Question 1 – Show how any of the 9 aspects of Wilcox and Lavery’s “Quality TV” apply to a recent show.
The Case for a Nihilistic Doc and Marty
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, you’ll probably still have heard about Rick and Morty. The nihilistic cartoon perversion of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown and Marty McFly is three seasons of science-fiction based, drunken, abusive, absurdist fun. From episode one, Rick and Morty’s thesis is made clear: there is no God, so we make up meaning the only way we know how- going on crazy science adventures. Creator Dan Harmon is a passionate storyteller (Time, 2017), having worked in television writing rooms for much of his life. Rick and Morty, although only 3 seasons long thus far, is his biggest success. Fans go absolutely crazy for Rick and Morty (Bauer, 2015). Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify some defining characteristics of ‘quality TV’ and through these, I’m going to present the case for Rick and Morty’s massive success.
- Quality TV has a quality pedigree
This basically means there are names behind the show that have a reputation for good storytelling. While this isn’t necessary, it certainly helps people to trust they’ll get a good story. Dan Harmon has written for Community – another show with a large cult following, (Time, 2017) The Sarah Silverman Show and Monster House, among others. Justin Roiland, the shows co-creator, has voice acted in Gravity Falls, Adventure Time and various other roles. The show features a host of celebrity appearances too: John Oliver as a Doctor who is also an amoeba, Danny Trejo as an assassin, Nathan Fillion as an Alien Government Interrogator, and so many more (Fandom TV, n.d.).
- Quality TV Creates a new genre by mixing old ones
Rick and Morty is indeed a Frankenstein’s monster of genres. It parodies The Simpsons, Back To The Future and almost every single sci-fi movie, book and trope it can fit into its 22minute episodes (Bauer, 2015). The result is a sort of nihilistic cosmic-horror cartoon comedy. And part of the reason it works is that although it parodies beloved stories like Jurassic Park, A Wrinkle in Time, and even Jack and the Beanstalk, is because the creators have genuine love for them (Time, 2017). If Rick and Morty were entirely satirical without any joy, the humour would be wildly different and I suspect, a total failure.
- Quality TV is self-conscious
Rick and Morty knows what it is – and while some shows can self-destruct or get preachy once their audience begins to respond directly to the creators (i.e: Game Of Thrones, Westworld, Lost), Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland are very careful to stay true to the core pull of their show (Time, 2017). For example, they were aware of the fan-base’s belief that Rick had to have a tragic backstory – So they wrote one in… and then immediately dismissed is as a made up story to help Rick take down the galactic federation (Fandom TV, n.d.). Plus, it was released on April Fool’s Day, a month before the scheduled release date. The result of a move like this is a clear response to the fans, but in a sort of backhanded way; Harmon will give the baby it’s candy, and promptly steal it back. This type of plot development happens often, when Rick and Morty grazes the surface of something that may fundamentally change the dynamic of the show, it deliberately pulls an about turn, and is not ashamed that the audience can see the cogs turning behind the scenes. The reason for this is an aversion to taking the road of The Simpsons and other shows that have experienced serious changes in the fabric of their worlds, but try to continue without properly acknowledging the glaring differences. (Garkawe, 2016). Harmon has even mentioned his hope that “If we got to a point where we thought the show absolutely stunk because of our insistence on continuing to make it, I’d hope that we would be wise enough to stop making it.” (Time, 2017)
- Quality TV aspires to realism.
This isn’t literal. The meaning of realism here is emotional realism- genuine human reactions to real human issues (Bauer, 2015). Of course Rick and Morty isn’t about literal realism- a multiverse travelling grandfather who builds spaceships in his garage is clearly fiction. The parts where the grandfather and mother are alcoholics, however, and the grandson deals with PTSD; or where his sister wants to run away after discovering her parents only had her because they had a flat tyre on the way to the abortion clinic – these are the realistic elements Wilcox & Lavery, (2002) are talking about.. These emotions are based on true pain experienced in real life. The show is a cynical response to TV’s need to give every episode a wrapped up happy ending to every 22minute dilemma. Harmon and Roiland are dedicated to exploring difficult themes through humour (Time, 2017). Themes like suicide, nihilism, divorce and self-hatred are commonplace in the world of Rick and Morty – that’s the draw. Audiences love Rick and Morty immensely, the fanbase is famously insufferably obsessed with the show and its deeper themes.
While it’s not necessary to have an IQ of 155 or higher to watch Rick and Morty, it certainly has clicked with audiences. Fans of this show are people who want more from their entertainment than frivolous silliness, but don’t want to let go of said silliness either.
Time. Eadicico, L. (June, 2017) Dan Harmon on the Future of Rick and Morty and That Community Movie. Retrieved August 20th 2019 from https://time.com/4863924/rick-morty-season-3-dan-harmon-interview/
Bauer, J (December, 2015) The Philosophy of Rick and Morty – Wisecrack Edition. Retrieved August 26, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWFDHynfl1E&list=PLghL9V9QTN0jve4SE0fs33K1VEoXyL-Mn
Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
Fandom TV. (n.d.) Characters. Retrieved 26 August, 2019 from https://rickandmorty.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Characters
Garkawe, J. (April, 2016) New Simpsons Suck. We Take a Look at What’s Changed.. Retrieved 26 August, 2019 from https://www.digitalfox.media/explained/new-simpsons-sucks-heres-why