While most are familiar with Dan Harmon as the creator of the oft-cancelled and resurrected Community, the writer/producer/podcaster has other interests outside of Greendale Community College. During his forced vacation from Community (a.k.a. the second time NBC fired him), Harmon teamed with fellow Channel 101 alum, Justin Roiland and began developing an animated program based off of Roiland’s shorts, The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti.
Roiland’s twisted spin on Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown and Marty McFly formed the cornerstone of Rick and Morty, the late night Adult Swim cartoon which premiered to rave reviews earlier this year. The series revolves around the adventures of mad scientist Rick, his woefully inept grandson, Morty (both voiced by Roiland), as well Morty’s parents, Jerry (Chris Parnell) and Beth (Sarah Chalke), and sister, Summer (Spencer Grammer). And besides being absolutely hilarious with its own brand of crazy, unhinged humor, Rick and Morty is also an impressive cohesion of outright insanity and heartfelt emotional beats.
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con I had the opportunity to participate in roundtable interviews with Rick and Morty creators Harmon and Roiland, as well as voice talent Parnell and Grammer. Below you’ll find their responses to our collective inquiries about Season 2, what sci-fi elements influence their comedy, the cast’s fun rapport, and more!
Our discussion with Harmon and Roiland began with a tease of what’s to come in Season 2 of Rick and Morty:
Justin Roiland: We don’t want to give away too much, but I will say we’ve sort of maintained that sort of episodic kind of ‘any episode’s a good point of entry’ type of approach to Season 2, I think. And up until, well I don’t want to say too much.
Dan Harmon: I think it’s accurate to say that in Season 2 things get a little more intergalactic. We felt in Season 1 that the formula would always be a domestic ‘B’ story about Beth and Jerry’s marriage or family concerns and the ‘A’ story would always be this crazy sci-fi thing by comparison, but quickly in Season 1 we found out that, that formula wasn’t really as necessary as just having an ‘A’ story and a ‘B’ story; one of which should have some probably an emotional grounding point. So having learned that from Season 1 we’ve been a little more fancy free about just saying, “Well, Beth and Jerry they go into outer space in this episode because of this reason and meanwhile Rick and Morty have to stay at home and work on something in the garage.”
JR: But both stories will be sci-fi, y’know? Not all the time, but yeah, we’ve sort of freed ourselves up to sci-fi across the whole episode.
DH: And we bring in just a hair of canon, little bit of world-building regarding Rick’s past and his relationship with a larger universe.
JR: There’s a lot of interesting pairings this season that we haven’t done in Season 1, different characters that we see together on adventures. Y’know, the only time we saw Morty, Summer, and Rick together in Season 1, really, was the last episode, the house party episode. And in Season 2 we sort of organically in the writing process discovered that the three of those guys, really, there’s a lot of fun to be had there, putting them all together on the same roller coaster ride, so to speak, story-wise.
They’re currently “in the thick of it,” when it comes to production on Season 2. “The last two scripts we’re writing over the next month and until those are done we really don’t, we won’t know 100% exactly what the pull back is,” says Roiland. “We kind of know what want to do, but we don’t want to give away too much… this is the worst interview ever, isn’t it?”
Haha! Not at all, but what must have felt like mindless rambling for Roiland was only evidence of how passionate he is about Rick and Morty. Harmon may be the more famous name attached, but Rick and Morty is Roiland’s baby.
Next the pair were asked about what elements of sci-fi they find really fruitful for writing comedy, and their answers provided plenty of information about how they approach scripting such a zany show:
DH: My philosophy with sci-fi is to focus more on the “fi” than the “sci.” I think people like it when it holds up a little bit to logical scrutiny, but that logic can often be pretty magically enforced. I mean, you can just tell people that Doctor Who‘s TARDIS is larger on the inside than it is on the outside and he can explain that with what well call gobbledy-gook in the writers room. Y’know, you just kind of–you tell people as in like in Harry Potter you just string some Latin words together and, “Okay, that’s that spell that does that.” I think what’s more important to sci-fi is that people recognize a mythologized version of something that they have encountered in their lives. So, oh this is the sci-fi version of a drive-thru at McDonald’s, this is the sci-fi version of the DMV, this is the sci-fi version of the way police treat civilians in times of stress, or the way America behaves at wartime or, y’know, exploring things that have some point of connection between the real world.
JR: Dan does a great job, too, of like taking a sci-fi concept and then grounding it in a really awesome, structurally stable narrative that is more character-based. We’re seeing the character, you’re really putting yourself in the shoes of somebody when you’re watching the show, you’re really relating and connecting with somebody’s decision or choice or adventure. But a lot of times those things will start from like, ‘it’d be cool if.’ We think about sci-fi, about freezing time or a cool invention like being able to look through people’s clothes, x-ray vision, those kinds of ideas. Those are all cool points of entry in terms of breaking story, y’know? Rick’s this scientist who can create anything, like what are cool things that we would want to see or what are cools things we would want to create if we had that ability? And a lot of times stories will start from that and then we’ll kind of have a lot of fun and screw around in the writers room and then at a certain point we’ll start to lock things down.
And then it becomes like, okay we’ve got this cool story about – y’know we’re not doing an x-ray vision story, that’s just a bad example – but okay, we love x-ray vision, we love that idea and we love the idea of goggles that Morty gets and whatever it is. Now everyone looks to Dan, okay, how can we make this emotional? How can we make this awesome in a sci-fi standpoint but then also be really relatable to your mom or your dad or anyone who’s going to watch? Really broad appeal. And they can follow along but also almost tricking them into enjoying something they may not even be in to, which is this hardcore sci-fi stuff which is our favorite thing.
