Friday, March 21, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Rixty Minutes"

Rick changes the channel to a Back to the Future marathon and is shocked to realize he's just a ripoff of Doc Brown.
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.

With "Rixty Minutes," Rick and Morty made both TV history and social media history last weekend as the first cable or broadcast network show to ever premiere an entire episode on Instagram (Adult Swim posted the episode in clips that totaled more than 100 and were each 15 seconds long, due to the clip size limits of Instagram's video-sharing feature). Like the troubled launch of the Veronica Mars movie on Flixster/Ultraviolet, which infuriated the movie's Kickstarter donors that same weekend, Rick and Morty's nutty Instagram experiment/stunt wasn't without glitches, although they weren't as big of a pain in the ass as the Veronica Mars clusterfuck: some clips wouldn't play after I clicked on the "next clip" arrow icon on the video window, so I had to close the window and go back to the Rick and Morty account's thumbnail menu to reactivate the clip that wouldn't play.

At the Smiths' house, technology is hardly as glitchy as Instagram's video clip feature or Flixster, thanks to the genius of Rick Sanchez, who despises the insipid Bachelor episode that his daughter Beth and her family are watching together and has discovered a way to make ordinary TV much more entertaining. Rick rejiggers the Smiths' cable box so that it can pick up cable TV from any parallel universe ("How about Showtime Extreme in a world where man evolved from corn?"). Then he tosses to Beth, Jerry and Summer a pair of VR goggles that allows them to see what the parallel versions of themselves are like, through the eyes of their parallel counterparts (it's the same kind of goggles Rick used in "Rick Potion #9" to locate the parallel universe he and Morty fled to and currently call home), just so that he and Morty can have the newly upgraded TV all to themselves. The way that Rick's half of the episode is structured--after the cold open, he spends nearly all of his screen time parked in front of the TV, flipping through weird program after weird program--is why "Rixty Minutes" is the perfect Rick and Morty episode for Instagram's 15-seconds-per-clip format instead of a more narratively busy episode like "M. Night Shyam-Aliens!" or last week's "Raising Gazorpazorp."

To make the programs and commercials in "Rixty Minutes" as weird and nonsensical as possible, co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon ad-libbed the dialogue for almost all of them (and then the animators worked from there). It's like a drunken Axe Cop, fueled not by the imagination of some cartoonist's baby brother but by the imagination of a couple of grown-up comedy writers improvising in a recording studio (one of whom isn't shy about his love of booze while performing or working, and you can even hear him slurring his words while voicing the police captain in a cop show spoof about a detective with baby legs). At the end of his voiceover during the trailer for an action movie starring a Dwayne Johnson lookalike, Harmon can be heard laughing over the title he came up with for the movie (Two Brothers), and at the end of the clip of a Garfield parody called Gazorpazorpfield, Roiland cracks up too while pretending to be Lorenzo Music doing the voice of Gazorpazorpfield (by the way, Rick and Morty's discussion of the weirdness of both the late Music voicing Bill Murray's Ghostbusters character on The Real Ghostbusters and Murray later voicing Music's old Garfield role in the Garfield movies made the day of this Murray fan and former Real Ghostbusters viewer).

Roiland and Harmon corpsing is funnier than the actual bits themselves. In fact, most of these fake shows and ads aren't really all that funny, although the fake cereal commercial--think a Lucky Charms ad reimagined by Tom Savini--is a delightfully sick and twisted riff on how sociopathic the kids often used to be in animated General Mills cereal ads. And I especially like the jabs at Chris Parnell's old SNL stomping grounds and the way that the SNL cast can get so oversized and unwieldy in certain seasons during the scene where Rick stumbles into SNL from another reality ("It's Saturday Night Live! Starring a piece of toast! Two guys with handlebar mustaches! A man painted silver who makes robot noises!"). Sadly, just like SNL in our reality, their reality's SNL would rather add a piece of toast and a silver man who makes robot noises to its cast than an Asian American comedian.

There once was an episode of Davey and Goliath that ended just like this.

I don't know why Dany's there when she's never been seen interacting with the Lannisters, but who gives a fuck?

