Rick and Morty is a special kind of madness. For those not familiar with the cult hit that’s currently airing its second season on Adult Swim, it’s the story of a sociopathic genius named Rick who traverses time and space with the help of his grandson, Morty. The dynamic between the two is often contentious and their adventures often result in incalculable death and destruction. If it sounds like a perverse version of “Doc and Marty,” that’s about right. It’s also a sly mix of Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone and a bunch of cultural oddities, including the Nightmare on Elm Street TV show from the late 80s.
The show, which comes to us from the twisted minds of Justin Roiland (Acceptable TV, The Sarah Silverman Program) and Dan Harmon (Community), is nothing short of brilliant. It’s equal parts insightful, juvenile and quotable. It’s world-building is sensational and its character dynamics are far beyond anything else we’re seeing on the animated landscape of late night television. It comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched a few episodes that this one has a strong, dedicated following.
This is what has led me to the season 1 DVD commentary track, where plenty more fun awaits. Keep reading to see what I heard from the creators of Rick and Morty, including both lessons to be learned and just some weird stuff that happened on the commentary track.
Rick and Morty, Season 1 (2014)
Commentators: Justin Roiland (co-creator, voice of both Rick and Morty), Dan Harmon (co-creator, writer, producer, rapper) and various others, including Ryan Ridley (writer/producer), Tom Kauffman (writer), Ryan Elder (composer) and more.
Episode 1, “Pilot”:
1. The original pilot written in 6 hours. The story was broken, sold and written on the same day in Dan Harmon’s office following Community S3. “You [Justin Roiland] said to me, ‘if you leave now, we’ll be done in three months. But if you stay, we can finish this today,’” explains Harmon. He stayed and the rest, as they say, was history.
2. The audio for the pilot’s cold open, in which Rick drunkenly creates a bomb and must be talked down by Morty, was recorded in Justin Roiland’s garage.
3. The dynamic between Rick and Morty is based on Doc Brown and Marty McFly. You can see the birth of the concept in Roiland’s video The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti (warning, somehow it’s even more NSFW than episodes of Rick and Morty), created in 2006.
4. “It’s an accurate personification of bipolar disorder,” Dan Harmon describing Justin Roiland’s two halves, Rick and Morty.
5. At one point the commentary devolves into Justin Roiland beat-boxing and rapping a score for the pilot, because there are only about 10 minutes of music in the actual episode.
6. When Rick pulls the mega-seed apart in the pilot, there are two full seeds inside, not two halves. It makes no sense.
7. “I didn’t like the burping at first, but I’m good with it now.” Something Donald Glover told Dan Harmon via text right before they started recording the commentary. Dan Harmon also hated the burping, at first. Roiland also commented on Rick’s burping, saying, “I don’t even know how much I love the burping.”
8. “As much as there’s one scene in the first Indiana Jones movie that makes you go, ‘That’s Indiana Jones,’ this is that scene for Rick and Morty,” Dan Harmon on the Rick and Morty running through customs scene.
9. There are numerous odes to Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide), beginning with the door coming up on Rick and Morty as they are running through customs, forcing them to scale the wall with their special shoes.
10. “That’s your new 6 seasons and a movie,” Dan Harmon on Justin Roiland’s improved line for Rick and Morty to last 100 years.
Episode 2, “Lawnmower Dog”:
11. Snuffles is designed after Justin Roiland’s dog, whose name is Jerry.
12. Justin Roiland was very nervous about people writing the show off because of the terrorism/9–11 humor in the episode.
13. There was a “Rixty Minutes” subplot that got cut that was about Rick searching for the second season of Mrs. Pancakes, which had been cancelled. But when he finds a dimension in which it exists, but it sucks because the show’s creator was fired and replaced, a clear reference to Community season 4 (the Dan Harmon-less season).
14. “My favorite design in season one is Snuffles in his exoskeleton,” says Roiland.
15. “I just want all dogs to be happy and loved and taken care of,” explains Roiland. Originally when the dogs kidnap the news anchor, they were going to put a gun in her mouth as opposed to a muzzle over her face. But Roiland ultimately didn’t want the dogs to be too menacing (or have to battle Standards and Practices over that one).
Episode 3, “Anatomy Park”:
16. The original “Anatomy Park” episode was a Thanksgiving episode about zombies inside a human body. It also included a race war between green and blue aliens that would occur inside of Ruben.
