Rick and Morty, the animated Adult Swim comedy from Community mastermind Dan Harmon and his partner-in-weirdness Justin Roiland, is hard to categorize. The basic setup (an alcoholic mad scientist drags his teenage grandson on dimension-hopping adventures) is an obvious play on the Back to the Future dynamic; the titular names, after all, are only a step away from “Doc and Marty.” But over the course of the first season, the show grew into a colorful, widespread homage to every flavor of science fiction. Getting into season 2, Rick and Morty became just as interested in its characters’ familial dynamics as in their spectacular adventures. At times, it even reached the equally depressing and hilarious heights of other dark comedies like BoJack Horseman and You’re the Worst.
Harmon recently told EW that the creators are hard at work on season 3, but no premiere date has been set. That makes this the perfect time to catch up on Rick and Morty so that you’re ready for the eventual, glorious return of Mr. Poopy Butthole. The clips below should help explain the show’s unique inventive weirdness.
1. Beginning with a bang
Fortunately for the initiated, Rick and Morty starts off with a bang. The literal first few seconds of the show feature a clearly drunk Rick (Roiland) dragging his grandson Morty (also Roiland) out of bed, taking him into a spaceship, and threatening to destroy the world. This balls-to-the-wall clip does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the series. Rick may be a scientific genius, but he’s also a drunk, self-hating misanthrope who could easily blow up Earth if a few things go wrong. Morty may be dumb as a brick, but he’s armed with enough common sense and basic morality to stop his grandfather from going too far…most of the time, anyway.
2. Crashing The Simpsons‘ couch
Rick and Morty is an Adult Swim show, and as such its mainstream recognition is still somewhat limited. The protagonists were granted a brief spotlight, however, when they crashed The Simpsons‘ couch gag in a season 26 episode of their animated predecessor. Although not technically part of the main Rick and Morty series, this extended gag (which includes the duo accidentally killing the Simpson family, trying to fix their mess, and failing spectacularly) does do a good job of explaining the show’s aesthetic to newcomers.
3. Good dog, bad husband
For all its sci-fi spectacle, Rick and Morty often spends just as much time examining the Smiths’ family dynamic — notably, the disappointing marriage between Morty’s parents Jerry (Chris Parnell) and Beth (Sarah Chalke). After getting pregnant with Morty’s older sister Summer (Spencer Grammer), Beth gave up her ambitions to settle down with Jerry, the epitome of the middle-American dad so common to TV. What differentiates Jerry from other punchline patriarchs, however, is the way Parnell and the animators infuse him with tragic sympathy. Witness this clip from the second episode, in which Beth’s stone-cold reaction to Jerry joking about their marriage sends him into a miniature, completely silent tailspin — even as their newly scientifically-enhanced dog plots his revolt.
4. Welcome to Anatomy Park
Somewhat hilariously, Rick and Morty has not yet featured any time travel, meaning it’s never done a true Back to the Future homage outside of its basic setup. The show has, however, parodied nearly every other notable sci-fi premise in pop culture. The third episode of season 1, for example, features an extended riff on Jurassic Park. In this version, the amusement park is set inside the body of a dying homeless man. Instead of cloned dinosaurs, this park is packed with monstrous bacteria, deadly stomach acid, and white blood cells. That flourish of goofy rides that greets Morty as he enters Anatomy Park (after being miniaturized and injected into the man’s body by Rick with no warning) is a testament to the show’s visual style.
5. Introducing Abradolf Lincler
Rick has a bad habit of designing scientific experiments and then abandoning them when they don’t turn out the way he hoped. Such was the fate of Abradolf Lincler, a combination of Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln that Rick cloned in an attempt at creating a “morally-neutral super leader.” The result, though, was a confused creature who despaired at his own incomprehensible existence while also delivering ingenious battle cries like “prepare to be emancipated from your own inferior genes!” The combination of tragedy, pathos, and nonsensical hilarity in a single throwaway character is emblematic of the show’s wide-ranging emotional spectrum.
6. Exposing “Uncle Steve”
As one would expect from a Harmon show, Rick and Morty deconstructs cliché sitcom tropes just as mercilessly as Community did. One standout season 2 episode actually hit three of them at once: bottle episodes, clip shows, and “Cousin Oliver”-like goofy relatives who show up late in a show’s run in a desperate attempt to boost flagging ratings. The Smith family comes under assault from alien parasites that shapeshift into long-lost silly friends like “Uncle Steve” and “Tinkles the magic ballerina lamb,” a situation Rick chooses to explain by shooting “Uncle Steve” in the head.
7. How to make a Plumbus
Part of the fun of Rick and Morty is never knowing what each new episode will bring, but the two seasons thus far have shared one commonality: an episode of interdimensional TV. In each episode, Rick modifies a TV set to receive broadcasts from across time and space. The subsequent programs are beamed straight from the weirdest depths of Roiland’s brain, full of alien characters and improvised dialogue and general ridiculousness. One of the highlights from season 2’s iteration was a How It’s Made parody populated entirely with alien words and objects (such as “shleem” and “fleeb juice” and the final product, a “plumbus”). It’s hard to stop laughing at each new word Roiland comes up with, proof that the show’s improv/punk attitude is just as important as its high-concept sci-fi riffs. The combination of the two is what makes Rick and Morty so enjoyably unique.