‘Rick and Morty’ Threw Out the Script to Make One of Their Best Episodes
‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series is examined.
“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
Rick and Morty is a show that is constantly experimenting, whether it’s an episode that’s split into 64 separate quadrants or a fake clip show that’s also a heavy riff on The Thing. In a very short amount of time the series has been able to establish itself as one that breaks the rules and takes risks (much like Dan Harmon’s previous series, Community). The idea of doing a largely improvised episode of an animated program is deeply ambitious (look no further than Home Movies’ problematic first season) and something that could completely fall apart. However, this is a show about science and experiments after all, so to actually conduct one itself — curious to see the outcome — is a brilliant application of switching to an improvised structure.
Impressively, there isn’t even really a plot to “Rixty Minutes,” but this is barely something that you notice due to the breakneck bombardment of comedy. This is by far the thinnest episode of the series up until this point, yet it also became many people’s favorite entry, and this is a show that thrives on its meticulous plotting. The synthesis here is a rare thing where the show’s intelligence and creativity work in tandem with this “laziness” and abandonment of a script to produce something very special that shouldn’t work. Again, there’s no real plot here other than Rick showing off his fancy interdimensional cable box, with a plethora of media from other realities being vegged on accordingly. The episode even “premiered” early in a weird Instagram experiment where the episode was posted online in 100 15-second clips.
We also allow for this episode to be structurally different because television is such a crucial element for the series, with improv being the perfect conduit to explore it in. All of the television ads and commercials are unscripted, as if to imply that television is full of freedom and limitless expectations, whereas Rick, Morty, and everyone else are tethered to reality’s script. That’s a heavy message to impart, but one that’s completely in line with the show’s frequent nihilism. It plays hand-in-hand with the mammoth emotional impact that the episode goes out on, with this being a balanced mix of heaviness and silliness that makes the binaries of television and real-life very clear. In the end it’s the repressive embrace of television that Morty pushes onto summer as a way of dealing with life. Never before have chaotic rambles been more important.
A lot of this episode’s success is due to coasting off of Justin Roiland’s fumbling energy and simply how much fun these guys are having with their nonsense. There are so many instances where Roiland breaks down or just straight up laughs during whatever he is saying. Rather than the episode attempting professionalism by editing this material out, it instead celebrates it and relishes the moments when things go off the rails. After all, isn’t that part of the fun of an improv experiment in the first place? You want to see the rough edges. The commercials that the family sift through hit parodies of pop culture, explore rambling exercises in comedy, and relish in the bizarre, almost as if trying to make it a point to confuse the viewer. The interdimensional aspect of this programming conceit is never backed down from. There are even weird echoes of real life coursing through the episode’s conversational tone, like the tangent on Lorenzo Music and Bill Murray. These are just real, campfire-esque conversations and the sort of chatter that you actually have with your friends while casually watching TV; it’s a perfect reflection of that relaxed dynamic.
One of the truly amazing feats within “Rixty Minutes” is seeing the artwork that these animators come up with based off of Roiland and Harmon’s improvised tangents (their work in the Turbulent Juice ad is particularly inspired). The animators were given free reign to do whatever they wanted with the nonsense that’s being spouted and it amounts to a prime example of how funny the animators (or art department) of a series can be, in addition to the writers. This is as much a showcase for them as it is the writing staff.
It’s not surprising that such a resounding success would be attempted again in Rick and Morty’s second season, appropriately enough with the sequel’s subtitle being “Tempting Fate.” There are some considerable diminishing returns on the second attempt at this structure, and its misfire might have been enough to bury the idea (and a prime example of the difficulty in trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, and why Community’s returns to paintball were met with some scrutiny), rather than it becoming the yearly tradition that the show might have originally thought it could be. As cruddy as it might become though, it’s still television. And that’s still a hell of a lot better than real life.