“Rick and Morty” in five episodes

“This isn’t Game of Thrones.”

I have recently become mildly obsessed with the TV show Rick and Morty, and decided to host a party to introduce some of my great friends to it.

I am fond of a concept of a TV show playlist: picking a few episodes that are both a good introduction, and a good representation of a given show. You can either watch them and be done, satisfied you got to experience something properly… or use it as a jumping off point to embracing the whole show more systematically.

So, my friend Patrick Ewing and I came up with a playlist of five episodes. Altogether, they take up about 1½ hours — a typical movie time.

Why “Rick and Morty”?

It’s a mean, cynical show, but it also exhibits surprising humanity and depth. I like how creative it gets; you can almost feel it building up the new generation of sci-fi references and foundations. It’s a smarter, faster, more modern and more vulgar Futurama. It is also looser, messier, and rougher than a lot of TV I’m used to.

And then, I’m a fan of most of what Dan Harmon does (chiefly Community and Harmontown), and tales of mad scientists fascinated me since I read Lem’s short stories as a kid (so badly I recently translated one myself).

This snippet is a good intro to the tone and style of Rick and Morty:

The playlist

Show/watch these five episodes, in order:

  1. Rick Potion #9 · iTunes · Hulu · Google Play
  2. The Ricks Must Be Crazy · iTunes · Hulu · Google Play
  3. Mortynight Run · iTunes · Hulu · Google Play
  4. Close Rick-counters of the Third Kind · iTunes · Hulu · Google Play
  5. Total Rickall · iTunes · Hulu · Google Play

(If you have access to Blu-Rays, those are the best, since they don’t bleep things out.)

So, why these five episodes? First of all, they’re simply really good. We also tried to avoid big spoilers, give some variety, but also provide continuity and a theme to the entire playlist. More details about each episode follow, and they should be safe to read whether or not you already know the show:

1. Rick Potion #9

Even though we assumed one should start with a pilot, we eventually felt it wasn’t necessary; it’s kind of just an average episode, except for the gag at the end. Like most sitcoms, everything you need to know about the world and the characters’ relationship to each other is legible within the first two minutes of any episode.

Plus, Rick Potion #9 is a great starting point. It begins so sitcom-y, formulaic (and thus a great introduction to the characters) and crude, and then gets super fucked up and weird at the end, in such a surprising way. It establishes the sometimes affectionate, sometimes antagonistic relationship between Morty and Rick, and highlights how both have a somewhat tenuous connection with reality — although each in their own way.

The ending very much establishes this as a show with surprising depth and propensity to mess with the audience.

2. The Ricks Must Be Crazy

This is, to me, Rick at his rickest and most hilarious. The whole fractal sequence of exploring embedded universes is brilliant comedy, culminating in the *cough* too slow bit that makes me laugh every single time.

Even though the later tree-people bits are lukewarm, the rest is so strong it doesn’t matter. Plus, one can never get enough of Stephen Colbert, here in a guest role of another genius scientist almost as smart as Rick. The B-plot, set in the world of “giant telepathic spiders and eleven 9/11s,” delivers as well.

If you’re watching with friends, you might want to point out how opening credits feature bits from upcoming episodes alongside bits made just for the intro. It’s one of the show’s many brilliant little moments, and trying to guess which one is which is a fun exercise.

3. Mortynight Run

One of the unspoken tensions in the entire show is whether Morty is going to eventually grow up to become just like Rick. This episode explores this wonderfully, and it’s also a quintessential Jerry “The factory tint setting is always too high” Smith episode.

Throw in some explorations of ethics and morality, an expertly-timed fart joke, and one of the best high-concept gags in the whole show (the “Roy: A Life Well Lived” VR game). Blips and Chiiiiitz!

4. Close Rick-counters of the Third Kind

I love seeing a fictional world fleshed out. Rick Potion #9 established the notion of infinite parallel universes and this episode, just like the previous one, builds on that, asking “what if those universes collaborated?” This gave us a Jerry daycare last time, and this episode presents the interdimensional bureaucracy of The Council of Ricks.

This is a good episode to warm up to; knowing Rick and Morty a bit at this point makes the existence of multiple, slightly different Ricks and Mortys more interesting, making us question identity in face of infinity.

(Keep your eyes out for the Cronenberg Rick & Morty lurking in the shadows. I bet they’re the happiest ones of them all.)

5. Total Rickall

You know how some sci-fi stumbles upon an interesting high concept, and then completely buckles under its weight? (I’m looking at you, Chris Nolan of Inception and Interstellar.) This feels like the opposite — a brilliant idea that the creators know how to mine endlessly, just like Pluto. The whole episode is a juggernaut that keeps on going, surprising up until the very last minute.

Plus, there’s a really interesting deeper thought here, one that made me look at my relationships with people differently. And, I need to mention all the brilliant details; the creators of the show are aware they live in the times when devoted audiences will inspect every frame with a whatever’s today’s equivalent of a magnifying glass. For example, in a nice bit of continuity, the alien parasite is brought home on glowing rocks from Mortynight Run, and it’s worth paying attention to the slightly… altered opening credits.

And then what?

Three things:

One: this is an interesting 15-minute video that examines Rick and Morty as disciples of Schopenhauer and Thacker. It might make you appreciate it even more — and pick up an interesting philosophy book or two:

Two: Steal the idea, and have a watching party for a different show you like! Pick a few crucial episodes and string them together in a little narrative for your friends. Let me know how it goes.

Three: That’s it. Watch the rest of Rick and Morty in order, or move on to other things in your sad, pointless, cosmically irrelevant existence, summarized in this brilliant cold open:

Thanks to Patrick Ewing for helping me figure a lot of the above, and more than a few smarter words I lifted verbatim from our correspondence.

Previously: A case for watching the prequels, “Alternatywy 4” in America and The best movie reviews I wrote.