Beginning at 8PM ET on April 1, 2017, the long-awaited season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty played on a loop for four hours straight on Cartoon Network and adultswim.com. Word spread like wildfire, and the surprise premiere went down in history as one of Adult Swim's best ever April Fool's Day gags. Justin Roiland, the show's co-creator and voice of both Rick and Morty, thought it was a terrible idea at first.
It began with Mike Lazzo, an Adult Swim executive whose tenure making not-for-kids animation goes all the way back to Space Ghost Coast to Coast--arguably the beginning for Adult Swim’s exquisitely targeted brand of cartoons made for college-aged stoners.
"Lazzo has these insane-ass ideas that upon first hearing, your gut reaction is 'That's f***ing crazy, what are you talking about? That's a horrible idea,'" Roiland told GameSpot during a group interview in Los Angeles this week. "It took me a night to sleep on it before I started to realize all the effects that that would have if we did it right, and then I got excited about it."
"After all of this fervor and people like 'Where the f***is Season 3?!' we were just perfectly situated for absolute chaos on that day," he said. "People were texting their friends going 'Dude, the first episode of Season 3 is on right now!'"
Dan Harmon, Rick and Morty's other co-creator, picked on a random fan on Twitter to add to the fun.
"My Twitter feed was this constant stream of 'Where's Season 3?' So I just picked one kid and said like, 'Kid, what do you want? You want me to just wave a magic wand and make Rick and Morty Season 3 start happening?'" Harmon said. "And then it started airing, and that kid now is definitely going to have a warped life."
Examined at face value, Rick and Morty doesn't necessarily seem like the type of show likely to become such a pervasive cultural phenomenon. The titular characters, both voiced by Roiland, are a sociopathic, alcoholic grandpa whose overwhelming intelligence makes him essentially a god, and his hapless sidekick grandson. They're joined on wacky and shockingly dark adventures by parents Beth (Sarah Chalke) and Jerry (Chris Parnell), sister Summer (Spencer Grammer), and an ever-expanding cast of absurd sci-fi side characters.
Boiling Rick and Morty's overwhelming success down to one easily digested platitude is impossible, but it can definitely be attributed in large part to the show's incredible attention to detail. Every scene of every episode is packed with so many laughs, from obscure pop culture references to background-buried sight gags to endless simple fart jokes. And every tiny detail seems to carry through to later episodes, the show's in-jokes and lore folding in on themselves over and over to provide bountiful fodder for fans to meme and obsess over.
Those complexities can also help explain why Season 3 took so dang long to arrive--on its July 30 (re-)premiere date, it will have been nearly two full years since Season 2 concluded, and with a heck of a cliffhanger to boot.
"The character Rick is a character that can basically do anything, and we made that decision very early on, and it was terrifying, but also just like, it felt so good," Harmon said.
He casually launched into a bizarre line of speculation, demonstrating the intricacies he and Roiland deal with daily. "We have a phrase in there that we put in there in order to create a kind of semblance of order within chaos, which is the 'central finite curve,' which, what does that mean?" he asked, arms gesturing wildly. "Is there a sort of elasticity to temporal braiding, you know, so that guys like the Council of Ricks--do they regard boundaries to what constitutes a Rick? Are those genetic boundaries or are those boundaries more to do with Ricks that have the capacity to develop travel between dimensions? Does that mean that now you're part of a central finite curve of Ricks that are capable of that, and therefore either enemies or allies within the infinite Rickspace?"
Are questions like these why it takes them so long to make new episodes?
"I think in some ways, yeah," Roiland responded.
"And I think that's a sand trap you can fall into," Harmon added.
As development of Rick and Morty's third season continued to stretch with no end in sight, the show's myth seemed only to grow. Harmon's reputation as a chaotic force with whom to work--earned during his tumultuous days as creator and showrunner of the beloved NBC sitcom Community--added fuel to fans' speculation. Then comments made during Sundance in January hinted at a rift between he and Roiland ("We have fights all the time and then we have fights about why we’re having fights"). Finally, in June he clarified via a lengthy Twitter thread that they'd actually simply gotten hung up in the writers' room, and there was nothing to worry about.
The whole truth, it turns out, is a little bit of both.
"The more I look at it with a fresher mind, you know, it's like Justin was right and I was wrong in the Season 3 writers' room, because Justin was the voice of 'Let's move forward,' and I was the voice of 'I don't think this is quite right yet,' Harmon explained. "It's a dog chasing its tail. It's just like, a compulsion, you know? Like, my dog has these hot spots--you just start licking your foot, and then you can say, 'Oh look, my foot's all swollen!' It's like, yeah, stop licking it, man."
"Justin was proven out, because for all of that stuff, all that ends up happening is you do the same thing that Rick does [when he abandons reality for an alternate timeline], which is you basically take the entire script, throw it to the side, and start over, because you get so frustrated," Harmon continued. "And that means that all of that time spent, it's not even like, 'Oh, we spent extra time on this script.' It's like, no, we spent a bunch of time writing three versions of this script, and any of them would have worked. And that's what Justin kept saying throughout Season 3, and I wasn't hearing it."
Roiland, who was letting Harmon do most of the talking, chimed in. "There was that, but there were episodes that needed the TLC that we did have to go in and spend some more time on," he clarified. Then he shifted slightly in his seat to address Harmon: "But yeah, it's good to hear you say that, because I think going into Season 4 we'll be able to move a little quicker."
(When asked to clarify whether we should take that as a general statement about potential future seasons, or confirmation of Rick and Morty season 4, an Adult Swim representative said they have no news to share.)
With Season 3 right around the corner, Rick and Morty fans will soon be rewarded for their fervor, the volume and intensity of which can still surprise the show's creators.
"You always hope that what you make is going to be loved, but it's truly surprising to see how the extent that it's ballooned," Roiland said. "It's surreal, actually."
Harmon sympathizes with fans. "There's 20 episodes right now," he said. "It makes my heart ache for anybody who feels that way about the show, because it's just like, we've gotta get faster at pumping these things out. We've gotta make 25 of these a year."
That's certainly more a wish than a promise, but Roiland doubled down: "We'll hopefully try to ramp it up a little bit more," he said.
It seems as long as there's at least one Rick and one Morty left alive in the multiverse--and eager fans ready to cheer them on--the adventures will continue.
Rick and Morty Season 3 will begin airing July 30 on Cartoon Network.