What Dan Harmon Thinks Rick and Morty Has in Common With The Office
Rick and Morty's titular characters are the Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly of emotionally and physically abusive, interdimensional grandfather-grandson relationships. One moment early in the upcoming second season —in which a fraction of a fourth-dimensionally split Rick’s consciousness has to choose whether to put his grandson before himself—is enough to reestablish Rick and Morty’s "big will they, won’t they," as series co-creator Dan Harmon puts it.
"The closest we’ll ever have to a Jim and Pam on our show is the question of whether or not Rick actually cares emotionally about Morty, more accurately, this Morty," Harmon says, "because one of the things we do to undercut that relationship is to say that scientifically there are infinite Mortys, and also that all Ricks need Mortys the way a hermit crab needs a shell."
Thankfully, The Office metaphor doesn’t extend any further for the Adult Swim animated series. And when Rick and Morty returns for Season 2 on July 26, Harmon and co-creator Justin Roiland (who also voices Morty himself) are looking to branch out beyond their central duo's rapport.
“One of the things we did in Season 2 ... is looking at the family and just sort of exploring different couplings,” Roiland said. “What kind of story would result from putting Rick and Summer together on an episode, or Jerry and Rick, or whatever?”
For Harmon and Roiland, this mixing of character pairings also comes with an opportunity to rethink some of their writing routine, especially the usual two-storyline episode structure, to focus more on the sci-fi elements, even when Rick isn’t directly involved.
“When we did Season 1, we had a self-imposed mandate,” Harmon says. “We literally had two columns of premises on the whiteboard. One column was sci-fi conceits that we knew according to this mandate were going to be Rick and Morty adventures; the other column was premises based on real-life marriage stories, our parents’ marriages, childhood trauma, things like that.”
Shifting from domestic issues to the sci-fi sitcom angle is about letting the team write what they know and love.
“That’s what gives us joy,” Harmon says. “There’s no shortage of domestic ideas in the other column. However, strangely enough, most of those domestic stories are about the troubles of a nerdy guy who just wants to watch sci-fi movies instead of have a relationship. So, we don’t want to force it, because we’re not a bunch of guys with hilarious observations about changing diapers or refinancing our mortgages.”
The vibe in the Season 1 writers’ room was “like friends goofing around,” Harmon says; but for Season 2, he wanted to bring in established writers from other projects (like his other cult hit, Community) to make the writing process less chaotic.
“To break stories is to spend eight hours a day not knowing what to do,” Harmon says. “You’re just shoving your brain into the outermost limits of your ability all day, and it’s incredibly exhausting emotionally and creatively. And I thought, ‘Oh, we can fix that by bringing in heavy hitters from Community.’”
The changes won't undo the improvisational tone that has defined the characters of Rick and Morty and led to some of the more memorable moments in Season 1, mostly because so much of it stems from Roiland’s performance. Then again, Roiland himself says his signature improv relies on a foundation of solid writing.
“You want to have great one-liners or great set-up and punchlines and stuff to go along with the nonsense that comes out of my brain,” Roiland says, “because, believe me, the show would not be nearly as popular if it was all just me pooping out random dyslexic nonsense.”
And Harmon says that the show will remain true to its origins. “At the root of it all, I think the process remains the same, especially in regards to when things are clicking,” he says. “When Rick and Morty is working, it’s the result of a group of friends that got a cartoon exploring their feelings about their shitty relationships and their love of sci-fi.”
Harmon and Roiland are currently sitting on sealed envelopes containing their predictions for which Season 2 side character will become the next Mr. Meeseeks-level fan favorite. Both have the same front-runner in mind, but neither would give the character’s name, since that, they said, would spoil the surprise. They’ll find out if their prediction is right when fans start reacting to the new season, which premieres July 26 at 11:30 p.m. ET.