It was to this that I was able to ask a follow-up, and I asked for more insight in to how they manage to strike a balance between the insanity and the sincerity on Rick and Morty. An episode that really exemplifies this, in my opinion, is “Rixty Minutes”, which sees Jerry, Beth and Summer grappling with very dark family issues, while on the other end of the spectrum is Rick and Morty watching crazy television shows piped in from every possible reality ever.
DH: Well that was, I mean, that was sort of like–that was an example of balancing it on a seasonal level. Justin was like, “Let’s do one episode where we don’t try to win people over with…“ uh, our sincerity as you call it. Like, Justin’s going to go in the V.O. [voice over] booth and he’s going to improvise, he’s going to be crazy and just do ridiculous things and then we’re going to animate to them without breaking a story for those things. And then so we cautiously paired it with a ‘B’ story that would be very emotional, sincere and grounded. So I mean, so far we’ve been very chicken about giving you too much silliness without any sincerity, and I suppose that’s a good kind of chicken to stay for a while.
JR: That episode, by the way, is like the ultimate example of Dan and I playing to our strengths and then weaving them together, because it really is a–that story with Beth, Jerry and Summer is so like awesome and so… it’s a drama but it’s sci-fi, it’s connected to what’s going on with the goggles but there really is emotional stakes, there’s discoveries going on about, y’know, we’re learning these things about Jerry and Beth and the fact that Summer almost would have been aborted. Y’know, it’s heavy shit! And then on the other side of the story is me in the booth, “Ahh, I’m Mr. Poopy Butt, I’m Poopy Butt come to Poopy Butt’s poops and buy a…” y’know, whatever the hell I was doing. But to marry those together in a way, and y’know, we did a little work at the very end, when we get to color we were looking at it and we kind of did some polish at the very end to sort of help dovetail the two things, but ultimately that might be my favorite example of you and I sort of doing what we do best and sort of merging those two things together in a way that people can enjoy as one jawbreaker or whatever.
You can watch “Rixty Minutes” right now on Adult Swim’s site.
Once we finished with Harmon and Roiland, the voice talent for Jerry and Summer – Chris Parnell and Spencer Grammer – were brought over to our table for a round of questions. Remarking on how the cast’s fun rapport translates to the show, they were asked whether or not the cast records together:
Chris Parnell: We don’t record together, not at all.
Spencer Grammer: I don’t feel connected to you at all. [laughs]
CP: When I see Spencer, every time someone has to introduce us to each other, I keep forgetting who she is.
SG: We’ve met only three times before.
CP: Yeah, like three or four.
SG: In our lives, like in the three years we’ve been doing this.
CP: But, y’know, I have a pretty good idea of what Summer is going to do because Summer is so clearly drawn both the way she plays it and the way she acts it on screen that it’s like, I know what to expect from Summer.
SG: Yeah, those stereotypes of family in that way. You’re mad at your teenage daughter, or how your father annoys you and…
CP: She really annoys me as you can tell, she’s super annoying.
He’s kidding, I assure you. But it isn’t unheard of for voice actors to record all their dialogue by themselves in the V.O. booth. The few exceptions that come to mind are Futurama and Batman: The Animated Series.
Throughout our discussion with Parnell and Grammer they revealed they’re still recording Season 2, which makes sense seeing as Harmon and Roiland revealed they’re still in the process of writing it! Rick and Morty is also Grammer’s first time working on an animated series. “I can really run the gamut of being sincere and funny at the same time,” she says, “and it’s really fun to do this kind of a cartoon instead of a little kid cartoon.”
Of course, someone mentioned Parnell’s career as a face on television (SNL, 30 Rock, Eureka) as opposed to just a voice, and asked what he thought of younger generations knowing him primarily for his voice work. “That’s probably for the best,” Parnell joked, “Y’know, a surprising amount of people know me from animated stuff, y’know, “I love you on Rick and Morty, I love you on Archer.” So yeah, I’m a little bit surprised by that but I guess it helps that so many people knew me from SNL or 30 Rock, it’s cool though.”
Before we had to let the go, Parnell and Grammer discussed a little bit the relationships between their characters and the rest of the Smith family. Grammer even went so far as to tease a bit of what we’ll see in Rick and Morty’s Season 2 premiere:
CP: I mean, we’ve found out in the first season that Jerry and Beth really do have a deep love for each other, even though it’s a flawed relationship.
SG: It’s a normal marriage.
CP: [to Spencer] God, what’s your marriage like!? Do we need to talk?
Yeah, I don’t know if the dynamic is really going to change that much, but I think, y’know, the core relationships there are are going to continue to give the show a center that it probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
SG: Yeah, I think more in terms of Summer’s character we haven’t really gotten a chance to work so much together in this particular season, but there’s the whole episode with the bed bugs kind of thing, inspired by bed bugs. I can’t really tell you, but there’s a lot of, like, family memories in that episode. So there is like that bonding and I mean it sort of raises the question of like, “What really is memory? And what do we remember about our families?” And maybe all of our memories are just fictitious, sad plots, we must as well be watching a TV show about them or something. It’s really kind of dark, but yeah, there is that kind of bonding. But that’s with the whole family. Summer and Rick have definitely had more of a experience together. And I think if you get on board with Rick or something you might, I don’t know, but then he doesn’t have any antagonist.
Thanks again to Adult Swim, Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, and Spencer Grammer for the opportunity to chat about Rick and Morty. Season 2 is expected to air some time in 2015, though no premiere date has been set.
But wait! There’s more! During Rick and Morty‘s Comic-Con panel they shared an exclusive animatic preview clip from the upcoming season… that someone then recorded and posted to YouTube for all to enjoy. Let’s watch!
Wubba lubba dub dub!