Rocko’s Modern Life returns after 20 years with an important message about balancing nostalgia and change.
After the end of their series in the 90s, Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) have been stuck in space watching reruns on VHS of their favorite series, The Fatheads. When they finally return to Earth 20 years later, they find that a lot of society, as well as O-Town, has changed, and that Rocko will have to learn to change with it.
Rocko’s Modern Life was and is a nostalgia gold mine for 90s kids. It was edgy, it was poignant, it spoke to a lot of issues for both kids and adults, and it surprisingly holds up well on rewatching. The fact that it was constantly trying to find the dirtiest thing that it could slip by the censors helps, particularly with jokes like the “Jack-All-You-Want” Jackhammer festival.
The characters in Rocko’s Modern Life were always a perfect blend of absurd and familiar. While you might not actually know a wallaby that is best friends with a cow that was raised by wolves, you probably know the neurotic guy who has a slovenly friend that he is simultaneously infuriated by and dependent on. The relationships between the three leads always kept the conversations somewhat understandable, even when the situations would be insane, like when they end up in Hell Heck being tortured by Peaches, the Devil.
This special brought all of that back, but also added a very poignant message about nostalgia. We follow along as our characters adjust to the changes in the world that have happened over the last 20 years, ranging from the presence of cell-phones to the digitization of comics to the fact that a lot of shows and movies that were formerly popular are now being reimagined and brought back. Strangely, there appears to be no change to the joke about most of the world being owned by megacorporations. Weird how that works. However, Rocko doesn’t handle the changes well and just wants to hold onto one thing that he knows well: his favorite show The Fatheads. So he dedicates himself to getting the show back so that he can at least have something familiar in a world that now scares him. That’s the core of what nostalgia is about, having something familiar to hold onto that reminds you of a time when you thought the world was better.
That’s why most nostalgia is from childhood. When we’re kids, our world is small and simple. We haven’t had to deal with all of the shit that life can throw at us (at least most of us haven’t). However, even when we later go back to things for which we’re nostalgic, the fact that we’ve changed becomes apparent and sometimes those things we want to remember aren’t quite as perfect as we remember. Moreover, when we bring something back for the “nostalgia factor,” even small changes to the original material are going to drive off some viewers, though overall the profitability makes it worthwhile. This special covers all of this in a clever way that I don’t want to spoil here, but it does make the point well.
The truth is that times will always change, and we must change with them. For the most part, despite how scary things can be, times do change for the better in the long run. This special reminds us that we need to be open to it. Also, it’s damned funny. Give it a watch and maybe they’ll make more.
Turanga Leela decides to pursue a career in the Majors based entirely on her utter lack of talent.
Fry (Billy West) notices that a new pizza place is opening across the street from Planet Express. Its owners are revealed to be Cygnoids, cockroach-like aliens that are mostly stereotypes of European Immigrants from the 1910s. The crew go to meet the new neighbors, but it turns out that their restaurant is terrible. Fry tries to help them learn to be Earthicans, including advising them to learn Blernsball, the Earthican pastime. The Planet Express crew agree to play against them and Leela (Katey Sagal) takes the mound. It’s quickly revealed that due to her eye, Leela can only throw a fastball into the head of the batter, much to the amusement of passers-by. She is approached by the owner of the New New York Mets, Abner Doubledeal (Tom Kenny) who signs her as the first professional female Blernsball player. She agrees, though he makes it clear it is just a publicity stunt.
Bender (John DiMaggio) becomes Leela’s agent and her “bean balls” quickly make her popular, despite the fact that she has never struck a single person out. During a signing, she is confronted by Jackie Anderson (Dawnn Lewis), a college Blernsball player, who was set to be the first female professional Blernsball player. Jackie rails at Leela for making female athletes a joke. Leela, realizing the effect her career is having on people, vows to become “not the worst” Blernsball player. They go to visit the Blernsball hall of fame and meet with Hank Aaron XXIV (Hank Aaron), the worst Blernsball player ever, who agrees to help her train to actually throw strikes. He somehow succeeds and Leela learns how to not hit the batter with the ball.
At the big game, Leela manages to convince the coach to put her in, but she is shocked to find that the batter is none other than Jackie Anderson. Leela throws two strikes, but Anderson hits the third pitch so hard that the elastic on the ball snaps and the ball goes in the “Hit it here and win the game” slot in the wall. Leela retires in disgrace, but Anderson consoles her by telling her that she’s inspired women everywhere to prove that they’re not as terrible or pathetic as Leela was.
