of shocked because there was a lot of talk about that. I was like, “Oh man…I didn’t mean to trigger anybody!” That wasn’t at all the intention.
JG: Was the network okay after it aired? Did they have any issues afterwards?
JR: The thing that’s interesting about it, from my perspective, is the discussion online. I saw bits and pieces of it and there were people who ultimately understood. I kind of explained myself on Reddit [read some of Roiland’s comments HERE and a further explanation of the Jellybean character’s intentions HERE] and just told them, “Look, we weren’t trying to make light of this. It’s a horrible thing and I totally understand why someone would see it and be very uncomfortable,” but ultimately it wasn’t a huge backlash. I think people understood at the end of the day that it wasn’t done distastefully or maliciously, so ultimately I think people were okay. We never really got into it with the network. There wasn’t really any backlash on that side of the fence.
JG: Are you going to avoid anything that borderline in the future?
JR: I don’t know. In the writer’s room there’s very little restraint I put on the writing process. The most important thing is that we’re telling a really good story. It’s an edgy show but we do it with tact, I’d like to think. We’re not out there to upset or rustle anybody. We want to entertain people, you know?
JG: What can you say about the finale? Are there any big moments coming our way?
JR: I looked at this first season and kind of structured it the same way Game of Thrones does where I wanted to do our big Red Wedding-type episode second-to-last and then I wanted to have a fun one. Coming off “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind” and all this world-building and really heavy “inside baseball” kind of episode, we’re going back to the evergreen light-hearted aspect of the show. It’s a house party episode and there’s a lot of interesting characters we’re going to get to meet that are friends of Rick’s from his past, which I think is really exciting. (Laughs) It’s Rick’s weird alien friends and Summer’s high school friends coming together at a big rager at the house while the parents are away.
JG: Speaking of parties, who do you do impersonations of now that Rick and Morty are famous characters on television?
JR: (Laughs) I’ll do like a horrible Seinfeld that doesn’t sound like him. Sometimes I’ll do Alf and Willie from Alf. All my impressions are horrible, so it’s sort of like equally as bad as what Rick and Morty are to Doc and Marty, you know? It’s like all my impressions are that far removed from their source material.
JG: You’re not brewing up a spin-off with Seinfeld in another dimension, are you?
JR: (Laughs) We actually had a sketch in the interdimensional cable episode that was like a Seinfeld from another dimension, based off my horrible impression…but we ended up cutting it because it wasn’t as good as some of the other stuff.
JG: There’s something for the DVD.
JR: Yeah, exactly!
The season finale of Rick and Morty airs Monday April 14th at 10:30pm on Adult Swim. For more information on the show, visit http://video.adultswim.com/rick-and-morty/ .
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.