Rick & Morty’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on the must-know references in Rick and Morty. From Freddy Krueger to Zardoz, Rick and Morty pays homage to the imagery and themes of pop culture’s most beloved properties – often inverting them to communicate something new. The more of these references you know and understand, the richer the show becomes! So what are the most important of these references? How do they elevate the show to new levels? Join us as we dive in!
Written by: Matt Reichle
Narrated and Directed by: Jared Bauer
Assistant Director: Camille Lecoq
Music by: Lazerhawk (http://lazerhawk.bandcamp.com/)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Rick and Morty’s Must-Know References!
Hey everyone, Jared here. Today we’ve got a special episode about a special show: Rick and Morty. Every episode is chock full of references to sci-fi, horror and fantasy — from the aliens, to the premises, to the gadgets,the list is endless. While many of these references are throwaway jokes or simple homage, others can be quite thought provoking and insightful. By observing how Rick and Morty inverts common cliches and tropes, we can better understand one of the smartest shows on TV-and why we love it so much. Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on references in Rick and Morty.
In the episode “Something Ricked This Way Comes,” Rick and Morty uses the arrival of the devil to turn the idea of “deal with the devil” on its head. The episode title comes from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a novel about some weird carnies with a magical carousel that enables people to become younger or older at will. Of course, there’s a catch, and anybody who benefits from this magic also becomes beholden to the evil of the carnival. Making deals with creepy strangers is also a theme in Stephen King’s novel “Needful Things,” which, surprise, is the name of the Devil’s shop of oddities in Rick and Morty.
In the book, people are tricked into buying garbage that appears to berare or valuable at a very low cost. The catch? In exchange for a great deal, you must play a few pranks on your neighbors. The pranks throw the town into a kind of civil war. There’s also a reference to the Monkeys Paw by WW Jacobs, another novel that deals with the the the hidden consequences of gratifying your desires with otherworldly forces. In Rick and Morty, the Devil opens up a shop where the items are free, but also creatively ruin whatever benefit one hopes to receive. Rick gets a magic microscope that will make him too stupid to use it. Morty’s math teacher gets an aftershave that attracts women but also makes him impotent.
Stories about making a deal with the devil often reflect the hidden consequences of greed. In good Rick and Morty fashion, the show takes this moral refrain and throws it in the toilet. In Rick’s version of the story, you can have everything you want — because science. No need to sell your soul or deal with a debilitating curse to get what you want. With science, there’s no mystical repercussions for messing with the perceived order of things, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Just like science demystifies religion by exposing magic and miracles as either sleight of hand or mere statistical coincidence, Rick demystifies the “deal with the devil” trope as nothing more than a paranoid fairy tale. What these stories often portray as “too good to be true,” is usually just shorthand for “don’t circumvent God’s rules”,” which is the preferred pastime of every scientist. With science, Rick renders the devil obsolete. That’s the real lesson here: evil isn’t what should horrify us anymore. Karmic retribution is kind of calming: evil-doers will eventually face cosmic justice. A world without this is scary in its own right. And while the devil may be terrifying, if you want to find something really scary, you need to look beyond evil and take a look at pure, disinterested science. Or, as the devil puts it:
In “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” Rick and Morty takes popular fears of conformity to criticize our basic values and explore Rick’s inner psyche. In the episode, Rick runs into his ex-girlfriend “Unity,” who assimilates alien races into her hivemind-collective by puking into their mouths. It’s a reference to the 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although the idea of aliens turning us into some kind of zombie collective has become a familiar trope in science fiction. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about an alien assault that replaces people with creepy emotionless replicas of themselves, similar to Unity’s assimilated subjects. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been read by many film critics as a commentary on the then-impending threat of the Soviet Union and the loss of individualism under Communist rule.
One way Rick and Morty inverts the body snatchers story is by demonstrating that the freedom we associate with individualism can actually kind of suck. Whereas The Invasion of the Body Snatchers projects an anxiety about Communism destroying individualism, Rick and Morty shows the very-not-fictional horrors of our freedoms. The denizens of Unity’s planet recall their previous lives as sex offenders and drug addicts, and their liberation from the collective whole sparks a nipple-driven race war.
