Rick And Morty is not a show I follow. I can appreciate the work that goes into it and I’ve watched many of MatPat’s Film Theory episodes about the show but the humor and darker themes just aren’t really something I want to watch on a personal level. There are only so many hours in the day so I choose my entertainment based on my tastes and preferences. Heck, my reviews rarely leave my wheelhouse.
However, one recent Film Theory episode examined the episode “Never Ricking Morty“, in which the title characters end up on the “Story Train”, a train that represents their show as meta narratives show up in episodes and even commercials they make for other products. MatPat makes the case that it’s a meta narrative for all the roadblocks in place for a TV series like theirs and it covers a lot of ground we’ve gone over here at the Spotlight about fan engagement, the creative process, serialized versus done-in-one episodes (that one doesn’t come up a lot granted), and a few things we haven’t discussed. So there’s more about this I’d like to say. I haven’t seen the episode but there’s still a lot to be learned from the theory.
Catch more Film Theory on the Film Theorist YouTube channel.
I don’t use the “story circle” myself but I know it’s a tool that one of my online friends, comic writer Fwah Storm (who now uses the pen name Lucifer Storm because people can’t figure out how to pronounce “Fwah”) likes to use, though he calls it the “8 point story arc“. I do actually like works that aren’t strict to a formula, like Superman and classic Doctor Who. There’s a basic premise that doesn’t change but one thing I love about Superman as a series is that it can be so many different types of stories–science fiction, fantasy, crime story, traditional superhero–and not change the characters personality wise. Though if the show works best in that formula, like Scooby-Doo–every time it strays too far out the show fails, like Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue–but even then it can tweak things here and there, like Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island or Mystery Incorporated. That keeps things fresh but stays true to what fans want from a Scooby-Doo story.
I can also see the issue in trying to please the fans versus wanting creative control over your own creation. We’ve discussed before how some creators out there think fans should have zero say, and as I went over in that linked-to commentary the answer is somewhere in the middle. You do take on extra responsibility when you assume the role of storyteller for a franchise with a ready-made audience that you didn’t create but in the case of this show the writers are the creators. It has to be difficult dealing with fans who have so assumed they’re right (something MatPat has been accused of but has denied is the point of Film Theory or Game Theory) that any deviation where they’re proven wrong upsets them, and that really isn’t fair. While not everyone takes their headcanon to the extremes of the Rey/Kylo Ren romance shippers (look up that story sometimes…every time you think a movement can’t get any more extreme you WILL be proven wrong whether it’s geekdom or politics) there are people so devoted to their ship, whether the writers planned to go that way or not or even if it actually makes sense in the narrative, that any deviation causes fits of rage on social media. It’s really rather scary.
At the same time the fans shouldn’t be ignored. If they want to see a beloved character again it’s a good idea, but those same fans need to realize that if they can’t find a good fit for the character, and it’s not as easy as you think if you want to make the story good and the character useful, it might be best if they didn’t use him or her at that time. In a broader sense this is especially true if the writer in question hates the character, like Roger Stern not liking Black Cat when he was writing for Spider-Man comics. They will not use that character correctly and just tick the fans off even more. There’s nothing wrong with asking to see Evil Morty or Black Cat again, but if they can’t be worked into the story or done correctly you’re better off not seeing them because you’ll hate what you see.
Finally I’d be surprised if Adult Swim was asking for certain changes to the show for marketability. If memory serves Adult Swim is the nighttime programming block Cartoon Network allocated to Williams Street Productions so they could be lazy. (Lately laziness in programming schedules seems to be the preferred method of operation.) Williams Street started out making Space Ghost Coast To Coast, a parody of the “super adventure” shows as Space Ghost becomes a talk show host with Zorak as his house band and Moltar running the controls. It goes as badly as that sounds but the show is also as good as it sounds. Not spectacular but a good chuckle source. They kind of got stuck in a rut with their comedy style even when they tried to create other kinds of shows. They know the creative process, even if they were less than successful most of the time, the Coast To Coast spinoff projects being their best successes. It would be disappointing to see that they were becoming the corporate suits, and would keep Rick And Morty going too long the way Fox has with The Simpsons and Family Guy.
I kind of want to see this episode now, just to see how meta it actually gets. It’s still not my kind of show but it seems the writers really care about the creative process and will use their hassles to make a fun story, unlike say a number of TV shows and comics that use their platform to tackle people they hate personally rather than broad themes we can all connect to and discuss, at the cost of the story. I do wonder how the writer of this episode pulled it off.