So, this episode had a long-standing position as the lowest-rated episode by Futurama fans. It’s still the lowest of the original run and the third-lowest rated in the entire series. There have been multiple discussions on Futurama fan boards about why this episode is so lowly rated, ranging from lack of funny jokes, failure to capitalize on the premise, a lousy B-plot about trying to make the Cygnoids successful, and, of course, several saying that the episode sucks because it focuses on Leela (ignoring that several of the Highest-rated episodes focus on her). I will say the following: This episode is definitely not one of the highlights of the show’s run, but I don’t think I can clearly say it’s the nadir of the original series. Hell, I actually remember laughing more at this episode than I did at “That’s Lobstertainment!” which is from the same season.
That said, I’ll fully admit that a lot of the failure of the humor and the plot arise from similar problems to “That’s Lobstertainment” or “I Dated a Robot,” in that the premise can’t hold up as genuine under the circumstances and they don’t go far enough into the parody for us to ignore that. The plot is a Futurama take on a familiar trope, the first person to break into a new society/sport/industry. The episode tries to play parts of that straight in order to give some kind of gravitas, but it’s pretty much shot down from moment one when Leela is told that she’s only being allowed in so that she can be terrible. Like, they’re telling her that she’s essentially going to be a clown, proceeds to become popular for losing the game for her team, and we’re supposed to believe she’s surprised when someone points it out? They try to gloss over it by having her somewhat ignore Doubleday pointing it out, but man, that’s a stretch. Moreover, the idea that Blernsball, a sport which has dozens of species playing it has never allowed female players before now is a somewhat excessive suspension of disbelief.
The gags in the episode are also pretty lame. I even remember groaning audibly the first time I heard Hank Aaron say “I think there’s a rash goin’ around” when Leela says she wasn’t just belly-itching. Seriously, that’s a joke that someone would write in a movie as an example of a failed joke. The Cygnoid jokes all fall flat, because they’re just the same hackneyed “immigrant” jokes shows had done since the 60s, but with alien customs instead of whatever country Balki is from. Hell, the overarching humor focus, Blernsball, had to have multiple edits during the writing because the writers thought that this episode was coming too close to actually explaining it, and the joke is that it’s too confusing to be explained. I agree that showing us only clips of this incomprehensible game was a nice running gag, so why ruin it by spending an episode on it? It’s not that this is bad television, but for Futurama, it’s pretty damned unfunny.
Overall, I don’t think it’s the worst episode, but it’s pretty bad. Fortunately, we’re about to start a sequence of mostly awesome episodes.
Everything involving Bob Uecker.
Bob Uecker had one of the most recognizable voices out there to any baseball fan and his humor and delivery were always amazing. Johnny Carson even called him “Mr. Baseball” and had him guest star on the Tonight Show over 100 times. He played the father on the show Mr. Belvedere, something the episode even references, and was the voice of the Cleveland Indians in the Major League films. He is famous for his self-deprecating humor and despite how bad the lines he’s given in this episode are, he still makes them work.
Leela gets plastic surgery to be normal while Bender tries to sell orphans for meat.
Leela (Katey Sagal) gets invited to her reunion at the Orphanarium. At first she is hesitant because all of the times her fellow orphans tortured her over her eye, but Fry (Billy West) points out that she has become more successful than any of them and should use this to get payback. When they arrive, Leela points out that all of them are losers (One lives in a box, one sells his own body parts for money, one is deaf and blind), but they still look down on her because she only has one eye. Dr. Adlai Atkins (Tom Kenny), a man she had a crush on as a boy, defends her. He apologizes for making fun of her as a child and offers to give her plastic surgery to make her appear to have 2 eyes. Everyone at Planet Express says it’s a good idea, except for Fry, so Leela goes through with it, gaining a “normal” face. She goes around experiencing normal life with two eyes, including winking, blinking, and blending in with a crowd.
Meanwhile, Bender (John DiMaggio) has discovered that the government will pay $100 a week to anyone who adopts orphans. Seeing a scam ahead, Bender adopts a dozen of the orphans, only to quickly realize that kids cost a lot of money. He tries cheap work-arounds like Cat Meat burgers, feeding them with the free peanuts that come with his beer at bars, and dining-and-dashing, but still is barely making any money. It’s also keeping him from living his usual bachelor lifestyle.
