How do you pin? Rick and Morty? No, reader, I ask you you, in particular — what comes to mind when you think of the breakout Adult Swim animated comedy? There’s probably the Szechuan sauce and its debacle; pickle Rick; the crazy multiverse hijinks the show did before it was cool; maybe a stray, inescapable Justin Roiland voice playing on-loop.
In my own experience, Rick and Morty is like working out: the longer it has been since I’ve been on it, the greater the mental block to go back. I really like them both, but I don’t really want to listen to someone who made their whole life. In the end, they always feel good to return to, even (or maybe especially) when it feels hard; there’s more depth to it than just the routine, everyday things, but those everyday things also get the job done.
Part of it is the fact Rick and Morty dissects its sci-fi influences at breakneck speed, going through entire concepts in a 22-minute runtime. Then there are the many layers of this particular onion: Almost as complicated as Pickle Rick is the fact that many people miss the point of Pickle Rick. And as we saw in Season 5, Rick C-137 (the show’s main Rick) has a much darker backstory than the Rick of the timeline he’s in. C-137 Rick watched his wife get killed by another Rick, and – after some time spent trying to track him down, kill several Ricks, and generally go nuts – he ended up crashing into a timeline where a Rick had left his grown daughter and settled bitterly.
It was sort of a confirmation of the story Rick told his captors from the Galactic Federation in Season 3 – a slowly reveal on a man whose true dark depths are usually alluded to throughout the show’s five seasons. But for those concerned about Season 6 picking up the mantle, co-creator Dan Harmon would just say: calm down.
“It could be a return to a season 3 ratio of canon to one-time energy,” Harmon tells Polygon of Season 6’s entries into the canon. “And more importantly, the relationship between [that and the other seasons].
“Maybe if season 5 had maybe felt a bit more like an almost compulsive dislike of canon, then a big episode at the end that promised everything. And then season 6 is like, Yes, moving forward, we will continue to try to hit that relationship the right way, instead of liking it, either compulsively avoiding or giving in to it.”
If you ask Harmon what that perfect ratio is, he’ll jokingly say “a pretty solid 20%,” if he’s going to be “joyfully mathematic about it.” He cites their recent episode schedule shift as space to “relax about the maintenance of canon,” and instead sprinkle where it feels dignified. And the two episodes for critics seem like a good example of how Rick and Morty could balance itself to move forward: the first time after the fall of the Citadel of Ricks and Evil Morty’s destruction of Portal Fluid left the fate of our Rick and Morty uncertain. The second is your classic crazy, action packed Rick and Morty episode with a great guest star.
“We’ve always seen that the show can live in both” [worlds] if we’re careful,” said Justin Roiland, co-creator and star. “We could say, Damn, let’s go full in series, dammit. […] But I just feel like it would – I don’t know if it would be any good. It’s almost like an Oreo cookie. And you just eat the shit in the middle and then you throw away [the rest]. You actually need both things.”
That kind of promise about Season 6’s balance comes at a time when multiverses are more popular than ever. It’s a reminder that Rick and Morty has been doing that for a while – so long, in fact, that it’s kind of replaced the usual discussion of how to grow their characters. Like many animated casts, the Smith-Sanchez family doesn’t age even after a few years of adventures.
“You want to have the consequences and the realism that we have with our characters. But since it’s animated, you want to keep them the same,” says Roiland. He notes that it’s not a new problem for cartoons: The Simpsons has reaffirmed its own story many times to keep itself modern, while the comic book For better and for worse let the characters age in real time. In front of Rick and MortyRoiland notes that the multiverse allows them to conjure up a specific view of a character for as long as they need it. “With sci-fi, as well as multiverse, you can get away with almost anything.”
Still, that doesn’t mean Season 6 doesn’t promise big changes. After the Season 5 finale blew up the foundations of Rick’s world as we know it, Roiland and Harmon focus on setting up new challenges for the titular duo and their loved ones. While Morty won’t make it to his 15th birthday (at least not without the usual investment of time in getting him back to where he started), he will still grow as a character.
“What Morty has to do — and this is actually really hard — Morty needs to make his relationship with Rick constantly respected,” Harmon says. “We can’t really write that Morty’s mind is blown by the insinuation that nothing matters in Episode 80; he must have gotten used to that by now. So it’s like he’s growing, he’s aging in terms of his exposure to the universe. But at the same time, even though there have been several Thanksgiving and Christmas, apparently this is only less than a year in this poor kid’s life (which spanned multiple presidential administrations).”
And so, six seasons and counting down, you can definitely expect more from Rick and Morty‘s “lore,” the poignancy and depth that haunts Rick Sanchez with every move. But you’ll also see some more movie tributes, Cronenberg monsters, immature bickering, fart jokes and meta humor, sci-fi shenanigans, and potshots on things like Avengers: Endgame. Rick and Morty face a new Big Bad, but you may not get a fix with him anytime soon. There is a interactive “episode” of the show called “Womageddon”. Meanwhile, an anime spin-off is in the works, and the duo is popping up in MultiVersus. You can’t easily pin a show like this – each audience member has a different relationship with it. whatever reputation Rick and Morty has in your heart, it will probably live up to that in the sixth season, with lots of laughter and otherworldly guts.
Rick and Morty Season 6 premieres on Adult Swim on Sunday, September 4 at 11pm