Here’s What Makes Rick and Morty So Popular

Back in 2017, McDonald’s decided to reinstate their Szechuan dipping sauce as a publicity stunt after the condiment was mentioned as a joke in the popular adult cartoon show Rick and Morty. Within hours things got out of control. The sauce sold out almost immediately and dozens, if not hundreds, of fans began chanting “We want sauce!” to the point that the police were called to many McDonald’s franchises to deal with the commotion. This incident took over the news cycle and left many people wondering: why are people so wild about Rick and Morty season after season?

Since the debut Rick and Morty season in 2013, the show has garnered a passionate fanbase, one that also tends to include legions of very opinionated young men (and even Kanye West). The show started as a niche curiosity for millennials who watched shows like Family Guy, but it quickly grew to become one of the most popular comedies on TV and a global cultural phenomenon. For outsiders, the devotion to the Adult Swim show seems bizarre, but Rick and Morty is a hilarious, sentimental and excellently-written show that can appeal to many, if you give it a chance. So here are a few of the ingredients to the secret sauce that makes Rick and Morty episodes so popular:


World Building

Rick and Morty 1
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon haven’t just made a TV show, they’ve created a whole metaverse of characters, cities, galaxies, and alternative realities. In 2006, Roiland presented The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti – a Back to the Future parody that would become the seed of Rick and Morty – at a short film festival hosted by Harmon (known for creating Community). After a few years, Adult Swim asked Harmon to make an animated show, and he immediately thought of Roiland, as the creator had already developed the story of a genius but emotionally abusive scientist (Rick) who takes his grandson (Morty) on near- death adventures across galaxies, dimensions, and realities.

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The sci-fi elements and surrealist tone of the show – along with the fact that it’s animated – allow the characters to meet all sorts of mythical Lovecraftian creatures, fantastical worlds with bizarre precious resources, and even alternate versions of themselves. Throughout the show’s run, this fictional world has only kept expanding under the view of the trans-dimensional council of Ricks in the Citadel. Speaking to Fast Company on the world-building of the show, Harmon said:

We certainly wanted to make sure at the outset that anything was possible. We’ve both worked in environments where, the dark side of TV is its limitations, which is how you end up jumping the shark. You’re confined to something and then once you’ve outgrown that confinement, your show is over, so we wanted to make a world where, much like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxyit’s just infinite.

Complex and Interesting Characters

Rick and Morty
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

While every Rick and Morty episode features a hilariously outlandish plot, it is moored back to Earth thanks to the complexity of its main characters. Rick and Morty are wholly human characters with clear strengths and flaws, hurdles to overcome, and lessons to learn. One of the main arcs of the show has been Rick’s development of empathy towards his daughter, her kids, and her husband. While Rick is a scientific genius, he often lacks the emotional intelligence to understand the consequences of his impulsive actions – and his alcohol addiction does not help.

Morty, on the other hand, is a typical pre-teen navigating the horrors of puberty and trying to develop some confidence. Beth, Rick’s daughter and Morty’s mom, is a veterinarian who is slowly discovering that she is dissatisfied with her life, while her husband Jerry is a dimwit constantly trying to become a better husband and dad. Summer, Morty’s sister, is growing and becoming comfortable with herself, learning form the mistakes of her family and becoming a responsible young woman. The main characters in Rick and Morty have distinctive personalities and struggles that guide the comedic and absurdist storylines into dramatic territory. This is why so many viewers have fallen in love with Rick despite his flaws.

Related: Rick and Morty Co-Creator Dan Harmon Brings Ancient Greece Animated Comedy to Fox

Dark, Crass and Absurd Humor

Rick and Morty Season 3 Sneak Peek Footage Is Hilarious

While the show takes place in a sci-fi universe, its main goal is to make you laugh – out loud. The Rick and Morty writers have developed a signature sense of humor that combines the absurdity of its plotlines with quick one-liners from jaded Rick, hilarious breakdowns from the anxious Morty, running gags from extraterrestrial characters, gross but funny violence, and ridiculous situations that one cannot help but simply laugh at (Pickle Rick!).

The show is not afraid to push the envelope; it is willing to joke about sex, identity, existential crises, addiction, and death in a crass and direct way. Although it is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is a great watch for adults who like intelligent, witty and sometimes offensive comedy. It also satirizes contemporary American culture, poking fun at our TV consumerism, the fragility of the nuclear family, and even our relationship with pets. The comedy has been criticized for being too nihilisticbut the show also mocks itself, reminding viewers that Rick should not be seen as a hero but as a symptom of a rotten society.

Philosophical Contemplations

Rick and Morty 2
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

However, what makes people go from casual viewers to rabid fans of Rick and Morty is the show’s titillating philosophical explorations. As mentioned, the show’s tone usually leans on the nihilistic, which crosses over onto the show’s existential ethos. Like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, the worn-out Rick has come to terms with the fact that there is no higher meaning to human existence; he does not believe in God, religion, or any transcendental being. Rick is constantly depressed, drinking and treating others with cruelty, but he also offers us many lessons in how to live in a meaningless world.

Who can forget that genius scene where Mazzy Star plays while Rick and Morty bury their dead selves from a replacement dimension, leading to Morty’s realization of his own mortality and that of everyone around him? This is when Morty says the infamous line, “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” The show’s existentialist bent is countered by its insistence in the power of family and friendship; the only glimmer of hope in Rick and Morty is what they find in each other. The show reflects a society riddled with alienation and anxiety, and while it may not offer any solutions or happy endings, it is always good medicine to laugh at the things that usually make us cry. This is perhaps why the show has won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program, and continues to be so massively, hauntingly popular.

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