Adlai and Leela begin dating, much to Fry’s frustration. Adlai is exceptionally boring and obsessed with average things. However, when he takes Leela to dinner and sees Bender’s kids run out on a check, Adlai asks Leela about having kids. She is elated with the thought, but then asks Adlai if they should adopt kids instead. He agrees, and they decide to adopt one of Bender’s kids, who he is apparently trying to sell to a Chinese restaurant. Upon seeing them, Leela wants to adopt the mutant child, Sally (Nicole St. John), who has an ear on her forehead and a tail, something Adlai insists they fix through surgery. Leela states that she’s fine just as she is, leading her to realize that she was fine the way she was, and forces Adlai to reverse the surgery. Bender donates the orphans and the money back to the Orphanarium, Leela goes back to normal, and Bender reveals that he did actually become attached to the kids before declaring he hates them all.
This is an episode where I think the B-Plot is definitely the stronger of the narratives. I think even the creative team recognized that when they ended up naming the episode after it, rather than the clear focus of the episode, Leela’s eye. The thing is most of the jokes in the episode that actually work come from Bender mistreating the children (which is okay because he keeps them happy), rather than the montage of Leela trying to be normal.
The generic plot of “everyone’s different and fine the way they are” is something that is more difficult to do with science fiction, because technology does slowly eliminate a lot of differences and in Futurama technology is unbelievably advanced… when it suits them. For example, blind, deaf, and nearsighted people still exist, but Fry once had his hands replaced in 15 minutes when a T-Rex bit them off. Hell, in the first episode on Comedy Central, Fry is regrown from a few cells and hair, complete with his memories. Similarly, despite the fact that people routinely interact with aliens ranging from humanoid to blob to hyper-intelligent forms of light, Leela and Sally are still mocked for their appearance and mutants are forced to live in the sewers of New New York. Granted, most of this is done by children, who I think everyone agrees are cruel little monsters when in groups.
While the message of the episode is good, it does still bring up a few ethical questions for the future. For example, throughout the series it’s pointed out that Leela has almost no depth perception, despite the fact that she’s a pilot. She crashes at least twice from it over the run, which, again, is actually pretty impressive given that she has no depth perception. However, in another episode it’s implied that every time she crashes through the billboard in the opening, that actually happens weekly, which is… less impressive. My point, though, is: Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for her to actually have two eyes if she wants to do that job? But, if they do that, are they destroying something about her identity? When we eliminate disabilities, we’re also eliminating the culture that has grown out of those disabilities. While this episode kind of picks the “you’re better just being you,” they do kind of avoid any actual discussion about the implications of this. Probably for the best, given that deaf people protested when Scrubs portrayed a deaf father agreeing that his son was better off with a cochlear implant, something that the deaf community considers “selling out,” apparently.
Overall, I enjoy this episode, although the A-plot just isn’t that funny to me.
This episode has the best opening line in the series. It’s Morbo, the news monster, saying the following:
So I gave the cookies you made to Fawn and the kids and they couldn’t believe it — they were delicious. But, I digress.
Tremble, puny earthlings! One day my race will destroy you all!
It’s so perfectly delivered that I rewound it two or three times on this viewing just to watch it again. It conveys the exact dichotomy that Morbo represents: A professional talking head and an invading alien. Normally, you’d think that you couldn’t be a newscaster and also be seeking the eventual destruction of the people in your audience, but- who am I kidding, that’s most of cable news.
Strong second place is Bender’s response to getting arrested:
SMITTY: You’re under arrest for child cruelty, child endangerment, depriving children of food, selling children as food, and misrepresenting the weight of livestock!
BENDER: If you had kids of your own, you’d understand.
I mean, I don’t have kids, but I’ve met enough of them that… yeah, I get it.
Morty forces Rick to go along on an adventure with the Vindicators, a superhero team whose name is definitely not derivative of anything.
Rick and Morty (Justin Roiland) receive a call from the Vindicators, a superhero team that they had previously assisted. Rick refuses, but Morty uses his right to choose every tenth adventure from winning the bet in “Meeseeks and Destroy” to force Rick to do it. They join the Vindicators on their spaceship base and are informed that a villain named Worldender is out to take over the galaxy. Rick wastes no time in being hostile towards all of the Vindicators: literal starchild Supernova (Gillian Jacobs), cyborg reptile Crocubot (Maurice LaMarche), conductor of a ghost train Alan Rails (Lance Reddick), hive-minded ant colony Million Ants (Tom Kenny), and renegade starsoldier Vance Maximus (Christian Slater). The only one he gets along with is the janitor Noob-Noob (Roiland).
Morty believes this is the second time that the Vindicators have assembled and is dismayed to be told that it is actually the third. Rick and Morty weren’t invited to the last one due to Rick’s horrible personality. Rick is amused that the Vindicators hate him so much and points out that he routinely beats much more powerful enemies than the Vindicators face, but is then hurt when Morty says that the Vindicators are heroes, unlike Rick.
