Friday, March 14, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Raising Gazorpazorp"

'They can jerk themselves off with six hands? Wow.'--what Morty must have thought when he first noticed that Gazorpians have six arms
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Rick and Morty takes an interesting tack for its first new episode since its way-too-long, Winter Olympics-related hiatus. Rather than continuing the "Rick's a horrible influence on Morty" thread that the incredibly dark "Rick Potion #9" ended on (which again proves that all of Rick and Morty's episodes are self-contained like '60s Star Trek episodes, as in Morty's emotionally scarred over both seeing his own dead body and having to leave behind the Earth he knew one week and then he forgets all about it the following week), "Raising Gazorpazorp" keeps Rick and his grandson separated for almost the entire story and pairs Rick up with his granddaughter Summer.

Spencer Grammer is great at voicing a vapid and sulky teen, and I especially like hearing the former Greek star's distinctive pronunciation of "Grandpa"--she pronounces it "grand-puh" instead of "grand-paw," like how some people still say "roh-butt" instead of "roh-bawt"--but otherwise, the Summer character has been on the underdeveloped side. She's just been a typical middle-aged sitcom writer's riff on boy-crazy, sulky girl teens who are always glued to their smartphones. That finally changes in "Raising Gazorpazorp," which further develops Summer and centers on her relationship with her standoffish grandpa. We learn that she wants to take part in his interdimensional adventures, but woman-hating Grandpa Rick refuses to bring along anybody who's female (it's implied that his daughter Beth was a precursor to Morty, and I'd like to see a flashback of young Beth tagging along with her dad on one of his earlier interdimensional trips). The episode also interestingly reverses the dynamic of Rick as the genius who's able to adapt to any crazy situation and his younger companion as the fish out of water who's in over his or her head.

Good fucking thing Grandpa Rick didn't walk out in Sean Connery's Zardoz diaper outfit like Starburns did on Community last week. That shit was disturbing.
(Photo source: Reddit)
"Raising Gazorpazorp" finds Rick and Summer trapped on planet Gazorpazorp, where women are dominant and more socially refined, while men are Taliban-ish warriors who have been banished to the rocky desert for their violent ways and are ordered to procreate through sex robots airdropped by the women, via the disembodied floating head from Zardoz. (This marks the second week in a row where a Dan Harmon show references Zardoz. I've never seen that movie, and judging from the snapshots I've seen of the weirdness of Zardoz, I get the feeling it's a movie that's unbearable without booze or weed.) It's fun to see Rick, whose portal gun winds up destroyed by the warriors, being out of his element for a change: he can't rely on his scientific expertise, the very thing that usually saves him and Morty, to save him and Summer when they're captured by Gazorpian ruler Mar-Sha (special guest star Claudia Black--reunited in this episode with Virginia Hey, who voices Mar-Sha's second-in-command and used to co-star with Black on Farscape, one of Rick and Morty star/co-creator Justin Roiland's favorite shows).

Summer really digs this world where men are subservient and women greet each other with "I am here if you need to talk" (an amusingly touchy-feely spin on typical alien empire greetings like "Qapla'!" and "By your command" and easily the best of the "women are sensitive" gags that some viewers this week have dismissed as being as hacky as '80s and '90s "men do this, women do that" stand-up), and she relishes pretending to be Rick's enslaver in order to blend in with Mar-Sha's Amazonian society. But Rick's misogynist attitude and his farty response to Mar-Sha's authority get him and Summer into trouble on Gazorpazorp. Fart noises are an unspeakable crime in Mar-Sha's land.

Instead of Rick's scientific expertise, what saves them both from being executed by Mar-Sha for perpetuating Earth patriarchy on a world where any form of patriarchy is punishable by death are Summer's ability to smooth-talk her way out of trouble (an ability I assume was honed off-screen from sneaking into clubs or concerts) and her ability to reason with Mar-Sha and the other women, due to her social skills being better than her misanthropic grandpa's. "If you impose Gazorpazorp's laws on Earth, you're no better than the men whose farts shall remain unspoken," says Summer to Mar-Sha.

Back on Earth, the reason why Morty's sidelined from this week's interdimensional adventure is because he's busy raising a rapidly growing child, the product of a bedroom session between Morty and a Gazorpian sex robot that Morty found in an alien pawn shop during the episode's cold open. An American Dad episode from back in the fall dealt with Steve becoming a teenage parent--and learning to love the role--after his attempt to clone a girl he wanted to take to the prom went slightly awry and instead resulted in a baby. But unlike that American Dad episode, Morty's Teen Mom experience doesn't contain a single ounce of sentimentality. It's darker and therefore funnier.