17. Dana Carvey voiced Jerry’s dad and a news reporter in this episode.
18. The Christmas trees on Jerry’s sweater are upside down. Once this is pointed out, it becomes a recurring theme throughout the commentary.
19. “Whenever I think of sexual kinks, I almost always think of someone watching, dressed as Superman,” Dan Harmon explains the origin of Jerry’s father’s sexual proclivities.
20. The tattoo on the shoulder of Pancho, the guy who is ultimately revealed to be the saboteur of Anatomy Park, is the same as Ninja from Die Antwoord’s chest tattoo. Die Antwoord is one of Justin Roiland’s favorite bands.
21. “I have a heavy theme of molestation in my work and I think that maybe I’m channeling something that I’ve suppressed,” explains Dan Harmon, whose overshares are part of his charm.
22. “That puffy vagina line is fucking amazing,” admired Justin Roiland. Yes, it is.
Episode 4, “M. Night Shaym-Aliens!”:
23. This episode is based on a 1964 James Garner movie called 36 Hours, in which Garner plays an American G.I. who is kidnapped by Germans. They attempt to convince him that World War II is over so that they can get details about the Allied innovation of Europe.
24. In early drafts, the classroom scene in this episode was supposed to devolve into an orgy that involved Morty, Jessica, Mr. Goldenfold and other students.
25. “A chicken in a peanut and a house with a raisin, run around together in a tiny little station.” This was the original Morty rap from the simulation scene, as recalled by Ryan Ridley. In the final scene, no actual rapping takes place.
26. The creators seem fascinated by what transpired between Jerry and simulated Beth between the moment he begins kissing her and the next time we see them, in bed. The would like to see the story of how Jerry got Beth up stairs to bed in one of the Rick and Morty comic books. Which means that I’ll now need to buy the Rick and Morty comic books.
27. The Mr. Marklovitz (Jerry’s boss in the simulation) running into the wall gag, then having his lower body turn around first is a reference to Goldeneye on Nintendo 64.
28. The song that Rick does at the end (it also appears earlier in the episode), is “Baker Street” by Scottish artist Gerry Rafferty. Try watching this video and not getting a bit of a Rick and Morty vibe.
29. “Rick is like the dark version of Abed on Community,” explains Dan Harmon.
Episode 5, “Meeseeks and Destroy”:
30. The design of the space ship in the cold open, on which Rick and Morty are battling a demonic clone version of their own family, is meant to look like Event Horizon.
31. There was a big debate about the size of the Meeseeks. At one point they were going to be much smaller.
32. “About half the time we need to just realize that Justin is right,” explains Dan Harmon. He’s talking about how some of the episodes that don’t work so well are the ones in which some of the Justin craziness is pulled away. But when the writers give into the madness of Roiland’s mind, they often get the best results.
33. The giant in the episode is drawn based on Dan Harmon and is voice by Steve Agee.
34. “This story just makes no sense. It’s a story about not having a story,” explains Harmon.
35. Ryan Ridley: “We’ve always talked about doing a comic book called ‘Tales from the Thirsty Step,’” following the various characters as if it were interesting like the Star Wars Cantina.
36. Tom Kenney (Spongebob) voices Mr. Jellybean, the very rapey king of the village Rick and Morty are trying to save.
37. There is a story behind where the Meeseeks got the gun and the horse, something about jumping a mounted cop.
38. “I’m proud of this performance on the Meeseeks,” explains Roiland. “I shredded my vocal chords on this one.”
Episode 6, “Rick Potion #9”:
39. Along with “Lawnmower Dog,” this is one of the first episodes that was written for the entire series.
40. Originally the end of this episode felt more like a season finale, but they had also considered doing it second. In the end, Justin Roiland decided, “Fuck it, let’s put it in the middle.”
41. “That’s Kendrick Lamar as the flu rapper,” explains Ryan Ridley. It’s not actually Kendrick Lamar. It was Dan Harmon.
42. “Because Summer is a few years older, she calls Rick out on some of his biggest crimes,” explains Dan Harmon. The creators have an affinity for the dynamic between Summer and Rick. Morty always realizes too late that Rick is a monster, whereas Summer is always on to him.
