The brilliant show is back for a second season, and it’s just as good as its first run, but for slightly different reasons.
When I watched the first season, I was struck by how unflinchingly brutal it could be at times. Rick and Morty was an animated sitcom that deconstructed the tropes around animated sitcoms. It used the multiverse idea to great creativity and comedic effect, as well as to reject the “world-resetting” conventions of other animated shows. It dared broach darker topics – rape, troubled marriages, sociopathy – in a transgressively comical, but not gratuitous, fashion. Its characters had authenticity in that they were human beings with failings and idiosyncrasies, but who nevertheless stay together because of some intangible undercurrent of concern and familial togetherness.
This second season is evidence that Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland know what made their Season 1 formula so wildly successful. Season 2 iterates upon the qualities that made the first season so great, but also adds an extra layer of historical depth that was largely absent in the first season – the beginnings of an accounting of Rick’s backstory and the reasons why he left in the first place. In other words, intimations of heavy duty character exploration for the show’s most important character. This is hinted at in several episodes but is most apparent in the season’s final episode, where Rick’s political activities against the Galactic Federation come back to bite him. I don’t know if this was a planned plot point or a retcon, but the last episode really expanded the Rick and Morty universe in ways I hadn’t anticipated, which lent some new context into some of the things that occurred in the first season – such as Rick’s dealings with the underworld and his dislike of the Galactic Federation insectoids. I doubt that Season 3 will be kind of big reveal of that history, and it shouldn’t be, but I hope it does shed more light to develop Rick as a more complete and compelling character, adding more context to his nihilistic sociopathy.
I’m also glad that Summer is getting a bit more screen time in this season. In some ways she’s the new Morty of Season 2, with her own moral compass that is often hilariously violated by Rick’s lack of mores (see Keep Summer Safe). Summer has great potential as an alternating sidekick to Rick along with Morty, who is himself displaying signs that he’s acclimating to Rick’s style of doing things, and is starting to be capable of holding his own during their hijinks.
Not everything in the season was perfect, of course. The season has episodes of varying quality and fit into the Ricksterverse. Get Schwifty, for one, was slightly too surreal and non-sequitur even for Rick and Morty, and it had some characters behaving in highly uncharacteristic fashion for the sake of thematic demonstration, which gives off bad Family Guy vibes. Interdimensional Cable #2: Tempting Fate was another running of the show’s breakout improv section in Rixty Minutes, which was one of the best parts of the first season. While this second offering had its moments (see Plumbus creation and Mr Stealy), it, predictably, can’t measure up to the first, not least because it had a bit of a more calculated, “let’s do this to add ratings since the first was a hit” feel to it, which goes against the whole “stoned improv” feel of the first offering. To their credit, the show creators did anticipate that the second offering would be “tempting fate”.
But the very fact that Season 2 knocks it out of the park with its standout episodes testifies to the fact that there’s quite a bit of steam left in this animated comedy franchise.
Some standout episodes:
S2E2 – Mortynight Run
Contains a poignant, standout section where Morty plays a video-game in which he lives an entire man’s life in a simulated reality. The juxtaposition of living a good life with getting a high score in a video game is darkly comedic. Also, features a gaseous being that’s able to croon out a hilariously hippie number to the beat of Morty’s cosmic hallucinations.
S2E4 – Total Rickall
Mr Poopy Butthole. Rick’s catchphrases. Episode as an indictment of how the proliferation of random wedged-in supporting cast members and nonsensical flashback vignettes is stifling comedy television.
S2E6 – The Ricks Must Be Crazy
Keep. Summer. Safe. Also Stephen Colbert as an obnoxious alien, and Morty taking charge of the situation.
S2E10 – The Wedding Squanchers
The twist, the insight into Rick’s character, the expansion of scope, the cliffhanger, the hilarious planets that the Smith family finds, and that squanchy ending with a slightly deranged, painkiller-addled Mr Poopy Butthole. A great conclusion to an excellent season 2.
I give this series: 4 out of 5 Plumbuses