Morty Jr. is born with murderous impulses like all other Gazorpian males--all his crayon drawings depict death and destruction--and he has difficulty comprehending a more civilized way of life, which his human dad attempts to teach him about. The best part of Morty's B-story has Beth and Jerry frequently snarking at Morty's struggles with parenting and dickishly refusing to help him while they're buried in their newspapers. The grandparents played by Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt on the recently cancelled Raising Hope, which the episode's title is partly a reference to, always find ways to be helpful to their son, even though those ways are full of the strangest parenting advice, while Beth and Jerry are the complete opposite. When Morty asks his dad to help him stop an increasingly angsty Morty Jr. from going on a rampage and taking over Earth, Jerry responds with a heartless "I suppose, Morty. I suppose. But first, a deep sip from a very tall glass of 'I told you so.'" Chris Parnell's delivery as he fakes slow gulps from an invisible glass kills me.

I'm not as fond of the B-story's resolution, in which Marmaduke creator Brad Anderson (Maurice LaMarche) randomly shows up to encourage Morty Jr. to channel his murderous impulses into becoming a creative. It's something you'd see on late-period Simpsons as opposed to the less lazily written Rick and Morty. Despite the late-period-Simpsons-y feel of Anderson's sudden appearance, the cartoonist's dialogue, which echoes both Dan Harmon's frequent acknowledgement that creatives are tortured souls and Harmon's current Community arc about Professor Hickey's secret aspirations to become a cartoonist ("Publishers are interested!"), is hilarious, as is Jerry's reaction to seeing Anderson walk by.

"I'm haunted by uncontrollable thoughts of mutilation and sexual assaults on a near-daily basis. But you know, I channel it all into my work," says the Marmaduke creator to Morty Jr.

"Huh. I never got that impression from reading Marmaduke," says Morty.

"Well, did you get the impression I was trying to make you laugh?," says Anderson.

"Tell me that wasn't Brad Anderson!," says Jerry.

That exchange is one of several reasons why I'm glad for Rick and Morty's return after the annoying hiatus. "Raising Gazorpazorp" also makes me want to see Summer get more involved in her grandpa and her brother's interdimensional misadventures, and judging from the clip in the opening titles of Summer holding a baby Cthulhu inside Rick's flying car while Summer, Rick and Morty are being chased by what I assume is Mama Cthulhu, we might get to do that soon.

Other memorable quotes:
* The Futurama-esque alien pawn shop owner in the cold open has very little patience with human customers: "Like you would even know dick about fraculation! Your planet just got cell phones, and the coverage still sucks!"

* Beth, interrupting Jerry's declaration that Morty's baby is entitled to American freedoms: "Jerry, majoring in civics was your mistake. Don't punish us for it."

* Jerry, mocking the advice Beth gives to Morty about making his baby cry himself to sleep while he plays with his new grandson: "We tried that technique on Summer, and she's gonna end up stripping. Isn't she? Yes, she is! She's gonna strip for attention because she was denied it!" Beth: "Stop filling it with your own insecurity. You're gonna turn it into Mort... um, ahem, more... more... more of you."

* "Well, obviously, Summer, it appears the lower tier of this society is being manipulated through sex and advanced technology by a hidden ruling class. Sound familiar?" "Aw, Ticketmaster."

* "The spider in sector C is still alive. Plan your route accordingly and expect delays. We're not telling you what to do. We're just sharing how we feel. And now, weather. Is anyone else cold or is it just me?"

* Gazorpian judge: "Veronica Ann Bennett, I find you guilty of having bad bangs." Felon whispering to Summer: "You ever notice the ones with bad bangs always have three names?" Judge to Veronica Ann Bennett: "You are hereby sentenced to... the silent treatment!"

* Mar-Sha, learning from Summer about Marc Jacobs: "Marc? Jacob? These are names of the penis."

* Summer, referring to the Marc Jacobs top Mar-Sha complimented her on earlier in the episode: "An Earth man made this top. Maybe on your planet, separation of the genders is the right thing to do, but on Earth, a certain percentage of our males are born gay, which is why my clothes are better than all of yours." Claudia Black's regal delivery of Mar-Sha's response is hilarious: "It's true, and sometimes the truth hurts, but it must be accepted, like if I told you that you're using the wrong color foundation for your skin and it ends at your neck, making you look like a party clown."

* "My life has been a lie! God is dead! The government's lame! Thanksgiving is about killing Indians! Jesus wasn't born on Christmas! They moved the date! It was a pagan holiday!"

* Morty Jr.'s farewell to his dad is "I think it's time I get a place of my own. I promise I'll call you every day I need money or a place to do laundry."

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