The next morning, Rick is found on the conference table passed out in his own feces. Morty and the Vindicators head towards Worldender’s lair with the unconscious Rick in tow. They manage to make it through multiple defenses, but then are stymied by turrets. They wake Rick up, who stops the turrets. Once they’re inside, they find all of Worldender’s minions dead and Worldender himself impaled and dying. It’s revealed that he was killed by none other than Rick, while Rick was blackout drunk. Drunk Rick has set up a series of death traps designed to torment the Vindicators. Vance is killed quickly trying to escape while Morty solves the first death-trap.
In the next room, Drunk Rick challenges the Vindicators to tell where they would never be found. Crocubot is killed after he reveals that the Vindicators killed an entire planet during Vindicators 2 due to not being able to track down a shapeshifter named Doom-nomitron, who Rick could easily have located. It turns out that Rick was talking about Israel, which Rick defends as just being “complicated,” but not “anti-Semitic.” After that, Drunk Rick tells them to make a series of three-pointers, which they do easily, however, Alan Rails ends up accusing Million Ants of sleeping with Supernova while she was married to Alan. Rick and Morty fight over Rick’s behavior, until they witness Million Ants and Supernova kill Alan violently.
The last room contains a puzzle where Drunk Rick tells the Vindicators to show the one thing he values. Morty reasons this is nothing, but Rick says the answer might be Morty. Morty gets taken on a ride by the deathtrap where Rick appears to be getting emotional, only to reveal that the actual answer was Noob-Noob. The trap still accepts the answer, though, and the room starts ascending to the surface. Along the way, Supernova starts trying to kill Rick and Morty. Million Ants tells her not to, but she kills him. Rick and Morty are nearly dead when they hit the surface, which has been turned into a party organized by Drunk Rick. Supernova flees the crowd and Rick and Morty join the party.
This episode is a shot at the superhero film genre and it’s one of the funnier ones to date. There are a lot of levels of criticism in this episode, so let’s go through a few.
First, Rick points out that superheroes are fairly generic. In his first trap room, he tells the Vindicators to match several traits (Don’t play well with others, tragic origin, never give up, superpower is a burden, and using power responsibly) to each of their pictures. Morty quickly points out that all five of the traits apply to all of the Vindicators because they’re just variations on the same general themes. He even tells them that he’s more complex than they are.
Rick also tells the Vindicators that he believes he can knock out what they do in a year in a few hours, a reference to how superhero film arcs take an entire film or even multiple movies, whereas Rick and Morty generally gets through both an A and B plot in 22 minutes. This is a statement on the tighter storytelling that Rick and Morty uses compared to the more spectacle-based superhero films.
The show also uses their typical nihilist satire to deconstruct the idea that superheroes even exist by having them slowly display all of their worst traits when faced with something more complicated than a normal, punchable villain. Vance reveals that behind his charm and wit he’s actually a coward, Alan attacks Million Ants out of anger, Crocubot makes an illogical decision, and Supernova just goes straight villain. However, as Supernova says, the reality of the heroes is irrelevant, because it’s the belief in them that actually matters. In other words, heroes don’t actually have to be all they claim to be, they just have to appear that way. Rick, meanwhile, is always honest about being a shithead, which is somewhat more moral in its own way.
This is one of the best episodes which doesn’t have a B-Plot. The focus is unerringly on Rick and Morty, but it still works well.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Look, this one’s pretty straightforward, so I’ll give you two mini-theories.
First, Rick chooses Israel because he’s sick of being confused with Rick Sanchez, the former CNN, now Fox News commentator who got into trouble for anti-Semitic comments. Rick apparently has complicated feelings regarding Israel, but I think he goes out of his way to draw attention to his support of Israel in an attempt to separate himself from the other Rick Sanchez.
Second, why do Rick’s neutrino bombs have such a high fail rate? Well, it’s because he’s building them out of neutrinos, which have a high rate of passing through regular matter undetected due to only interacting with gravity and the weak nuclear force.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
Futurama spends an entire episode setting us up for a punchline, but instead decides to gut punch us with emotion.
This episode constantly bounces between Fry’s life in the 20th Century and his life in the 30th Century.
