Welcome and wubba-lubba-dub-dub, Unicorns! I hope this review finds everybody happy, healthy, and wise.
There are few activities humans can collectively think of and smile. Christmas and other holidays can be emotionally loaded. School days are not necessarily a happy memory. But I cannot think of one person in my life under the age of sixty who had access to a television in their youth that did not enjoy the hell out of Saturday morning cartoons. Huddled with our bowls of cereal, sitting criss-cross-applesauce in front of TV’s warming glow, there is something so simple and delightful about watching great animation.
So there is great delight in that, with the new golden age of TV programming, we’ve also had excellent cartoons for adults emerge in the past decade. One of the standouts is The Adventures of Rick And Morty, the feverish brainchild of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland on Adult Swim (a late-night component of Cartoon Network). This high-concept, intergalactic comedy allows for exploration that has never been seen before in cable television— which is why I’m focusing on it today. Before I jump through a cosmic portal into the depths of this crazed-but-brilliant series, I should lay out a few disclaimers. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS for the program— and one episode in particular (which I think fans of the show will know exactly which one I am going to focus on). And if this is your first time around these parts, you can find out about the actual metric of the Unicorn Scale here.
Everybody with me so far? Everybody got a Meeseeks ready to do their bidding with unfettered joy? Cool. Let’s go out of this world.
Rick And Morty follows the adventures of Rick Sanchez, a genius scientist and antihero who unlocked space travel, and his teenage grandson, Morty (both voiced by Roiland). After the death of his wife, Rick disappeared for decades, only to show up and constantly scoop up Morty to join him on bonkers, interplanetary escapades. In one episode in particular, “Auto Erotic Assimilation”, Rick runs into an ex, UNITY— a hive mind entity that takes over entire planets.
What I Liked:
One of the things I love about Rick And Morty is how quickly accepting Rick is not only of different expressions of life and culture encountered in his cosmic travels, but also of himself and his own qualities. He just seems to be waiting for Morty and any other stowaways (and the audience) to catch up on grasping the concepts. In this case, that’s a twofold revelation— we meet a parasitic life form, UNITY (voiced by Christina Hendricks) that can take over an entire civilization (like a dodder plant writ large) who happily inhabits beings of different genders and expressions... and Rick can easily be attracted to all of it. Rick quickly and easily falls into having a sexual encounter with an entire planet, without hesitation or judgment. In fact, his flirtation with UNITY seems to invigorate him. Rick seems totally at ease with his pansexuality. And yes, I’m using that specific term for two reasons: 1) it’s the label confirmed by one of the creators 2) the term pan falls under the bi umbrella and 3) sex beyond species is certainly a more expansive orientation than bisexuality. This is something we rarely see even in shows filmed in three dimensions.
I think I need to make it clear that this episode is showing a full sexual history for Rick in undeniable terms. While we have seen that Rick was very much in love with his dearly departed wife (and has children as proof of that), UNITY as an entity takes up the space of multiple genders— and Rick is down to party with any permutation or gender expression of that.
I draw the line at the giraffe, though.
What I Didn’t Like:
While Rick is a proud pan man, he never uses any of the terms we know to describe his attractions— queer, omni, bi, nothing. This is disappointing, considering this is coming from a show that has no problem creating entire species and moral codes in order to propagate a great punchline.
Also, I really need to emphasize this: Rick is not a good person. Yes, he is the most brilliant human in the history of humanity (in this world). But he is an amoral, mean, opportunistic fiend who profoundly hates himself. We are not meant to emulate the bastard.
To whit, witness how he abuses UNITY’s power, and how he treats her, and dismisses her concerns. He may be down for a bacchanalian orgy, but he doesn’t display caring about her as long as he can continue to feel good. Rick is happy to continue in a Sid-and-Nancy-esque dynamic as long as he still finds delight in it. Of course, I will allow that this is complicated due to UNITY’s very nature of planetary enslavement. But when she does eventually leave him, I don’t feel great pity for Rick because it’s a dumping he brought upon himself.
I was sad, however, to see him attempt to die by suicide in his grief— and was still glad to see he didn’t succeed. Jeez. For all the comedic trappings of this show, Rick And Morty can be a real emotional rollercoaster.
It’s damn good to see an unabashedly pan person on the screen. And extra points to Harmon and Roiland for bringing male bisexuality onto the Cartoon Network. But for the love of God, Rick Sanchez is not someone we can look up to as an emotional or sexual role model. Nor is there much other representation to balance Rick.
Still, it’s good to see queer representation. Hopefully in the next decade we’ll see more programming brave enough to expand on positive, nuanced examples of this sexual orientation.