That episode was crazy. Here are some of my initial reactions.
1) Rick and Morty is embracing its place in pop culture
This season premiere announced, as loudly as it could, that Roiland and Harmon are perfectly fine being the center of attention for a while.
Everything about the way this episode has been presented oozes confidence bordering on bravado. They dropped it as a free online stream around 10pm on April Fool’s Day. They knew they didn’t need to tease it or build it up. They made a bigger splash by just throwing it out there in the middle of the night. That’s Beyonce-level confidence.
They randomly threw a massive curveball at McDonald’s marketing just because they thought it would be funny.
After an initial ten minutes of apparent vulnerability, the show snaps into crazy mode. The rest of the episode blasted cheerfully through its own wacky mythos, packing every moment it could find with callbacks, continuity gags, and Crowning Moments of Awesome.
Rick and Morty has officially embraced its place as a true phenomenon.
2) The fans are going to take things too far
This is just a fact of modern internet life. Fans are like children who break their favorite toy because they can’t help but play with it too hard.
Rick and Morty became successful as a weird underdog show full of bizarre ideas. It will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.
3) The Season 3 premiere was mainly about the show itself
At the beginning of Season 2, Rick and Morty felt like a show with something to prove.
Season 2, Episode 1 is one of my favorite episodes of any TV show ever. It has an interesting concept, sharp execution, and an emotional story. The episode is small-scale, but clever and daring.
Season 3, Episode 1 is very different. It doesn’t feel like a show with something to prove – it feels like a show that knows damn well it has proven itself and is going to relax and have some fun.
In a deep way, the Season 3 premiere is about the show, not any particular concept. It plays with the show’s previous episodes, it lets each character have signature moments, and it blows up large chunks of the show’s deeper mythos.
Dan Harmon’s previous show, Community, went through a parallel transition. It also increasingly became a show about itself. Community never succeeded in quite the way Rick and Morty has, so the meta-narrative was very different. Community ended up being about a show trying to hang on for dear life, told through the lives of a group of friends clinging to each other in a hostile world. Rick and Morty is about a show experiencing wild, unexpected success, told through the lives of the smartest person in the universe and his trusty sidekick who is along for the ride.
4) Adult Swim is brilliant, or maybe just crazy
Adult Swim has managed to build a brand around a particular sort of weird stoner humor that manages to always feel authentic. Honestly, I’m not really Adult Swim’s target market, and I don’t follow most of their shows. But Adult Swim feels genuine to me in a way no other TV brand can pull off. Plus, Adult Swim gave Rick and Morty a chance, gave them massive leeway, and is now reaping the rewards.
My bet is that in a world where live TV viewership is crumbling and it is becoming hard for any show to capture a really big audience, Adult Swim is showing us the future. Tight branding, niche shows with potential for breakout success, and shows that are easily memed makes for a potent combination in the age of the internet.
5) Szechuan Sauce