43. “If it does exist, it will be on Tumblr. That’s where all the all-male Rule 34 stuff exists,” explains Roiland, responding to the question of whether or not there is a Rule 34 version of the Morty/Goldenfold/Principle Vagina threesome.
44. “You have to break your own rules in the final third of your episode,” Dan Harmon on how he overthinks things a lot. Some of the more interesting episodes have, as he describes, a “slingshot around the sun” feel to them in which the writers aren’t sticking to a rigid structure so much as just going where the story takes them.
45. “Rick is a very petty character. I don’t need to tell you that,” Dan Harmon on the deep truths about Rick.
46. The Mazy Star song “Look On Down From The Bridge,” which is used at the end of the episode, was also used to close out an episode of The Sopranos.
47. In the guest commentary, of which there are two, Al Jean and Matt Groening invite Justin Roiland, who isn’t present for the commentary, to do a Simpsons couch gag. The result was pretty epic:
Episode 7, “Raising Gazorpazorp”:
48. This is a “special edition” commentary that had to be done a second time because Justin was too drunk the first time around and said some things that we not ready for prime time. If I’m honest, that’s the commentary track I’d really like to hear.
49. There’s a long conversation about the misadventures in masturbation to open this commentary, one of which involves expensive Oil of Olay face cream.
50. Much to the surprise of the creators, much of this episode went over smoothly with Standards and Practices. Even the design of the sex robot was fine, except for the design of the mouth. That was problematic.
51. The origin of “Wub a lub a dub dub” is revealed by Ryan Ridley. In the script it was written like Curly from the Three Stooges saying, “woop whoop whoop.” It was later changed by Dan Harmon in the final script to something slightly more nonsensical. The actual final catchphrase was improvised by Justin Roiland in the sound booth.
52. The Marc Jacobs top on Summer is an actual Marc Jacobs top, chosen by Roiland because “it looked cute” to him. This later resulted in Marc Jacobs International tweeting an image of Summer. It was a milestone in Rick and Morty history, according to Harmon.
53. “Remember that all these people go home at night and watch Gazorpazorpfield,” explains Dan Harmon, referring to the “Rixty Minutes” vignette about this planet’s version of Garfield. Although it’s difficult to imagine that the women of Gazorpazorp watch the show. Perhaps it comes from an alternate universe.
54. This episode includes two voice actresses from the cast of Farscape, Claudia Black and Virginia Hey. Farscape, along with Degrassi, are two shows from which Justin Roiland brought in talent, mostly because he just loves both shows.
55. “This is three male writers on a cable comedy show saying to you, ‘the solution to gender issues is homosexuality,’” Dan Harmon on the ultimate message of the Gazorpazorp storyline.
56. Every comic artist they wanted to parody bit about creatives who yearn for death and destruction lived in Missouri, which presents some sort of legal issue, as Missouri’s laws about parody are more stringent than the rest of the country. They ended up going with “Marmaduke” creator Brad Anderson, who does not live in Missouri.
57. “Here’s Summer’s pink spaceship. We’re going to do a comic book episode about how she destroys it,” explains Harmon. Because in a later episode she needs a ride to work. Where did her pink spaceship go?
Episode 8, “Rixty Minutes”:
58. The interdemensional cable idea came from Justin Roiland’s desire to see “Who’s The Boss” in a dimension in which every proper noun starts with Schmoo and Schmla.
59. Much of what we see on the inter dimensional cable was improvised by Justin Roiland in a sound booth and based on single story lines that the writers had put on the writer’s room white board. Roiland and a bottle of Hennessy were responsible for the bulk of it, though. In some parts, you can hear him getting progressively more drunk.
60. “There’s something about the way Justin stammers and misspeaks that’s infectious,” explains Dan Harmon in his attempt to explain some of the overall charm of Rick and Morty.
61. “Two Brothers” was the “biggest, most improv bullshit” part of the episode, according to Roiland.
62. There were multiple origins for Ballfondlers, including one that looked more like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where people had really short arms and couldn’t reach their balls for fondling. It eventually evolved into the A-Team parody that exists in the final version.
63. Dan Harmon does the voice of the SNL announcer. At one point he gets to the picture of the three strange aliens and says, “I’ll get back to that one,” it was out of genuine confusion.
