Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when I say “Gerry Rafferty”?
What did you come up with? “Who is Gerry Rafferty?” “Was he the guy in Stealers Wheel?” “Wait, Stuck in the Middle isn’t a Bob Dylan song?” All reasonable thoughts, but all of them are an incorrect first response. The correct response to “Gerry Rafferty” is “Rick and Morty”.
Alright, so maybe it was a bit of a trick question. I’ll explain.
A few of you may have come up with Baker Street, best known for its saxophone line that serves the role of a traditional chorus (coming between verses that sound like they are from an entirely different song). I spent a long time knowing that sax line, but very little about Baker Street or even Gerry Rafferty. I’m okay with this. I don’t feel I’ve missed out. Truthfully, I don’t really care for the song, but I was thrilled when it came up in Rick and Morty. And that’s what I’m here to tell you about.
Rick and Morty is the newest cartoon on Adult Swim, the creation of voice actor Justin Roiland and television golden-boy/network-pariah Dan Harmon. The show focuses on the relationship between Rick Sanchez, a brilliant but alcoholic and abrasive scientist, and his 14-year old grandson Morty, a stressed high-school student who doesn’t quite have his grandfather’s intelligence. Their relationship is most often compared to Doc and Marty from Back to the Future, and while early versions of the show were inspired by those characters, their connection to them now is mostly aesthetic. Rick is selfish, and while he protects Morty, it’s typically only when he has to, and usually as a result of a situation Rick got them into. Morty, meanwhile, has none of the easygoing cool of Marty McFly; instead he is a much more nervous sort, a problem only pushed further by the constant barrage of adventures he’s forced into by his grandfather.
Every episode so far (there have only been 6) has been a rapid-fire trip into itself. The humor comes from all directions, using traditional television conventions in spots while turning them on their ear in others. The writers have shown a willingness to pick on anything, including themselves at times (Rick and Morty love to remind you that you are watching a television show, and these tend to be some of my favorite moments, particularly those where they make a point of highlighting expository dialogue). There is a lot to like about the show, but for my dollar, there are two details that set it apart.
First of all, more than any other “adult” cartoon on today, it feels like a cartoon. Pick your favorite from this genre, and chances are it operates closer to a traditional sitcom that just happens to be animated, allowing for more absurdist moments and quick changes in set “locations” than a live-action show. (You could make a pretty good case for Archer not fitting into this category, but most of those differences have to do more with it being a send-up of spy/actions cliches as opposed to a straight-up comedy). None of this is a knock on those shows; some of my favorite shows would fit into the mold I’m describing. My point is simply that Rick and Morty operates differently. This doesn’t feel like an animated sitcom, it feels like a cartoon from my childhood grew up, developed a drinking problem, and crashed a family dinner to tell everyone how much it loves them and also how dumb they’ve become and why aren’t there any sweet potatoes left and get off your phone I’m trying to talk here and I’m really sorry I ruined everything.
Between the hyperactive nature of the jokes, the lack of continuity between episodes, and an animation style I can only describe as significantly more “cartoonish,” you have a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at people who watch their cartoons in prime-time (Find another animated show with humans that is less interested in drawing realistic looking humans. This is very much meant as a compliment). All of which brings me to the second of the two details I mentioned earlier. I can’t remember the last show that felt this directed at me. Not necessarily “me” personally, but the “me” that exists in the heart of the show’s target demographic. I realize that as 30-year old man, there are few television shows that I’m not the target audience for, but Rick and Morty isn’t trying to sell itself to other people in my age and income bracket (that’s the network’s job, and also, no one should be marketing anything to people in my income bracket, unless it’s free, in which case GET AT ME), it’s aiming at people with similar sensibilities as myself. This is why when Jerry struts out of a successful sales pitch, a song like Baker Street only pushes both the nostalgia and comedy that’s already been established. It’s a perfect song choice for the moment, on a show that has already proven itself to be very adept at hitting those marks.
None of this makes Baker Street a better or worse song, but sometimes a song takes us back to a moment, good or bad. Rick and Morty hijacked this song and that ability to recall something specific, and I’m still laughing with them.
Comments are closed.