Wait, this could be interesting.
When I was 10, I spent a lot of time at the house alone, and while I would read and play video games, there were times when I just sat in the living room and watched TV. For hours. I never watched a specific show, because this was usually a Saturday or a Sunday and nothing was on. So what I did was I channel surfed. For, again, hours; up and down the dial (although there was no dial, and we had maybe a hundred channels), sometimes sticking on something for a few minutes, sometimes jumping away immediately. I was honestly proud of this, for some reason. I would tell people about it. I’m telling you about it. But what I remember most wasn’t getting any real pleasure or happiness or anything actually satisfying out of watching. What I remember is that it was like a signal in my head was being blocked; all the random terrors and stresses and resentments and self-awareness was jammed out, and instead there was just the endless possibility of what might happen next. I didn’t expect to find anything worth watching. The process was the point. Keep switching. Don’t focus. Move on.
Move on. “Rixty Minutes” is the first Rick And Morty episode that doesn’t really have a plot. Did you catch that? There’s a premise: Rick gets sick of regular TV and upgrades the family cablebox to let them see any possible channel in any possible reality. When Jerry gets a glimpse of another him on the Late Show With David Letterman, he becomes obsessed with learning more about alternate Jerrys—and when Rick explains that everyone in the family has an alternate, Beth and Summer also get curious. So Rick gives them a device that will let them see through the eyes of their other selves, while he and Morty stay on the couch, changing channels and seeing what crazy shit they can find. Rick has never really shown much interest in what might have been, but it’s surprising, and important, that Morty is right there with him. There might have been a point in Morty’s life when he wanted to know about other Mortys. But not anymore.
Okay, but how about—early in the episode, Morty makes a comment about how the channels they’ve been watching through the infinite cable device have a “looser feel” to them, and Rick agrees, suggesting the whole thing seems improvised. Which, really, that has to be a meta moment, because once they point it out, it becomes crazy obvious that all the inter-dimensional stuff clearly was improvised, and then animated at some later date; the vocal work is kind of stumbling at times, and some bits barely make any sense, like the ad for Turbulent Juice that works as kind of a goof on pornier advertising style, but only because of the visuals—the actual voice-over is nonsense.
Less nonsensical, but still firmly in the realm of totally-made-up-on-the-spot is the awesome movie trailer for Alien Invasion Tomato Monster Mexican Armada Brothers Who Are Just Regular Brothers Running In A Van From In An Asteroid And All Sorts Of Things The Movie, although they changed the title to Two Brothers because Jesus, test screenings, you can never tell what happens there. Where previous episodes had clearly designed worlds and systems—even when those systems were ludicrous, they were still inherently consistent—this is just the scribbling and madness of a bunch of teenagers left after school, maybe smoking dope and just shouting whatever pops into their heads. Which should be awful, but the clips are so short that it works—and the self-conscious stupidity of it becomes funnier as the episode goes on. And weirdly affecting, almost, because it’s just more blocking the signal. It’s filling the space. It’s creating some kind of order, haphazard though it may be.
No, wait. There’s also, because in the kitchen, Jerry, Beth, and Summer are finding things they probably don’t want to know about their potentialities. Jerry could’ve been a famous actor screwing Kristen Stewart and snorting coke with Johnny Depp; Beth could’ve been a surgeon on actual people. And Summer… well, most places, Summer doesn’t actually exist. Turns out that Beth got pregnant with Summer on prom night, and Jerry (along with some car trouble) was all that kept Beth from having an abortion—and in these other universes, in their Summer-free existences, Beth and Jerry seem to be living their dreams.
It’s not the best news to get, knowing that your parents didn’t really want you and would be happier without you, and neither Jerry nor Beth do a great job explaining their reasons. Because if you have this whole idea of a family, where you belong and where you are loved, to then realize that idea isn’t something that makes sense—that there are realities in which the concept which is you doesn’t exist at all, and everyone is better for it—that’s the fucking worst. Summer gets mad and decides to move out and live her own life, and honestly, she’s right when she says she could probably make better life choices than Jerry and Beth ever did (between this episode and last week’s, Summer is definitely coming into her own). But really she’s angry, because to not be angry would mean admitting that maybe she shouldn’t be around at all.
