'Rick and Morty' creators: At its best, 'It almost starts to feel like the television is broken'
The future of Dan Harmon's "Community" remains very much up in the air (at this point, if Yahoo orders another season, it would likely be a "Community: The New Class" approach, with Joel McHale, Jim Rash and a bunch of newbies). The future of Harmon and Justin Roiland's Adult Swim series "Rick and Morty," on the other hand, seems so secure that, in an interview earlier this week, the two creators made several casual references to things they intend to do in season 3.
"Rick and Morty" began in Roiland's mind as an R-rated "Back to the Future" parody where Doc Brown relationship with Marty McFly is much darker and crueler. As Harmon explained to me last year, it evolved into its current imaginative sci-fi form where Rick is the drunk super-genius grandfather of Morty (both voiced by Roiland), forever taking his grandson on disturbing adventures across time, space, and an infinite number of parallel realities, each with their own versions of Rick, Morty, Morty's parents Beth (Sarah Chalke) and Jerry (Chris Parnell) and sister Summer (Spencer Grammer).
It's been more than a year since the last episode of season 1 aired, and I couldn't have been happier to watch the start of season 2, which debuts Sunday night at 11:30 on Adult Swim.
Here's my conversation with Roiland and Harmon, in which we discuss why they decided to make the rest of Morty's family part of the adventures so quickly, why we unfortunately won't get another Mr. Meeseeks episode this year, the pressure of following up such a beloved debut season, and a lot more. There are some mild spoilers for concepts in the first two episodes.
Dan, when you and I spoke last year about the show, you said that there are 8000 different ways to do "Community" wrong, and no ways to do "Rick and Morty" wrong. Having made a second season, do you still feel that way? Or were there points this year where you had to stop and say, "This isn't our show"?
Dan Harmon: I think that's the curse of longevity with TV, as it turns out. You can't do a second season without starting to have that thought creep into your head: "Oh, there's a way to do this wrong." Now that you've seen it on TV, and now that you've seen the fan response, that statement has definitely changed. I think it's just a numbers game. Us doing the second season of a show is twice as anxiety-ridden as the first season, because you're worried about that. But I think in the third season, because we don't like anxiety, I think we'll be more dedicated to relaxation. Now, we'll be able to compare the two seasons in terms of the process and go, "Well, we didn't have as much fun, because we were so worried about backlash and screwing things up and dropping the ball. Where does that worry get us?" In the end, the times during season 2 when we were having the most fun is when the audience will have the most fun. The end product of both seasons, you won't be able to tell that. It's just the process sitting in the room. There were more 3 a.m. nights on "Rick and Morty." It was starting to get that "Community" feeling.
Justin, how was the experience for you of season 2 versus season 1?
Justin Roiland: A lot of what Dan's saying is true. Season 2, there was a little bit of pressure seeing the reaction to season 1, having that swimming around in your head. Even if you push it as far back as you can, it's still there, subconsciously affecting things. In season 2, we got through the first episode, from a script standpoint, we really got back into the groove of things, I feel like, and found that fun craziness that we had in season 1. We keep talking about the future, but moving forward, I'm excited. I agree with Dan. I think there's going to be less pressure on ourselves and more focus on fun. "Let's have fun. Let's take these characters and do crazy fun stuff." And we did that in season 2; there's a ton of episodes in season 2 that's just crazy fun, and I can't wait to hear what the response is going to be. But season 2 is a little bit tougher, just because we had expectations.
Were there certain things the fans had responded to in season 1 that you wanted to move towards? Or was it the opposite reaction, where you didn't want to do what people were necessarily clamoring for?
Dan Harmon: There was a lot of conversation about whether to call things back or not. Should we bring Mr. Meeseeks back? Should we double down on Evil Morty, which would indicate it was a serialized, dramatic storyline? In all those conversations, I would be the most gun-shy one and go, "We only have 10 episodes. We just got started, and I'm coming off of a show that's been on the air for five years, and early on in its run, the critical appraisal started to send the meta message to would-be new viewers that this was some kind of self-worshiping inside joke fest, that would be repellent at the water cooler to the second million people that might start watching." The big takeaway from all of this is that there's only one wrong way to think about your show, and that's to overthink it. It doesn't matter if you're trying to avoid mistakes or creating more of them by being really proud of yourself. If you're writing from a place of, "Let's accomplish something," instead of just, "Let's entertain ourselves," that's the only thing that makes things difficult. It's kind of unavoidable. You'll be worried about that, and then you'll be worried about worrying about it, and then worried about worrying about worrying about it. Second season, like Justin says, the first episode, it carries that nervousness into the narrative. The story is about indecision and overthinking things, and Rick becomes his own worst enemy, because he's assuming the other possible him, if he were him, would try to kill himself, so he kind of loses his mind. We had no choice but to get that out of our system and just move on.