Note: this is a spoiler-free review of the Season 5 premiere of Rick and Morty, which debuts on Adult Swim on Sunday, June 20 at 11pm ET.
Rick and Morty deserves a lot of credit for going out of its way to portray Rick Sanchez as a toxic, deeply unhappy person. As much as some misguided fans like to prop him up as an edgy, nihilistic, Szechuan Sauce-addicted role model, at the end of the day Rick is kind of a loser. He’s certainly the architect of his own misery. Season 5 gets off to a strong start by once again poking holes in Rick’s carefree facade and allowing Morty to shine outside his grandfather’s shadow.
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“Mort Dinner Rick Andre” is ostensibly a parody of 1981’s My Dinner With Andre, a film co-creator Dan Harmon also famously parodied in an episode of Community: Season 2. It’s probably just as well this episode only makes a halfhearted attempt at mimicking the source material. It might be fun to see what this series could do by locking two characters in a room and forcing them to talk for 22 minutes straight, but you’d also miss out on all the sci-fi zaniness that makes this series what it is.
Instead, Rick’s dinner with an old “friend” serves as a loose backbone for what turns out to be a very Morty-centric episode. The result is basically everything you could want out of a Morty adventure. We get to see him stand on his own and how far he’s come from the timid little dork he was in the early seasons. At the same time, it becomes painfully apparent just how much of Rick has rubbed off on Morty over the years. His utter disinterest in the consequences of his actions winds up creating a conflict that’s as hilarious as it is psychologically bleak.
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Harmon and Justin Roiland have often spoken about their reluctance to deal with the concept of time travel on Rick and Morty. But much like Season 2’s “A Rickle in Time,” the premiere manages to indirectly wade into those waters and build a wacky concept all about the ravages of time. There are echoes of sci-fi classics like The Forever War and Dune here, but the end result is pure Rick and Morty.
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This episode also gets great mileage out of Rick’s nemesis Mr. Nimbus. This flamboyant fusion of Aquaman and Namor is a hilarious addition to the show’s lineup of eccentric supporting characters. He combines the campiness of a pre-Jason Momoa Aquaman with the arrogance and general horniness of Namor.
“Mort Dinner With Andre” even finds room for a solid, entertaining subplot involving Beth and Jerry trying to rekindle the fires of romance. It’s nice to see the show actually building on their recent reconciliation rather than reverting back to the old “Beth despises Jerry” status quo. Rick and Morty may not be heavy on narrative continuity, but there’s enough to get a sense that these characters are growing and evolving with time (if not always in the most healthy directions).
There are really only a handful of quibbles to be found with the Season 5 premiere. For one thing, Summer is disappointingly underutilized, considering most of her storyline unfolds offscreen. And regardless of the show’s loose approach to continuity, it does seem strange to see a Beth/Jerry storyline without any mention of the fallout from the Season 4 finale. Perhaps some missed opportunities this week, but with dozens of more episodes in the pipeline, there’s plenty of room for every member of the Smith/Sanchez household to get their due.