2020 has taught us not to take anything for granted or assume that any plan will come to fruition, but let's be optimistic and note that Rick & Morty isn't even halfway through its planned run of 100 episodes. This is wonderful news for those who cannot get enough, though as I rewatched the season on the Blu-ray set, I couldn't help but think: how can they keep topping themselves? True, season 4 may have lacked the sort of buzzy elements that can result in a chain restaurant rereleasing an old promotional sauce or endless merch featuring Rick as a pickle, but on a storytelling level it offered some of the show's best examples yet. In fact, in my house, it's their best season yet.
Seriously: "The Old Man and the Seat", "One Crew over the Crewcoo's Morty", "Rattlestar Ricklactica", "Never Ricking Morty", and (the Emmy winning!) "Vat of Acid Episode" are all contenders for a list of the show's ten best episodes to date, as far as I'm concerned, and proved to be just as hilarious a second time around (I should note I rarely find anything funny on second viewing and prefer to wait in some cases over a decade before revisiting anything that made me laugh). In fact I was surprised to see rumblings online that this season was somehow lesser than the other three; perhaps it was the long wait that increased expectations? The meta elements may be getting more prominent, yes, but they're handled in a way that allows them to satisfy on a surface level if you choose to ignore their significance (or simply have no awareness of it). Co-creator Dan Harmon did the same thing on Community after awhile (the season 6 episode "Intro to Recycled Cinema" had some of the same sentiment as "Vat of Acid", in fact, in that not every idea has to be a slam dunk and it's OK to settle every now and then), so perhaps I'm just more accustomed to it.
This episode also had a lengthy, laugh-free segment where Morty finally found happiness with a girlfriend, only for things to take a tragic turn (without spoiling things, it might recall a certain early '90s Ethan Hawke movie, and I don't mean Reality Bites). Perhaps it was this and other, more sentimental/tragic moments in the season that left some fans cold - maybe they feel there's only room for laughter on the show and no other emotions? If so, I'm just as happy to not count myself among them as I was when I saw videos of some of them harassing McDonald's employees about sauce.
We can all agree that the show is getting more ambitious with its settings, however. I was not surprised to discover that the bulk of the bonus features on the Blu-ray (which are mostly featurettes that run 2-3 minutes) focused on how difficult it can be to work on the show, as the designers and animators are constantly asked to create entire plants and civilizations, often with minimal time before they're needed for production, and rarely used again. If you watch any normal animated show, you'll quickly notice how often they stick to a few established locales and rarely introduce major new characters, neither of which is particularly possible on this show. The title characters' adventures take them to several new locations every episode, and even the characters themselves often run into alternate versions of themselves, so they can't even just fall back on their established character models.
And then Rick blows everyone/everything up and they have to start from scratch again the following week.
That's not much of an exaggeration; people complain about the delays between seasons (this one arrived two years after season 3) but when you consider how many elements they need to create from the ground up for every installment, it's practically like making a pilot episode every time. Pick any episode at random and you'll see what I'm getting it; a MINOR example would be "Never Ricking Morty" since it's set almost entirely on a train - but not only did they have to design the train, but also just about every character on it, plus backgrounds and cast for a few random cutaways. There are only about 90 seconds set inside the familiar Smith house - everything else was more or less produced specifically for this episode and won't necessarily be seen again (though I assume "cum gutters" will be reprised in some form or other). And then there are episodes like "Crewcoo's Morty" (aka the "heist" one), which required a variety of new locations for the many, many brief shots of Rick going somewhere to recruit someone ("Sanchez, you sun of a bitch..."), not to mention the heist-con itself, which was essentially Comic Con sized. These things aren't just banged out in a few minutes, folks, and if I had any complaint about the disc it'd be that the crew deserves longer behind the scenes clips to appreciate all that they do.
Seeing these unsung heroes at their job in the bonus features isn't the only reason that picking up the Blu-ray is worth the money though. If you, like me, watch the episodes on cable via Adult Swim, you're used to all the bleeping for the harsher profanity, so the uncensored discs make all your favorite F-bomb laden lines all the funnier. There's one line in particular involving (the non-existent) "Space Beverly Hillbillies" that I loved even with the bleeped button at the end; hearing it in all its uncensored glory nearly killed me. Again, this is nothing new for those who watch on iTunes or whatever, but for my fellow dinosaurs who haven't cut the cord, it's like seeing them all for the first time.
Harmon and Justin Roiland have both said that the lengthy episode order will help the show in the long run; the job security it offers them means they don't have to keep one foot out the door looking for other projects and can give this all their attention. There isn't much serialization on the show, but knowing they can space out their ideas (instead of burning through them quickly as they might if unsure they'll get another season to use them) will presumably not only help them with the writing, but also give the animators a little breathing room. In turn, this might keep the crew sharp and invested enough to add ideas of their own, strengthening the stories when and where they can. And if they can work with those crazy conditions and still produce 40+ episodes with almost no duds to speak of, it's safe to say that they can, if anything, do even more when they're relaxed a bit. I personally think each season has improved on the one before it in general - if they're all less stressed going forward, the odds of that tradition continuing seem to be high.
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