The age of commercialism continues. In a capitalist society, consumption and greed often overpowers creative breakthroughs in the entertainment industry. One series that has consistently committed to exposing this truth is Rick and Morty.
Four seasons in, the show has desperately sidestepped any “sellout” tendencies, avoiding franchised episode styles, sequels, and canonized storytelling (for the most part). This fourth run of Rick and Morty is so committed to avoiding being perceived as capitalizing on its growing popularity that it often forgets what made it so popular in the first place.
In reminiscing on the heights of the incredibly wacky first season, there is something to be said about the lack of rich animation and heavily improvised tone. The series was at its best when it was subtly smart while being incredibly stupid and nonsensical.
Now, the series’ commitment to subversion has become exhausting. Creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, ironically overexert themselves to prove how little they care about fan service or being great – mimicking the mentality of series lead Rick.
Season 4 is largely a soft reset of the show.
It attempts to bring the show back to the ground, focusing more heavily on Rick and Morty. It largely succeeds in bringing the show back to a normal playing field, but this retread sometimes comes at the expense of the fascinating developments of the remaining characters of the Smith family.
This is especially the case in the front half of the season. Rick and Morty play with death in the strong premiere (“Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Repeat”), maneuver their way through a convoluted heist (“One Crew over the Crewcoo’s Morty”), and travel through time on a snake planet (“Rattlestar Ricklactica”). The rest of the family is left to the exterior.
Where these initial episodes have clear strong points, they point to the growing issue of the showrunners attempting to do too much with each episode. The season’s strongest episodes are those that don’t attempt to stunt the viewer with heavy, convoluted story structures (the meta “Never Ricking Morty”).
For example, “The Vat of Acid Episode” keeps things relatively simple. In the episode, Morty and Rick get into an argument that leads to Morty learning a valuable lesson on picking his battles with Rick. In “Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim’s Unit,” Morty gets a dragon and what unfolds is the funniest, strangest episode of the season. “Childrick of Mort” finally brings the whole family together for one of the more thematically transparent episodes. It’s hysterical and gives Summer and Morty a chance to develop their, however damaged, relationship.
The back half of the season is easily the stronger portion. By the final few episodes, the show feels as if it did in its second year – finding a stride, playing with nihilism, and bringing the action.
The season concludes on a high, with a refreshing finale that continues the series arc and answers previously unanswered questions about the events of the third season. Will the plot developments continue into the show’s fifth season? Knowing its track record, likely not. Either way, it’s a welcome return to the formula that made the show such a hit to begin with.
Rick and Morty Season 4 may be the weakest yet, but it by no means is a bad year for the show. It shows the creators willingness, if exasperated, to experiment and push the boundaries they’ve set for themselves. It features some hilarious and thought-provoking moments, and continues to see the titular characters grow and develop, for better or worse.
However left field the series continues to become, fans will be eagerly waiting.