Rick and Morty is a television show originally created as a joke where Marty McFly blew Doc Brown for a Channel 101 pilot, and it is now the current cause du jour cartoon for a theoretical 16-year-old white male who hates everyone and thinks he’s smart but really isn’t that smart because he’s still too dumb to realize that true nihilism is going to require a lot more reading than he’s prepared to do because said 16-year-old is too busy saying “tampon tampon tampon” in the comments section of a YouTube video that will be revealed as the work of an astroturfing Nazi in about three months.
I have watched some of this show.
It’s got that facile intelligence that makes an audience feel smart rather than challenging them because they’re watching a cartoon at 1 am on a Friday instead of doing anything else. Rick & Morty has become identified with Dan Harmon, who comics people will not remember was a cowriter on SCUD back in the day (I loved that comic), but is now mostly famous for sexually harassing his staff on the NBC sitcom Community. The show’s voice is the creator, Justin Roiland, writing a Harmon-esque character who comments on science fiction tropes from a bleak “I’m the genius asshole at the center of the universe” perspective. The best joke I’ve ever seen on the show was Rick correcting someone on the difference between “theme” and “motif”.
This comic is an attempt to translate that tone without the clear directorial voice the show has--while it is a bad show, you can't say it’s not strongly developed. This is a faux-existential running bit of a one shot story where minor characters who do menial tasks for people try to discover the meaning of life. That's actually the plot of the movie that killed Monty Python as a creative entity, so two guys you’ve never heard of are sure to do a great job this time around.
The “Mr. Meeseeks” are supposed to be a joke about the gig economy but the whole routine here is positioning a “life is meaningless” speech on every third page and then end the whole thing with either casual violence, ironic misogyny, or a “that’s stupid, this is the real world, I’m busy”. All characters are poised to explode into speechifying, but in a Dan Harmon-y way, rather than the Sorkin, Mamet-y way. It’s a series of facile lectures about something the writers probably don’t believe in anyway. It the show’s tone.
That’s how all the shows end, and this hastily slapped together comic book ends with the characters discovering that the meaning of life is variable (aka a cop out) and then disappearing, with their work being treated as a waste of time by the real characters. Rick/Harmon/various characters often brings up real life chaos or inequality but do so merely to justify the urge to act with moral impunity. (Mr. Meeseeks at one point brings up how Fast Fashion is causing environmental collapse, for example). I would say it’s probably the same thing for the audience. It’s either a diversion away from the cruelty of day to day America or it’s an affirming practice that your self-directed behavior is rationalized by the world being an unending hellscape. I guess it’s okay that such a thing is popular considering that even hinting that we’re not going to be okay (and we are not going to be okay, billions are going to starve to death in our lifetime) is verboten during our current era in nearly all media. It’s not a functional critique, it’s a false one, but maybe false critiques are all we can handle right now. How’s that for pop nihilism?