Except, hold on—turns out the other Jerry and the other Beth are maybe not so happy after all. Movie star Jerry ends up making a slow-speed chase to Person Surgeon Beth’s (lonely, bird-cage filled) home, and telling her he loves her. So I guess in this alternate reality, banging Kristen Stewart and starring in Cloud Atlas isn’t enough to stop true love. Or something. Look, it’s sort of sappy, and in a way it just plays into the dysfunctional story Beth and Jerry keep telling themselves every time they get in a crisis; at this point, it looks like their whole marriage is a series of near-separations, followed by last minute reconciliation, followed by presumably acceptable make-up sex. Beth clearly thinks she can do better, and Jerry is so crippled by self-loathing that the only way they can function together is on a kind of passive-aggressive pendulum swing, pulling away and coming back, pulling away and coming back. It’s touching that they’re back in each others’ arms by the end, but unsettling too. It works, but this is just going to happen again, like it’s happened before. This is what they come back to. This is what keeps them going.
But change it, this is no good, who needs that. Because the real heart of the episode isn’t Beth and Jerry’s big reunion (which is sweet and dysfunctional and whatever). What really counts is when Morty goes to Summer while she’s packing to leave, and instead of giving her some treacly sentimental symbol of his love for her, he points out the two (very obvious) graves in the back yard and tells her how he died. The ending of “Rick Potion #9” was a brilliant twist, but it was the sort of twist that could easily never come up again. The fact that something so scarring and unsettling would leave no lasting mark could just be part of the joke. For Morty to tell his sister—who isn’t exactly his sister—is brilliant. It explains his complete lack of interest in using Rick’s dimension viewer (what is there for him to see?), but it also provides the closest thing the episode has to a moral: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
That’s bleak. That is some bleak, bleak shit right there. But if you can hold onto it for a second, maybe it’s more valuable than true love or riches or performing surgery on actual people; maybe acknowledging that everything is inherently, massively insane, and that we aren’t going to win in the long run, is in a weird way healthy. Maybe the best we can do is stay around the people we’re at least reasonably sure care about us, and put up with them, and realize that whatever perfect life we think we might have somewhere is just somebody else’s bad dream. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a home waiting for you. Even though your parents half-hate each other and your brother is messed up in the head and your sister was a mistake and your grandfather is a sociopathic super genius who basically destroyed civilization in another dimension and murdered himself, and that means that anybody could die again, that just being alive means—
Oh wait. Go back. No, go back. Ball Fondlers is on.
- In case my review did not make it clear, this episode pretty much blew me away. Something about the shagginess, combined with Morty’s speech to Summer, combined with the ending, just worked in a way I was not at all expecting. And the fact that all that improvised random bullshit could have so easily become tiresome, but somehow becomes kind of the point of the whole thing, in a way I can’t precisely articulate. Just terrific.
- In case you hadn’t heard, the whole episode was available all weekend via Instagram, which is a weird way to watch something. If you missed seeing it tonight, and don’t want to watch the video on the Rick and Morty website for some reason, give it a try and report back here on the results. Or not. Free country!
- Rick and Morty have a nice chat about Lorenzo Music and Bill Murray and their respective voice work; I remember hearing Murray was doing the Garfield movie and just assuming (although it makes no sense) that he’d got the job because of Music’s work on Real Ghostbusters.
- “Interesting fact: Moynihan and Piece Of Toast hate each other.” -Rick
- Favorite channel? I was a big fan of dead Mrs. Sullivan and all her cats.
- Credit cookie: Morty, Beth, Summer, and Jerry ask so many questions about Hamsters In People’s Butts world that Rick gets sick of it and takes the whole family there on a trip. Everyone has fun.