64. Dan Harmon: “I love our legal team, by the way. They were like, ‘that’s fine.’” about Gazorpazorpfield.
65. “If anyone thinks that any of these sketches are a little weak, you should see what’s on the cutting room floor,” explains Ryan Ridley. One of the things on the cutting room floor was called “Unrelatable Seinfeld.” We’ll just never see that one.
66. “When I was a kid I used to doodle little girls, then I would beat off to them. Is that what you all want to hear?” Justin Roiland explains after the guffaws over his latest reference to Summer being attractive, of which there are many on this commentary track.
67. “Chaos and relativity does undermine your search for meaning. But it also undermines your futility. If the universe has no center, then everywhere is the center. Just as surely as your relationship means nothing, it can also mean everything,” explains Dan Harmon during the moment when alternate universe Jerry and Beth are reunited. This is evidence of some of the deep, thoughtful meaning behind some of the Rick and Morty madness.
68. The photographs from the Hamster in the Butt world is some of Justin Roiland’s favorite art from the entire season. “They should be DVD posters or something.”
Episode 9, “Something Ricked This Way Comes”:
69. The basis for this episode is around the archetype of an old man with a shop selling creepy wares, a la Friday the 13th The Series, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Needful Things, etc. “I loved that we could have that kind of character that would make Rick want to have a pissing contest with him,” explains Dan Harmon.
70. “I love how cinematic the score is,” JR on Ryan Elder’s score, which really shines in this particular episode.
71. The use of the word “retarded” was Dan Harmon’s experiment to see if he could argue the validation of the use of the word. In the context of Rick and Morty’s conversation, no one ultimately had a problem with the usage of the word. “I think it’s a example of Adult Swim and how it runs. There’s a lot less cooks in the kitchen over there,” explains Roiland.
72. The original pitch for the show included a hard rule about the B-stories about the family always being rooted and domestic. This is the first episode in which Harmon and Roiland were comfortable enough with the show and characters to throw that out the window. “Sometimes sci-fi shit just happens to other people,” says Harmon when Morty and Jerry are abducted away to Pluto.
73. There’s a cursed Emmy Award in Mr. Needful’s shop.
74. Nolan North, famous video game actor, voices Scroopie Noopers. The characters name was Dan Harmon making fun of the way Justin Roiland names characters.
75. There’s a Poke-ball in the background behind Mr. Needful after he’s revived by Summer. The show’s runners are big fans of Pokemon.
76. “This is a really important Rick and Summer episode, even more so than the sex robot one,” explains Roiland. “We’re really getting deeper into how different their relationship is than Rick and Morty.”
77. Visually, the animators scaled everything down on Pluto because Plutonians are so small. Every time you see Jerry sitting down on Pluto, his knees are up to his chest.
78. The story about Morty throwing his poopy underwear out the window is a true story from Dan Harmon’s childhood.
79. “There’s about three times per episode in which I rip off Douglas Adams,” explains Dan Harmon.
80. Some of the kids that work for N33dful.com are in the “Ricksy Business” party in a later episode, some of whom may or may not be wearing their name badges. “They just came from work.”
81. “We originally had a different song (for the end montage in which Summer and Rick get ripped and take revenge upon the devil,” explains Justin Roiland. But Dan O’Connor, the board artist who drew the sequence, put in the DMX song and it just stuck.
82. In the post credits scene, every fight is identical. Every move is the same, the victim simply changes (and Rick and Summer switch sides).
Episode 10, “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind”:
83. “We reinvented TV,” DH on the fact that this show has main characters are seen at one point burying their own bodies.
84. The badges worn by the Council of Ricks members were made into real badges and given as a gift to the crew. “If you see one of those on eBay, buy one no matter the price,” says Roiland.
85. There were numerous alternate Ricks and Mortys designed, including gender-bending versions. Although there are no overweight Ricks and Mortys.
86. There’s an image on the screen in the Council of Ricks in which Rick has his head literally up his own ass. The panel seems surprised that this made it past Standards and Practices.
87. The original phones ordering chairs joke ended with “Bean bag.” It had to be changed because the previous joke ends with the chairs ordering “Mexican on half,” when they are ordering people. So as to not allow anyone to connect the dots and cry racism, they changed the order of the second joke.