In the 20th Century, we see Fry (Billy West) being born on the day that the Mets win the World Series (which doesn’t really track, since the Mets won in 1986 but Fry is 25 in 1999. Presumably in the Futurama universe this is 1973 and the “You Gotta Believe” Mets team didn’t lose to the Oakland Athletics in Game 7. This is all the baseball I know.). His father, Yancy Sr., (John DiMaggio) names him Philip after the screwdriver. Fry’s brother, Yancy Jr. (Lauren Tom as kid, Tom “Ice King” Kenny as adult), quickly establishes a trend of being jealous of anything Fry has, including the name “Philip.” As kids, Fry is shown to be worse than Yancy at most things, until Fry finds a seven-leaf clover which makes him unnaturally lucky, even at things which would normally be considered skill-based, like basketball or break-dancing. Yancy is always jealous when Fry is successful and tries to take the clover, but Fry runs home and hides it in a Ronco Record Vault inside The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack.
In the future, Fry is having a streak of bad luck at the racetrack. Not only does Bender (DiMaggio) drug Fry’s horse, resulting in a shameful loss, but when his last dollar gets blown onto a power line, he gets struck by lightning, twice, and blown into a dumpster. Back at Planet Express headquarters, Fry mentions the clover and Zoidberg (West) points out that it might still be in the ruins of Old New York. Fry, Bender, and Leela (Katey Sagal) head underground to the remains of the New York of the 20th Century and make their way to Fry’s old house. However, the clover is no longer in the vault. The three give up on finding the clover, only to run into a statue of Fry’s brother with the clover in his lapel and the nameplate reading “Philip J. Fry.” Fry, incensed, punches the statue and breaks his hand, declaring that his brother “stole his life.”
A video on the internet informs the crew that the Philip J. Fry that is immortalized on the statue was actually a massive celebrity in the 20th century, famous for his perpetual luck, culminating in him being the first man on Mars (if you don’t count the native Martians). He was buried with the clover, so Fry tells everyone that they’re going to go rob the grave. At the graveyard, Fry, Leela, and Bender start digging up the body, but Fry knocks some of the moss off of the other Philip’s grave.
In the past, Yancy breaks into the Ronco Record Vault to find music for his wedding and takes the clover in memory of Fry. Later, Yancy and his wife name their first son Philip after the brother Yancy says he misses every day. In addition to the name, he gifts young Philip with the clover.
In the Future, Fry finds out the truth: The Philip J. Fry they’re digging up is actually his nephew, who was, per his tombstone, “named for his uncle, to carry on his spirit.” Although Bender does dig up the clover, a tearful Fry leaves it to rest in his nephew’s grave and smiles, realizing that his brother wasn’t taking his legacy, but making sure it endured.
Holy flaming carp, this episode. I mean, everyone remembers “Jurassic Bark,” and I already have cookies ready to deal with that episode’s punch to the feelings, but this one’s not far behind for me. The difference is what kind of emotions this episode evokes compared to that one, and the fact that this one actually could potentially have been building up to a comical misunderstanding, but instead decided to change it into a powerful dramatic moment.
Throughout this episode, the B-plot in the past portrayed Yancy as the kind of person who actually would bother to steal his dead brother’s name, because from the day Fry was born, Yancy wanted to be Philip. The show presents this idea to us in a little bit of a deceptive manner, showing us a few objective moments of Yancy, while the rest of the time we’re only hearing about Yancy through Philip’s perception of him as jealous. The few objective moments we have don’t contradict Fry’s perception, so it cements that image in our minds. That’s why it’s so surprising when it’s revealed that, upon losing Fry, Yancy spent the rest of his life missing his brother, to the point of entrusting his son with Fry’s legacy. That’s why the moment we share with Fry is so powerful, because we’re going through the realization about Yancy’s true nature at the same time as Fry. We aren’t hit with a wave of sadness like watching a dog waste away waiting for its master, it’s more of a complex series of emotions related to the realization that people aren’t always who you think they are, but that sometimes you don’t learn that until after they’re gone. It’s sad that Fry couldn’t find this out about his brother while he was alive, but he does finally get closure and a reassurance that they did love each other, which is still beautiful.
The key to this episode is the perfect interplay between the A and B plots, allowing for both of them to progress rapidly by letting the audience just assume that nothing important happened between the time that we leave one plot and return to the other. If you’re looking for some gold-standard examples of this, check out the Rick and Morty episode “Meeseeks and Destroy” or the I Love Lucy episode “Job Switching,” but this episode also uses it to great effect, particularly with how it finally has the two plotlines converge into something beautiful and meaningful to both. Interestingly, Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and writer Ron Weiner used The Godfather II as a model for writing two timelines simultaneously and organizing them by using different colored storyboards.
Overall, this is one of my favorite episodes of the show. It’s also typically rated in the top 10 on most fan polls, so I don’t think I’m insane for that. I don’t think it’s the best, nor even the second or third best, but it is brilliant and touching and writing this review made me tear up a few times.
