Rick and Morty is a popular animated show that constantly seeks to upend fan expectations and give viewers completely new content.
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Rick and Morty has been a sci-fi sensation from the moment it aired. If it doesn’t have its viewers doubled up with laughter, it has them scratching their heads as they try to puzzle through the complex sci-fi concepts. However, for as long as it’s been a success, it’s had its own army of fans. A small but vocal group who has gained a notoriety almost as infamous as the show itself. Co-creator Dan Harmon has been known for using meta-narrative and comedy in nearly all of his shows.
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The same is true with Rick and Morty; the central characters are aware of how they’re seen and what sort of adventures are expected of them. Of course, this allows the writers to mess with the demanding fans, to mess with the loyal fans, and just to mess with anything they please. At the time of writing, seven episodes of season four have been aired and this list will look at how this season (and possibly the future of Rick and Morty) won’t be what fans expect at all.
10 Mocking The Fans
Already this season there have been a number of very thinly veiled jabs at the fans. Particularly the more aggressive and militant ones. In the opening episode, Rick finds himself traveling through dimensions trying to get back to his own reality. As he goes, he finds alternate versions of himself that all happily live in fascist societies. Not only is it clearly a jab at Rick and Morty’s nastier fandom, but also a chance for Rick himself to understand how some of his behaviors may come across: a piece of character development, which also forever burns the bridges to that side of the show.
9 Genre Spoofs
Rick and Morty has always prided itself on its cleverness. If it’s not inventing its own mind-bending science fiction then it’s homaging or improving on established ones. However, there is also a very playful and childish sense of fun that runs through the show. The first half of this season, in particular, feels more heavily weighted to the latter.
So far a lot of the episodes have been given over to spoofing genres; fantasy, heist, time-travel. Clearly the writers have a lot of frustration with overdone tropes they’re trying to exercise out. In doing that, however, they’ve rekindled the show’s sense of fun, perhaps making it more accessible.
8 Returning Characters
The show has a wide array of hilarious and bizarre side-characters, many of whom had their returns repeatedly teased. However, with the exception of Mr. Poopy-Butthole, nearly every character (the Meeseeks, Evil Morty, Phoenix Person) has either appeared for a second then been killed, or revealed to be part of a simulation and therefore not real. The show was originally so popular because it was so fresh and new. Clearly maintaining that is difficult; but an effective way is to tease familiarity, only to unexpectedly take it away again.
7 No Interdimensional Cable
Each season has now had some variant on the "Interdimensional Cable Episode". Rick and Morty watch a series of small skits and scenes within their own universe, while dialogue is often improvised over the top. They’ve been hilarious and strange and fan-favorite episodes. However, this season, the episode "Never Ricking Morty" begins by showing small sketches, only for the central characters to reject this premise as ‘boring’, in one of the most meta episodes to date. It could be that the writers never do another episode like it again.
6 More Surreal, Less Scientific
One of the show’s main strengths is the way it can write funny dialogue and action sequences that correspond to the specific scientific concern of the episode. Jokes can often be layered deep with different references. However, this season the show seems to be scratching a different comedy itch. Its sense of surrealism, in particular, is being emphasized.
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For example in "Rattlestar Ricklactica" a significant amount of the screen time is given over to snakes just hissing; and an entire episode is dedicated, not to questions about space/time, but Rick’s need for a private bathroom
5 Questions Without Answers
Throughout the series, small subplots have been teased; in post-credit scenes, or in subtle moments of dialogue. However, no effort seems to be being made to answer these questions. Indeed, after the ‘Never Ricking Morty’ episode, it may be that they never get answered at all. Given the nihilistic nature of the show, this may prove to be an appropriate response. Questions like Beth being a robot, however, seem too big to just ignore, but the writers have made it clear they’re in no rush to answer.
4 Disregard For Lore
On a similar note, this season, the writers seem less interested in expanding any established lore. Almost all of the post-credit scenes have been given over to jokes rather than plot. In fact, it’s almost as though they’re debating whether the show even has established lore. Characters like Evil Morty were given that name and status by fans. No concrete information has been given by the show itself. This season, more than any other, the writers seem keen to take by control and deliver the show on their own terms.
3 Rick’s Lack Of Power
Season 3 ended with Rick in a much more subdued position within the Smith household; for one thing, he now has to ask permission to take Morty on adventures and is reprimanded when he excludes Summer. For much of this season, he has stayed in the same place.
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It’s certainly a piece of character development, but probably not what was expected. So far, Rick’s stories have usually seen him sad that he’s alone and complaining that he can’t hang out with Morty like they used to.
2 No Finale In Sight
Another element of the show that was thrown under the bus during the ‘Never Ricking Morty’ episode. There have always been hints of a wider story brewing in the background, but now it may be that it amounts to nothing. In many ways it makes sense; having to get to a finale can cause writers to find themselves in plot traps (like a certain popular HBO show). This way the show can be what it wants, not what it’s supposed to be.
1 Rick’s Becoming More Unlikable
Character development can happen in subtle ways in this show. Meta-jokes and insults thrown at the fans begin to look like a commentary on the central character himself. Far from making him become a hero, the show has instead had Rick confront his fascistic other-selves; in the most recent episode, ‘Promortius’, the show compares him to pundit Alex Jones; even the ‘Interdimensional Cable’ episode was just people sharing stories of how much they hated him. It probably won’t be like that forever, but for time being it seems the fans are being tested on just how loyal they are to Rick.
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