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Rick And Morty takes another swing at stealing your heart

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I’ve never made much of an effort to try and distinguish between Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s voices on this show. I’m not sure there’d be much point in it; more importantly, I don’t think I know Roiland’s work pre-Rick And Morty well enough to catch the differences. Roiland is into absurdist, cynical-bordering-on-nihilism humor mixed with improv shit and parody, while Harmon is mostly like that, except with a bit less improv and a bit more heart. Somehow, they make it work—”Rixty Minutes” remains a highwater mark for the series because it manages to balance both sensibilities in way that elevates them into something new. Sometimes, you just get random shit, and sometimes, you just get Dan Harmon raging against a genre he doesn’t like.

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Which brings us to “One Crew Over The Crewcoo’s Morty,” where Harmon takes aim at heist movies. Admittedly, I don’t know the behind the scenes, and it’s possible Roiland or some other writer (yes, there is a writing staff, lovely people all) decided to go all in—it’s just, the basic structure of this is extremely similar to the Community episode where Harmon took aim at conspiracy movies. It’s a bit that show did a few times, actually, satirizing a convention while presenting a (usually) compelling version of it. In that respect, “Crew” works really well. Exhaustively well, honestly. By the end, the foolishness of never-ending double, triple, quadruple and so on crosses has been so thoroughly underlined that it’s a good thing there wasn’t any more episode left, because I might have thrown something through the screen.

I’m not sure why I’m sounding disappointed by any of this. I’m not. Even once it becomes clear that this was just going to be an endless series of scenes of Rick out-smarting someone, being out-smarted, out-smarting them in turn, and all building to a final reveal that pulls everything together—well, it still worked well. “Crew” is more cohesive than last week’s episode, and it doesn’t strain quite so hard to hit a familiar emotional pay-off. There’s not much in the way of sentiment, apart from the semi-regular reminder than Rick Sanchez is a horrible grandparent who will do everything in his power to keep his grandson under his thumb, but that just means the episode never really over-reaches itself. Sure, you know what’s coming on a basic level almost immediately, but that’s part of the point. There are fun heist movies, but the more it becomes a genre, the harder it is to surprise anyone—and just because you can’t do a script outline in the opening five minutes doesn’t mean you don’t already see what’s coming from a mile away.

Rick’s genre-savviness has been a staple of the show from early on, and while it can get tiresome, it works well here; there’s a decent amount of energy generated by the need to keep coming up with new characters to put throw the ringer, and the increasing scope of the gags stays funny right up until the point where you just want it to stop. Which is how it’s supposed to work. It wouldn’t really be good satire if it didn’t destroy the genre it was exemplifying, and while I don’t think I’ll never watch The Sting again, I’ll probably have to wait a couple of months before I give it a spin. (I’m lying, I’ve seen The Sting, like, once, it’s good but I have no desire to revisit.) Rick And Morty’s relentless self-awareness can sometimes feel like watching a movie with an asshole who can’t stop pointing how stupid everything is; but since most of us have been that asshole at one time other another, there’s a certain relief in watching a show that actually points out the dumb bits before you can. When it works (and obviously I think it works a lot of the time), it’s a kind of relief—oh, thank god, I’m not the only one who catches this bullshit.

But it’s weird when the show’s cynicism reveals its limits. Like, say, a guest voice performance from Elon Musk as “Elon Tusk,” a character who is exactly like Elon Musk, except he has tusks. I dunno, maybe the laziness of the joke is supposed to be saying something, because otherwise, Elon gets off way too easy. Rick makes a few cracks about how they didn’t go with non-tusk Elon because he’s too much of a “control freak” (because he cares too damn much, you know), and Elon Tusk is just kind of dorky and that’s about it. The performance’s main value is in its novelty, and if this was supposed to appeal to a certain part of the show’s fanbase, well, I hope they feel well-serviced. To me, it just seemed weak and indulgent.

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Right, I haven’t really summarized the plot, have I. (Do we still do that?) Rick and Morty go to do some grave-robbing and find out some master thief got there first. Rick gets pissed off and things escalate from there, with a robot invention of Rick’s destroying planets in pursuit of increasingly massive heists. There’s some funny random shit, a bunch of different crews Rick pulls together, twist stacked on twists, until finally we learn that all of this went down (including that whole planet getting destroyed) because Rick wanted to stop Morty from successfully pitching a heist movie to Netflix. So Rick basically incepted him into getting sick of it all, thus blocking Morty from a career as a mildly successful screenwriter and ensuring that Rick and Morty would continue having adventures, and so on.

It’s a fun final reveal that has just enough misery in it (Morty is just seriously bummed out) to keep it from being entirely weightless. Back when Rick And Morty renewed until, what, the end of time or something, I couldn’t imagine the show sustaining itself for that long. Harmon and Roiland are a pair of talented artists whose instability drives their creative energy. As popular as it is, it was hard to see how the series could last more than a couple more years, and I still wouldn’t take huge bets on them reaching the hundred episode mark in one piece. But episodes like “Crew” give me a little more faith. It would be a stretch to call this conventional, but it feels conventional in the context of Rick And Morty, and if it can be that, and still funny, this thing could have legs.

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Stray observations

  • Seriously though, Elon Musk? I don’t get it.
  • Mr. Poopybutthole is now Professor Poopybutthole. Or at least he was until Rick’s machinations got him fired.
  • Has the show done that Doctor Strange joke before? Or did it just pop up in a trailer for the new season.
  • Rick, dealing with a hostile crowd: “Your boos mean nothing, I see what makes you cheer!”
  • Rick, dealing with a hostile crowd part 2: “Every breath I take without your permission increases my self-esteem!”
  • “It appears the only perfect heist is one that was never written.” Nice War Games nod.
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