First, a joke amendment that I didn’t find out until this episode. When looking into Fry’s stuff, there’s another pennant for the Whitefish from Coney Island College, the same roller-coaster college Fry says he dropped out of in “Mars University.” At the time, I thought that the choice of whitefish for Coney Island was a hilarious joke about how crappy the university was. It turns out I missed two pieces of information:
“Coney Island Whitefish” is a song by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts about a guy who is a complete waste of time who never tries to improve or do anything. That kinda fits Fry during the 20th century.
Coney Island Whitefish is also a slang term for a discarded used condom, because humanity is gross. I’m hoping this doesn’t apply to anything on the show.
I’ve updated the previous entry in “Mars University” and now I never need to admit to making a mistake.
Second, a wonderful observation and set-up is the fact that Fry’s dad, brother, and his great-grandfather are all named Yancy, as were all of the other men in the line going back to the Revolutionary War. The fact that Fry’s dad doesn’t mention his father is also named Yancy is the first hint we get that there is something unusual in Fry’s lineage, because the Yancy name skips one generation… due to Fry being his own grandfather. Also, I can never prove it, but I think the name Yancy was picked because Billy West who voices Fry also voiced Doug Funnie on Doug. Doug’s middle name was Yancy, and he hated his middle name with a passion.
Last, the actual best joke, when the horses cross the finish line at the race, they announce a measurement by Electron Microscope which results in a winner by “Quantum Finish.” The Professor (West) immediately shouts out: “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!” This is one of the best jokes in the series, because 1) it works if you just think the Professor is complaining that he was going to win until they announced a different winner and 2) it works better if you know that the Professor is referencing the Observer Effect of Quantum Physics, which suggests that the mere act of measuring something on a quantum level inherently changes the outcome. This is a perfect example of Futurama’s humor: Works if you know the joke, works if you don’t.
Season 3 kicks off with a game-changing bang… that tells us the game isn’t changing.
It’s been a few months since the Second Season Finale and Rick (Justin Roiland) is being interrogated by the Galactic Federation’s top agent Cornvelious Daniel (Nathan “Firefly Was A Masterpiece” Fillion) inside of a fake reality that exists in Rick’s brain. Rick quickly sees through the ruse and reveals that he is actually capable of making alterations to the interrogation scenario when he changes Cornvelious Daniel’s coffee into a farting butt. Despite that, Cornvelious Daniel tries to convince Rick to show him the secret to interdimensional portal technology by giving him the chance to relive his last memory of his wife. Rick agrees to take him there, but they stop for McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan McNugget Sauce along the way, because it only exists in his memory.
Meanwhile, Summer (Spencer Grammer) is rebelling against the family’s new life under Galactic Federation rule. Beth (Sarah Chalke) is unemployed because alien tech makes horses immortal, while Jerry (Chris Parnell) is thriving, because his new bosses are such bureaucrats that people who are completely clueless are more successful under them. Morty (Roiland) tries to talk Summer out of saving Rick, but ends up telling her that the dead Rick from “Rick Potion #9” has a working portal gun. She robs the grave, but the pair are caught by the family’s robot Conroy (Tom “Ice King” Kenny). They escape through a portal to Morty’s original universe and are saved by Jerry C-137 and Summer C-137. The now near-feral Smiths destroy the portal gun and try to exile Summer, but are stopped by a group of Ricks from the Citadel of Ricks who detected the portal gun’s destruction. Summer tells the Ricks that Rick C-137 has been captured, but is dismayed when they tell her that means he’ll have to be killed by Seal Team Ricks.
Back in Rick’s head, he shows Cornvelious Daniel the story of figuring out interdimensional travel: While he was just a scientist in his garage trying to invent in-universe teleportation, another Rick came to him and informed him that teleportation is not an accomplishment, but interdimensional travel is. Rick, however, realized that this would make him miserable and alone, so he refused, infuriating the other Rick, who left. Rick C-137’s wife, Diane (Kari Wahlgren), comes out to check on him and Rick says that he’s giving up on science, so they should go for ice cream. He gets in the car, but when Diane and Beth come out, someone blows up the garage. Rick then writes out the mathematics behind interdimensional portal technology, something that the modern Rick says made him an “unfeeling ghost.” Cornvelious Daniel, thrilled at having achieved his message, uploads the equations… only to find out that they actually give control of the “brainalyzer” to Rick, who puts his brain into Daniel’s body and leaves him to die. The entire backstory was a lie. As Rick, now in Cornvelious Daniel’s body, tries to use his access to shut down the Federation, he’s interrupted by Seal Team Ricks, who kill everyone, but Rick manages to put his brain into one of the other Rick’s heads and kill the rest of the team, escaping from the Federation. He contacts the Citadel of Ricks and transfers his consciousness into the body of a high-ranking Rick.
