Rick and Morty Faces An Uncertain Future


Promotional art for the sixth season of Rick and Morty.

Aidan Johnson, Editor in Chief

The popular Adult Swim animated series Rick and Morty was co-created by comedians Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. Harmon had previously created and written the successful comedy Community. Roiland voiced several characters in animated shows such as Adventure Time and Disney’s Fish Hooks. Both were veterans of the comedy scene, and together, established one of the most impactful popular culture titans of the past decade: Rick and Morty.

The show received praise in its earlier seasons. The titular duo, a genius, apathetic scientist and his dim-witted grandson, was praised for their comedic dynamic. Both have been voiced by Roiland since the show’s inception in 2013.

There was a large gap between the second and third seasons, with a wait of nearly two years. Generally, animated comedies roll out one season every year, however, the production of Rick and Morty has proven to be a different, inconsistent process, since the show has no seasonal airing pattern. 

When season three came out, it received unanimous praise and set records for the show’s success. Fans of the show were heavily engaged, especially with the pop culture phenomenon of a retired McDonald’s product known as Szechuan Sauce and one of the show’s highest received episodes, “Pickle Rick.” In this episode, the titular character turns himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy, a premise so ridiculous that it could only be done by Rick and Morty’s whimsical sci-fi universe. 

This became the policy for future seasons, as they evolved to become more and more absurd. After the longest gap the show had seen between seasons, the fourth season started airing over two years after the end of the third. The show re-entered the scene with positive viewer ratings, and the fourth season was met with general success. However, critics and fans had noted the show was becoming different than it once was, with more outlandish concepts and less-cohesive storylines. 

The show generated significantly greater controversy with its fifth season. More humor started to rely on shock value and the waters were tested to see how far the show could go in season five, leading to negative reception for most episodes. The season ended on a high note, with an emphasis on tying together the show’s loose continuity and wrapping up long-standing arcs while bringing up new ones.

The sixth season received relatively more acclaim, relying less on high-risk humor. Still, most fans of the first three seasons had shifted away from the show due to its tonal changes. Despite conflicting opinions, the show has retained its success in its brilliant formula: a family sitcom with strong character development, infused with wacky science fiction premises and rapid-fire jokes.

This ties back to Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, who have continued to work on the show since its earliest days. Backed by talented writers such as Rob Schrab and the series’s composer Ryan Elder, Rick and Morty continues to have a strong developing staff. 

However, Roiland’s involvement in the show has now been terminated. On Tuesday, January 24, 2022, Adult Swim announced that they had severed ties with Justin Roiland following his domestic abuse scandal. They issued a simple statement: the show would continue without Roiland and season seven was still in progress as scheduled. Adult Swim additionally did not allow comments on the social media posts with the announcement to avoid discourse. At this time, Adult Swim and the entire staff of Rick and Morty are assessing the situation and planning the best course of action going forward. 

Since Roiland voices both of the protagonists, both must be recast, which presents a major challenge unseen in modern animation: the two lead characters must be replaced. Several shows have substituted other voices for more minor characters with success, such as The Simpsons. however, the iconic duo has been recognizably voiced by Roiland, which will be a difficult transition due to their status as leading characters.

Multiple sources have stated that Roiland has not been involved in Rick and Morty beyond voice acting for years and rarely interacted with employees of the show. Additionally, his two other current shows, Solar Opposites and Koala Man have also dropped Roiland, who is rumored to have had limited involvement creatively.

Despite the uncertainty of the circumstances, Adult Swim will likely take the developments into careful consideration. The show is currently one of its most successful intellectual properties, and is still ordered for an additional forty episodes. Additionally, the show will remain virtually unchanged, with the exception of Roiland’s absence. The voice cast for the other characters, including high-profile actors Sarah Chalke, Chris Parnell, and Spencer Grammer, will be reprising their roles, along with the full writing staff and production team.