88. It was discovered during pick-ups, which happen after the show is pretty much finished, that Sarah Chalke can burp on command. Thus, the Beth burping moment was born.
89. “This is sort of a weird blend of Douglas Adams in Doctor Seuss,” explains Dan Harmon, describing the world in which chairs are the sentient life form and people are chairs, and in which the chairs eat phones.
90. The backdrop for the planet on which the evil Rick’s lair exists is based on both the Turtle swamp from The Neverending Story and the general look and feel of The Dark Crystal.
91. Eric Stoltz from Mask Morty was originally written as Chinese Morty. It was changed for obvious reasons.
92. “We’re coming up on our season’s first and last Mumford and Sons joke,” explains Dan Harmon as we see Rick sparring with Evil Rick. Having watched the season numerous times myself, I can confirm that there is only one Mumford and Sons joke.
93. The evil Rick with wires in his head was not a robot. He was a human Rick who had been modified so that he could be controlled remotely by the evil Morty.
94. The song from the closing credits is by Blonde Readhead, another of Justin Roiland’s favorite bands that appears on the show’s soundtrack.
95. Dan Harmon is very hung up about the fact that Dufus Rick is accused of eating his own shit, then later makes brownies for Jerry. “They should have been cupcakes.”
Episode 11, “Ricksy Business”:
96. This episode wasn’t originally intended as the finale. The actual finale was originally supposed to be the Council of Ricks episode.
97. The genesis of the story was the testicle monsters and the house being teleported into the alien world. “That’s what we had to build a story around,” according to Ryan Ridley.
98. Bird Person is inspired by Hawk, a character from Buck Rogers. He is voiced by Dan Harmon.
99. Gearhead has some design roots in Justin Roiland’s He-Man toys.
100. “The continuity of where people are standing (in the party scene) was a fucking nightmare,” explains Justin Roiland, citing the fact that this was one of the most difficult episodes for the animators at Bardel Entertainment, the Canadian company that does the bulk of animation work on the show.
101. “No one other than me that worked on this did anything other than the best job possible,” says Harmon with regard to the Titanic-themed B-story. There’s so much shame about the Titanic story that has welled up deep inside Dan Harmon. “It’s gotta be my fault.”
102. Dan Harmon seeks to outlaw “full-on like South Park style treatments of existing pop culture storylines,” exhibiting their reticence to going too far into that territory with any of their stories. “Those guys are really good, you’re right,” concedes Roiland. Although he does insist that they should “never say never” when it comes to doing referential material.
103. Abradolf Linkler was a character that had been drawn on their whiteboard from very early on in the show’s creative process.
The “boy” joke that involved Linkler and Brad had to be explained to Justin Roiland, who didn’t really get why “boy” would be offensive. He’s an innocent soul.
104. A lot of crew members likenesses are in the crowds on the Titanic.
105. “In this party scene, we introduce a lot of characters that may come back with bigger roles in season 2,” explains Ryan Ridley. “If you want to see a sixth season of Community, it wouldn’t hurt to request more Bird Person,” says Dan Harmon.
106. Getting the Celine Dion song from the end of Titanic was “a little too pricey,” according to Roiland. “We blew our music budget on ‘Shake That Ass Bitch’ (by Booty Bass).”
107. The entire episode was based on Justin Roiland’s insistence on the testicle monsters passing things between their vagina-like orifices, a gag that only really appears in the post-credits tag.
Best in Commentary
- Dan Harmon: “When people on Reddit say stuff, sometimes they’re 15.”
- “You can’t top this. I’m just realizing that. We’re fucked.” Dan Harmon, after the moment where Rick and Morty emerge to find their own dead bodies in “Rick Potion #9.”
- Justin Roiland’s sage advice: “If you’re on mushrooms and you’re having a bad time, just start walking.”
I’ve tried to watch a lot of Adult Swim shows, but many of them have fallen into the category of “not for me.” Rick and Morty is the most glaring exception to this. It’s a show that feels like it’s being created just for me. In my household, the answer to the ever-daunting question of “what are we going to watch tonight?” has become rewatching Rick and Morty. Because even after numerous viewings, the jokes still work. The dialogue is so sharp and the darkness is so deep that you can’t believe the experience is real. I would say that I’m not just a fan of Rick and Morty, I am someone who feels honored to live in its presence. And I can’t wait to see what they do next.