Summer and Morty are being put on trial by the Council of Ricks, to whom Morty admits that he still is loyal to Rick. The trial is interrupted by Rick C-137 teleporting the citadel into the middle of the Galactic Federation Prison. Chaos ensues, with prisoners and the Ricks and Mortys fighting each other. The Council of Ricks take Morty and Summer hostage, but most of them are killed by Rick C-137. The remaining Council Rick (Riq IV) holds Summer hostage, but Rick C-137 fakes being shot by Morty (who didn’t know about it), giving him an opening to kill Riq IV. Rick, Morty, and Summer then break into the highest-level room of the Prison, giving Rick access to the top of the Federation’s computer system. Rick then changes the value of their currency to 0, collapsing the Federation economy and leading them to evacuate the Earth. Rick then returns home, where Jerry tells Beth to pick between Rick and him. She picks Rick and divorces Jerry. Being left alone with Morty, Rick proceeds to tell him that he did all of this to get rid of Jerry and the Federation, because he wants more Mulan McNugget Sauce.
I can’t even begin to cover this episode without mentioning the fact that it was part of one of the greatest April Fools Day pranks in history. Without warning anyone, this episode began to play on a continuous loop on Adult Swim. I was at a party at the time, and I didn’t believe it, thinking it was just a prank. But then we bothered to check the site and, to our amazement, here was a new episode of the show, almost exactly a year and a half after the last one, just like Mr. Poopybutthole said. Absolutely amazing.
This episode stands for a complete rejection of character development, something that helps set this show apart in comparison with similar series, while simultaneously playing with the notion of what constitutes such development. At the end of the second season, we believe that Rick has finally decided to do something for his family rather than himself, but this episode reveals that everything was actually just Rick getting revenge on all of his enemies through an elaborate gambit. Morty, who threatens to never forgive Rick for leaving in the last episode, reveals that his feelings towards Rick haven’t changed. Beth, who finally seems to have gotten past her fear of her father leaving, immediately takes him back. The only one who seems to really change is Summer, who is now somewhat idolizing Rick. At the end of the episode, Rick takes it a step further by revealing that his new motivation is now just to get more McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan McNuggets sauce. Not to avenge his family or to fight for justice or anything else that usually motivates protagonists, no, just the sauce. And that’s one of the best jokes a show can make: Rick’s motivation is completely unimportant to us, so why shouldn’t it be something absurd?
We even think that we’re getting Rick’s secret backstory to explain why he is the way he is, only for it to be revealed to be completely made up. It’s similar to how a lot of writers have treated the Joker in comics and film: Even when we’re given a backstory, it’s best to think that it could be a complete lie. After all, if we found out that Rick really is just driven by some catastrophic event or concrete motivation, wouldn’t that kind of ruin what makes him awesome? He’s just a force of chaos and that’s what works for him.
Overall, this episode was the perfect continuation of the last season’s cliffhanger. It had references to things that had happened throughout the series, but it also just re-established the setting for the true Rick and Morty formula: Rick and Morty doing random crazy stuff because Rick’s a selfish prick.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Alright, so I just pointed out that this episode ultimately removes any real selfless element of Rick’s sacrifice from the season 2 finale, but I actually don’t think that’s completely true. Let’s break down how Rick’s plan worked:
Get put in a brainalyzer with an agent who wants the formula for interdimensional transportation.
Determine what brainalyzer you’re in by seeing how many times Jerry can fold himself.
Use that information to determine what virus will give you control of the machine.
Put your brain in the agent’s body.
Get Level 9 access.
Wreck Federation Economy.
Ultimately, this didn’t end up working out beyond step 5, because of Seal Team Ricks, but at the end of the plan, there didn’t seem to be any steps that would actually get his family back. His last conversation with Morty was that Morty would never forgive him for leaving. Without Morty and Summer being captured by the citadel, who incidentally become victims of Rick’s original plan, Rick might not have been able to get back into the family. Sure, Morty later said that he hadn’t ever really renounced Rick, but Rick isn’t exactly perfect at guessing Morty’s motivations (see: Morty shooting him in the head). Now, he was aware that everyone but Jerry was on his side before leaving, but that’s still a huge risk that he’s never going to see them again, which means that on some level he was at least trying to do something to make his family’s lives better at his own peril.
If you’re saying that he knew his plan to collapse the Federation would work, I counter with: Then why had he waited to do it? Rick has been against the Federation since the pilot, but it’s not until he has nothing left to lose that he finally does it. He’s willing to take the risk now because if he fails, his family is still better off.
