Rick and Morty: How an Adult Swim Cartoon Changed the World of Animation

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Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Rick and Morty, chances are you haven’t escaped the intense hype surrounding the show over the past few months. When the release of the show’s third season was announced, bloggers everywhere went mad in anticipation. Then there were the memes and pop culture reference. If you went out on Halloween, you probably encountered at least one person donning a Pickle Rick costume.

Interestingly enough though, Rick and Morty wasn’t an instant success. Remember, that the show premiered in 2014. It wasn’t until 2017 that it really gained traction outside of Cartoon Network’s core audience. The show, which is about a genius scientist with nihilistic obsessions and his chronically nervous grandson, has truly made an impact on animation and pop culture. Its merchandise can be found in comic books and fantasy shops. There are Rick and Morty memes everywhere you turn. Let’s take a look at how one simple show has caused such a buzz.

It’s Part of an Upswell in Animation Quality

Let’s be honest. For a long time, fans of animation were more likely to be disappointed than not. Animation juggernauts like the Simpsons have been phoning it in for years. Animated features were often lackluster as well with only a few exceptions. Then, within the last couple of years, things began to change. Bob’s Burgers landed in prime time to bring clever storylines and great character development. The same can be said about Archer. Even Disney started bringing their A game with movies like Big Hero 6.

Of course, it should come as little surprise that it is Cartoon Network that really stands out in this animation renaissance. Not only have brought us Rick and Morty, but they’ve also given us shows such as Bojack Horseman and Steven Universe. Each representing an upswing in quality when it comes to animation, writing, and production values.

Viewers are demanding better things when it comes to animation. Thankfully, people like Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), Dan Harmon (Rick and Morty), Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty), Adam Reed (Bojack Horseman), Raphael Bob-Waksberg (Bojack Horseman), and Loren Bouchard (Bob’s Burgers) are really delivering. Chances are, without this golden age of animation, a show like Rick and Morty would have never made it to air.

They Make Absurdity Oddly Relatable

Absurdity is certainly nothing new to animation. Whether it’s characters surviving falls from ridiculous heights, transforming into mythical beings, defying gravity, or talking animals a great portion of animation asks us to suspend disbelief and accept the absurd. That absurdity is often one of the more powerful elements used in animation. Absurdity can be hilariously funny. It can also be transformative.

One of the reasons that cartoons often lose appeal for adults is that it becomes more difficult to embrace that absurdity because it’s no longer relatable. Rick and Morty overcomes that. Pickle Rick is a great example of this. A man transforming himself into a pickle is absurd. It’s also really funny. The reason he does it (avoiding family therapy) is absolutely relatable. Most adults understand avoidance, fear of confrontation, and the desire to never have difficult conversations.

The Show Has Earned Wide-Ranging AttentionRick and Morty

Rick and Morty has created a ripple that goes across industries. The show has been discussed in Newsweek and Fortune Magazine; even some of the paper writing sites are talking about them and try to get aboard the hype train.

A few months ago, Mcdonalds attempted to parlay a joke from the show about the coveted szechuan mcnugget sauce into a marketing opportunity. While the attempt failed badly, it indicates how far-reaching the show’s influence has been. In addition to getting the attention of media outlets and other brands, the show has earned a very impressive social media following. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it has millions of active followers.

It’s Breathed New Life into Adult Swim

Adult Swim is the name of a block of shows aired on Cartoon Network from evening until the early hours of the morning. Its target audience is adults aged 18 to 34. In 2006, Nielsen began tracking Adult Swim ratings separately from other Cartoon Network shows. This was because it has a different following than other shows or blocks on the network.

In all the years that Adult Swim has existed, the featured shows have varied widely. The success of the Adult Swim lineup has varied as well. In 2013, the year before Rick and Morty debuted, Adult Swim had a record year. At the time the network saw its largest number of viewers. That record was smashed this year thanks in large part to the popularity of Rick and Morty.

It isn’t just the numbers that have improved. When it comes to critical acclaim, the Adult Swim lineup has had varying levels of success. However, Rick and Morty regularly impresses critics. For example, Indiewire named it the 3rd best of all Adult Swim shows. It also has a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. The show has also earned several awards for writing, voice acting, and overall production.

The Characters Are Relatable and it Provides Guilt-Free Fun

For many, the two main characters represent a meaningful duality. Rick’s nihilism may be dark, but for many, it matches a bitter sense of hopelessness about modern culture. On the other hand, as fearful as Morty is, he represents hope and a desire to do good.

That’s just one of the ways in which this show challenges us. The characters aren’t written with popularity in mind. The plots aren’t dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. This is dark, intellectually challenging humor. Rick and Morty is simply the kind of show you can watch and enjoy without feeling as if you’ve spent time in an intellectual void.


If you haven’t checked this show out, now is a good time to do so. It’s popular for good reason. It’s surge to popularity was fueled by a global improvement in the quality of animation. In turn, it will be interesting to see how it influences the development of television animation in the future.