As amusing as some of the parallel-universe TV clips are (dig the split-second shot of alt-Game of Thrones), the "drunken Axe Cop" half of "Rixty Minutes" is overshadowed by Beth, Jerry and Summer's B-story, which, unlike last week's episode, addresses some of the ramifications of Rick and Morty's actions at the end of "Rick Potion #9." The B-story also proves that Roiland and Harmon can shift from humor to seriousness in an animated show as masterfully as the latter showrunner does in live-action form whenever he handles the darkest or most serious moments of Community.

The discoveries Beth and Jerry make about their lives in other realities (Beth learns she's the wealthy and respected hospital surgeon she always wanted to be instead of merely being an animal surgeon, while Jerry learns he's a movie star who's banging Kristen Stewart) cause them to become further disappointed in their present lives and their strained marriage. Harsh words are once again exchanged between Beth and Jerry, and out spills the truth they've tried to keep hidden from Summer, who's been wondering why she can't find any parallel versions of herself in Rick's interdimensional goggles: Beth wanted to have an abortion when she learned she was pregnant with Summer, whereas in the other realities that Beth and Jerry are starting to wish they lived in, they never had kids. Summer takes it well and decides to run away from home.

What follows is the best non-comedic scene Rick and Morty has done since the eerie, Mazzy Star-soundtracked conclusion of "Rick Potion #9." Morty, who's never really been seen bonding with his big sister, yet he doesn't want her to leave (possibly because he's been through enough craziness and upheaval in his life already), attempts to stop her from running away by revealing to her something as equally screwed-up as her situation. That, of course, is fleeing his badly Cronenberged reality to assume the identity of the deceased Morty in this reality and then burying his counterpart's corpse in the backyard.

They chose a really weird moment to do a Dell product placement.
(Photo source: Morty and Rick)
"And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast 20 yards away from my own rotting corpse," confesses Morty.

"So you're not my brother?," says Summer.

"I'm better than your brother. I'm a version of your brother you can trust when he says, 'Don't run.' Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV," says Morty.

It's Morty's way of saying "I don't want you to leave because you're my big sister and I've been through enough" without using those cheesy words. It also marks a fascinating shift in Morty's once-weak-willed character. He's starting to adopt Rick's nihilist worldview (as exemplified in the pilot by Rick's breakfast table line that "There is no God, Summer. You gotta rip that Band-Aid off now."), except he's way more compassionate about it than Rick. We got hints of this compassion while he was trying to raise Morty Jr. to be less homicidal and more civilized in "Raising Gazorpazorp," and I can't wait to see what happens when this conscience of his re-emerges when he stands up to Rick at his worst, at some point later in the season, according to Roiland.

And Morty gets Summer to stay without giving her a godawful Miller-Boyett sitcom hug (while Beth and Jerry's teary reconciliation--right after they're both moved by seeing their parallel counterparts find their way back to each other--borders on Miller-Boyett-y, but fortunately, it's soundtracked by Belly's 1995 song "Seal My Fate," which is hardly as excruciating as typical Miller-Boyett hugging scene music). I'm so proud of Morty, and I'm so proud of this goddamn show.

Stray observations/other memorable quotes:
* Sarah Chalke, who was cast as Beth because of her ability to burp on cue, finally gets to make use of this talent when Beth belches just like her drunken dad while she knocks back wine by herself in the kitchen with the interdimensional goggles on.

* Check out the Afro puffs on the B.A. Baracus counterpart in the A-Team-inspired Ball Fondlers.

I take it he's a Lady of Rage fan.

* "You know, me and Morty are having a blast. We just discovered a show called Ball Fondlers. I mean, I don't wanna rub it in or anything, but you guys clearly backed the wrong conceptual horse."

* "I'm gonna... move to the Southwest, and... I don't know, do something with turquoise!"

* "And returning for his 25th consecutive year, Bobby Moynihaaaaaaaaaaan!"

* This has to be a Harmon line, because it references both his own Community feud with Chevy Chase and Chase's behind-the-scenes SNL confrontations with Bill Murray and everyone else who worked on the show: "Interesting fun fact: uh, Moynihan and Piece of Toast hate each other. Apparently, they've got some real creative differences."

* Here's yet another sign that we're far from sappy, clean-cut Miller-Boyett territory: The post-credits tag of "Rixty Minutes" is a photo montage of the Smiths on vacation in a universe where hamsters live in people's butts.

Because she's a doctor, Beth isn't thinking, 'This is fun.' She's thinking, 'Is this shit even sanitary?'
(Photo source: Reddit)

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