So, yeah, the show snuck a little bit of character development into an episode against it. Well done.
LEAVING THE CORNER
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
The Second Season finale is packed with growth, betrayal, and birdseed!
The Smith/Sanchez family are eating breakfast when a “courier flap” arrives with an invitation to Birdperson’s (Dan Harmon) wedding to Summer’s (Spencer Grammer) friend Tammy (Cassie Steele). Rick (Justin Roiland) doesn’t want to go, but he accidentally sends Jerry (Chris Parnell) to the wedding, forcing him to attend with Summer, Morty (Roiland), and Beth (Sarah Chalke). They arrive at the wedding and are greeted by Squanchy (Tom Kenny). The Smith family starts to mingle with the wedding guests while Rick is grouchy and bitter about everything. Beth tries to find out some information about Rick’s past from Birdperson, who indicates that Rick is a high-level fugitive. Morty tells Rick he needs to open himself up more.
Birdperson and Tammy get married and Rick, uncharacteristically, takes Morty’s advice and states that he’s going to open himself up to new experiences, giving a very nice toast to the couple. However, in response, Tammy reveals that she’s a deep-cover agent for the Galactic Federation and kills Birdperson. Rick detonates his portal gun to create a distraction and the family flees on a spaceship. Unable to return to Earth, Rick takes the family to a small planet.
A few days later, Rick overhears Jerry talking to the family about turning Rick in. Everyone else is willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of keeping Rick around, but Jerry points out that Rick would never reciprocate. Rick then decides to surrender himself to the authorities so that his family can be sent back to Earth. Sensing this is going to happen, Morty tells Rick that he won’t forgive him for leaving again, but Rick still turns himself in, being imprisoned for “everything.” The family returns to Earth where Jerry is given a job by the Federation.
This episode shocked me when I first watched it. I never really figured Rick and Mortyfor the kind of show to do a long cliff-hanger, which I guess is what made it so effective. Additionally, Rick’s seeming change of character at the end of the episode, finally putting his family ahead of himself, really knocked me for a loop, because, again, that’s not a Rick and Morty thing to do.
This was truly the culmination of the series thus far. It has references to a number of prior episodes and actually completes several plotlines, ranging from Tammy and Birdperson’s romance to Jerry’s unemployment. The end of the episode even brings back Mr. Poopybutthole from “Total Rickall” to do the wrap-up. It really kind of signalled that the next season of the show was going to have to do something different, but, of course, we didn’t find out what for roughly a year and a half (as Mr. Poopybutthole predicted). It actually served a similar purpose, narratively, to the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones, which is completely appropriate since it features the bride’s “family” massacring everyone at a wedding.
One of my favorite references in the entire series is also in this episode, with James Callis and Tricia Helfer voicing Tammy’s parents Pat and Donna Gueterman. Fans of Battlestar Galactica will recognize them as the actors who portray Gaius Baltar and Number Six from the series, respectively, which the characters are clearly designed to resemble. This seems to be a subtle reference to the fact that they’ll eventually be revealed as robots, similar to how characters from Battlestar Galactica were constantly being revealed as Cylons, which were humanoid robots. Or robotic humanoids, I forget.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
So, this episode reveals that Tammy is a deep-cover agent for the Galactic Federation, but what’s interesting is that we can guess exactly what led to her being given the assignment based on this episode. Tammy (though it is not the same Tammy) makes her first appearance in “Meeseeks and Destroy,” when Mr. Meeseeks gives a speech encouraging people to become friends with Summer. While that Tammy may not have been a deep-cover agent, since essentially every event up until the events of “Rick Potion #9” happened in both the C-137 universe and the replacement dimension, the Meeseeks speech probably happened in both. This Tammy likely deduced that Summer was a relative of Rick based on the presence of the Meeseeks and realized that she could work her way into Rick’s inner circle if she associated with Summer, such as going to the party Summer through where she met Birdperson. The question then becomes, why was she at the school in the first place?
In the pilot episode, Rick uses a portal that is actually owned and operated by the Galactic Federation (as demonstrated both by the bureaucracy and the bug-people) in order to get he and Morty home. That portal ends up placing the pair at Harry Herpson High School. While Rick’s brain-waves are untraceable due to Morty’s proximity, Rick had just entered those coordinates into a Federation transport. It seems probable that SOMEONE in the whole Federation would be able to figure out where they led, but that only got them to the school, so it makes sense that they would place an agent there. Thus, everything in this episode happens because of the pilot.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.