This might be the greatest cartoon episode ever made. Yes, my evaluation of it is grounded in an ever-growing favorable bias toward all things Dan Harmon, in which I examine his work through a generous lens that presupposes his genius. It’s not surprising then that I’m quick to proclaim his triumphs and dismiss his misfires. What brought me back to this episode in particular, and to re-watching Rick and Morty generally, is a revision exercise document that Fuller shared with me from his writing class.
Exercise #1 is simple: Find a place in your story where something happens. Go to that moment and write down “What if?” List five things that could happen instead – and make one of them “outrageous.” Value: Stretch the possibilities of what might happen; look at the events of a story as being malleable; working with clay, not stone.
Harmon and Justin Roiland seem to approach Rick and Morty as though it’s infinitely malleable clay; that is, it’s replete with possibilities, all of which are reasonable within the show’s wide-open, chaotic universe. They’ve set this capacious world up with compelling, likeable, relatable characters, to whom they grant essential care so that the situations in which they find themselves are never doubted as suitable by the audience. Because we’re so invested in the characters, there’s nowhere the show can’t go with them. As long as they’re there, it doesn’t really matter where we find ourselves with them. This seems to be the same principle that makes Community work so well, though I imagine this can be applied to any show and its loyal audience.
The show is limited only by the bounds of Roiland and Harmon’s imaginations, which, when paired, seem to open even crazier doors than either would walk through in isolation. What I admire so much about them is that they’re willing to share parts of their psyche that remain dormant/repressed for most people; this is the major appeal of Harmon’s podcast, Harmontown. Yes, I might be misreading transparency and honesty for mere entertainment, but even if he’s playing a character, it’s one that he certainly seems to believe is himself. So isn’t that sincerity? And isn’t that praiseworthy? It takes us down dark paths, his dark paths, but he lets us go there with him, to the places we’re supposed to keep hidden, the places that society would have us conceal and redirect and sublimate that energy into something more acceptable (i.e. art in the form of a cartoon, a sitcom, or a podcast).
I’m not sure where I meant to go with this post now that I’m running into other responsibilities…
I suppose it was to magnify a moment that shows the beauty of the creative process when individuals are granted the freedom to explore possibilities. The “outrageous” things seem the most fascinating, especially when they fit the world and the characters you’ve created. I’m eager to see how I might integrate this exercise into my novel’s second draft, though now I wonder why I’m attempting this thing in isolation. I mean, look at all the people that make a film happen…why am I making this journey alone?
OR I’m simply excited for the show’s second season. I’ll enjoy the self-contained nostalgia of Community‘s Season 6 in the meantime.