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Before I portal us off into TV show universes unexplored, let’s be perfectly honest upfront: Rick and Morty is a fairly unique formula. In my mind (as a super fan) there’s nothing currently on the same quality level as it. That said, the DNA of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s darkly humorous creation can be discovered in other bits of entertainment. This is what we’re exploring today, the distant cousins out in the vast multiverse of online streaming services.
If you’re after more of the same style of Rick and Morty wit, then you really ought to rewind a little through the career of lead writer Dan Harmon. Inspired by his own budget-priced college shenanigans, Harmon whipped up one of the best sitcoms ever made and called it Community. Pro tip before you binge: only bother yourself with the first three seasons. After that point, Harmon was told to hit the bricks after he had “creative conflicts” with network executives.
When it comes to fanbases, you’ll find a ton of overlap between Rick and Morty diehards and folks who really like ISIS. (And at this point I should probably explain I’m referring not to the violent wannabe caliphate, rather the name of a US-based spy bureau that serves as the backdrop of Archer.) In this series, an extremely capable operator, who is also incredibly negligent and a smart ass, undertakes dangerous freelance missions while being forced to share a workplace with an ex-girlfriend super spy and his domineering bureau director/mother. Hilarity ensues.
Older, more cultured Rick and Morty aficionados will have noticed that the narrative style of the average episode is in line with British norms, versus what lead writer Dan Harmon describes as “the sterile, rubber-lined room of American children’s or family TV”. Dig into some of the classic seasons of Doctor Who and you’ll recognise a lot of Rick and Morty‘s concepts and humour here and there. Much like Rick Sanchez, the titular Doctor is a protagonist who isn’t necessarily our definition of likeable, or even understandable, but they’re buddied up with sidekicks that question their judgment. Also, our portal-hopping egghead is a nihilistic, alcoholic monster.
In keeping in the same vein as the last entry, both of the co-producers of Rick and Morty have expressed a fondness for this British TV series. “In the writers’ room it feels like I’m always actively referencing some parallel from Hitchhiker’s Guide,” Dan Harmon freely admits. Further, Hitchhiker’s references are often his go-to when he and Roiland are in the writers’ room. Douglas Adams’ work is basically where this dynamic duo learned everything about the concept of an infinite universe as entertainment, as it pertained emotionally to the common man. I’m also guessing this series taught them to have a deeper respect for the number 42, too.
Come on now. You’d have to be pretty oblivious of pop culture not to be able to see the similarities in Robert Zemeckis’ cinematic masterpiece and Rick and Morty. Premise: older, garage-based scientist takes younger ward on a fantastic journey that bends space-time. Not convinced? Rick and Morty spawned from a Justin Roiland short called The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti. Feel free to go and look for that on YouTube. A word of warning, don’t watch it at work.
While it feels and looks more like a love letter to 1990s cartoons, Bojack Horseman comes highly recommended for anybody after darker comedy akin to Rick and Morty. Essentially what we have here is yet more of the “character pain can be cathartic” style of humour. BoJack, the literal, titular horse-man is an actor past his prime (or is that put to pasture?) who lives a decent life in Hollywood but has become embittered by it. Sharp-tongued, but also desperate for approval and riddled with loneliness, Bo regularly takes out his insecurities on a small circle of human and anthropomorphic animal friends (key members played by Aaron Paul and Alison Brie).
The first big differentiator between this series and Rick and Morty is that the comedy here is far more grounded in reality and centred on the coming-of-age problems we face during puberty. So yeah, it’s basically like an extended look at a typical Morty story arc (just without a scientist guardian who’s fine with treating raging hormones with an experience-expanding sex robot). Instead of using sci-fi elements, Big Mouth takes a slight fantasy route by using sex-centric shoulder angels as a story device to pester 7th-grader pals Nick Birch and Andrew Glouberman.
Obviously, I’m pushing the animated cosmos-faring sci-fi angle here pretty hard. Final Space tells the tale of Gary Goodspeed, a less-than-adept astronaut who encounters an alien that’s basically an adorable, pocket-sized Death Star called “Mooncake”. Hunted down by a megalomaniac named The Lord Commander, Gary and his growing band of misfit crew members must race through the galaxy to discover what the mysterious term “final space” truly means. Beyond the interstellar setting (and a penchant for over-the-top gore), tonally, there’s a heck of a lot more optimism in Final Space. Go in expecting “Star Wars or Interstellar with comedy” instead.
First thing you should know is that Rick and Morty co-creator, Justin Roiland, is all about this series, recently tweeting “God I love Home Movies. Can’t they revive that show?”. What do these two shows share in common, though? For starters, they’re both heavily retro-scripted, meaning that the voice talent gets ample opportunity to improvise and keep the material that genuinely amuses them on the day. The interplay between Home Movies voice actors, Brendon Small and H. Jon Benjamin, is banter on the same level as Justin Roiland when he’s doing his own weird little acerbic self-conversations (Roiland plays both Rick and Morty).
Lastly, any fan of Rick’s foul-mouthed, non-PC ways would do well to check out fellow smut king South Park. Now in its 22nd season, this crudely drawn sitcom about the dysfunctional redneck residents of a mountain town has gone from strength to strength. Still very much under the guidance of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, this series has become increasingly slicker in terms of aesthetics, plus the range of the topics mercilessly skewered has also grown in size, scope and absurdity. The only downside to South Park I can see is it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take the piss out of the American zeitgeist in 2019. Everything’s kinda weird by default nowadays.
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