Is Rick and Morty ‘proper’ sci-fi?

I was watching Irish people on YouTube react to Rick and Morty when one of them said something that stuck in my mind: ‘I don’t consider [Rick and Morty] sci-fi though’. 

That got me thinking: what is it about Rick and Morty that differentiates it in the minds of the average media consumer from the rest of science fiction?

A quick summary for the uninitiated: Rick and Morty is a cartoon about a mad scientist with a drinking problem and lack of traditional morality and his naïve non-genius grandson, who traverse the universe having adventures before returning home to a uniformly dull suburb in Midwestern America.

I can understand why the Irish person instinctively hesitated to categorise it as sci-fi; when you compare it to something like Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate (I’m sensing a theme here) there are immediate and obvious differences.

“Rick and Morty is not only a show about weird alien worlds and wacky intergalactic adventures”

The most obvious is that it’s a cartoon, which may automatically preclude it from being science fiction in some people’s minds. But this is a strange assumption if you think about it, as there are so many popular animated shows that contradict it- there’s anime like Cowboy Bebop and Steins;Gate, the excellent Voltron: Legendary Defender; even Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Test are technically science fiction. I mean, Futurama was created by the same people who made The Simpsons.

I think it’s mostly because Rick and Morty is not only a show about weird alien worlds and wacky intergalactic adventures, it is also a comedy, family drama and an exercise in ‘how many meta pop-culture references can we fit into one episode’ (as one of the co-creators is Dan Harmon, the man behind Community, I would expect no less). The comedy itself is also wildly mixed in tone, from singing about defecating on the floor to darkly comic monologues and visual sequences pondering the nature of mortality.

These are all things which make it such an enjoyable and addictive show to watch, but which also differentiate it from the mainstream perception of science fiction as something that is largely serious, perhaps action heavy and campy and containing funny one liners, but not irreverent and seemingly stupid. [1]

I say seemingly, as yes, sometimes there is just stupidity for stupidity’s sake, but Rick and Morty also explores deep themes which are at the root of not only science fiction, but also literature and art in general. What is the nature of humanity? How much value does a human life truly hold? What’s the point of it all when there exist an infinite number of versions of you living better and fuller lives? – a metaphorical question that plagues us all and which the show also literalises.  

It demonstrates why science fiction, in my opinion, is the best and most interesting medium for this kind of discussion, as it creates impossible, bizarre scenarios which are fun to look at, but which also offer the opportunity for these questions to be posed in a fresh way that brings their starkness, and even brutality, sharply into relief for the audience. Or to put it another way, where else could a man stubbornly insisting that Pluto is a planet become a metaphor for the danger to society when politicians dismiss scientific experts, and only listen to people whose ideas support their political stances. How terrible would it be if that really were the case.

So, in conclusion to my ramblings; Rick and Morty in my opinion is very much ‘proper’ sci-fi, but is also a show which proves why trying to label and categorise art is utterly pointless and meaningless, and sometimes we should all just shut up and enjoy it.

[1] I say mainstream perception of science fiction as of course, sci-fi is in actuality much much more than Star Wars. From Ray Bradbury to China Miéville, some of the most profound and interesting books I have read fall under the category of science fiction, which is a label several of these writers reject given the assumptions it invites.


Image Credits: William Tung/Flickr



2 thoughts on “Is Rick and Morty ‘proper’ sci-fi?

  1. Great post! I’m surprised to hear that people don’t consider Rick and Morty science fiction. I most certainly do. But I guess the argument could be made that Rick and Morty don’t use their sci-fi elements as the live-all-end-all of their show, but rather as a playground for them to set up funny gags and even some deep stuff to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I guess it’s more that I heard that one person suggest it wasn’t sci fi which got me thinking about genre and stuff in general. I like your comparison of it to a playground, the sci fi setting just provides the creators with so many opportunities to have fun. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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