This tension between individual freedom and a collective existence further develops Rick’s character. After all, being a part of a family, or in a relationship, is really about compromising your individual freedoms for the good of the group. Throughout the entire series, Rick’s rampant egotism impedes his relationship with his family. Likewise, in Auto Erotic Assimilation Rick’s egotism not only destroys his relationship with Unity, but her entire society. And of course, in Unity’s letter to Rick, it’s actually Rick who makes Unity lose her sense of self in their relationship.
As a bonus, the show on TV is a recreation of Community, Dan Harmon’s show before Rick and Morty. It’s main character, Jeff Winger, is, like Rick, also an egotistical asshole trying to make sense of what it means to be around people who care about him. The 1974 film Zardoz is one of the more obscure references to play a prominent role in the show. If you have been exposed to Zardoz, it’s likely through an internet meme’d Sean Connery wearing uh, this, or a giant floating head vomiting up guns and saying “The gun is good, the penis is evil”. Rick and Morty is, in some ways, thematically similar to Zardoz, and uses the film as a basis for the episode “Raising Gazorpazorp.”
In Zardoz, a giant-floating-head-god commands some chosen savages to go murder the rest of the savages. One of these chosen savages, Zed, discovers his giant floating head god is a lie, and that it was all some convoluted plan to enslave the savages in service of some immortal aristocrats. Raising Gazorpazorp takes that plot and changes a few details: the conflict between immortals and savages is replaced by men and women, the penis is still evil, but it’s all precipitated because Morty wants a sex doll.
The Zardoz reference follows up on the general theme of atheism in the show. Zardoz is a movie about a guy who discovers his God is a lie and proceeds to kill that God. Rick and Morty is a show reminding us that either there is no God, or that God isn’t all that great. The episode “Lawnmower Dog” borrows its title from the 1992 film “Lawnmower Man,” a movie about a dumb gardener who is turned into a crazy genius by Pierce Brosnan.
In Lawnmower Dog, Rick makes the family pooch, Snuffles, smart enough to stop peeing on the rug, but, by accident, also smart enough to subjugate the entire human race. Snuffles rejects his “slave name” in favor of “Snowball,” a reference to the pig, and Leon Trotsky stand-in, from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “Snowball” seems to be a pretty popular name for revolutionary animals these days, the antagonist of the “Secret Life of Pets” also shares the name. The interspecies war that transpires in Rick and Morty is similar to the war waged by the creatures of Animal Farm against their human masters. Whereas the farm animals rebel against their labor being exploited by lazy humans, Snuffles rebels against the lazy life of pethood.
In Animal Farm, the rebellious animals slowly turn into the farmers that they had fought against. The final scene shows pigs standing on two feet and wearing clothes, completing the transformation into their former overlords. In Rick and Morty, with the help of Inception, a dystopian nightmare is averted when Snowball realizes he’s slowly turning into everything he hated about humanity.
The episode also makes a few references to “Dogworld,” a series concept developed by show co-creator Justin Roiland. It features a family who gets transported to an alternate dimension where the world is run by dogs. The pet human is named “Ruffles,” which Rick mistakenly calls Snuffles in Lawnmower Dog. Also, at the end of the episode, when the dogs leave to populate a new dimension, Rick makes a smooth pitch for the development of “Dogworld” as its own show.
There are too many references to fairy tales, science fiction and horror to list, many of them further this idea of disillusionment central to the show.. When the show isn’t deconstructing mysticism with hard science, it’s deconstructing fantasies by subjecting them to the mundanity of everyday life. Meeseeks and Destroy is the most overt example of this. Morty brings Rick on a cliche fairytale adventure: raising money for a poor village by playing out the story from Jack and the Beanstalk.
To summarize the fairy tale, a boy robs a giant, unprovoked, kills him, and lives his life happily ever after with his stolen riches without suffering any consequences. The show “normalizes” the fairy tale, by subjecting it to a level of realism usually omitted from children’s stories – dispelling the cheery optimism that comforted you as a child. Instead of ending the story with some bullshit about happily ever after, Morty is put on trial for his senseless murder and confronted with the emotionally devastated widow of the giant. Also, the village’s king turns out to be sexual predator.
In another episode, we’re introduced to Scary Terry, a legally safe knockoff of Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” While Scary Terry may seem terrifying, with his ability to murder you in your dreams and all, his life is utterly banal The show dispels the horror of Freddy Kreuger with the same kind of normalization. The tormenter of dreams, it turns out, has the same shitty home life as the rest of us, and is scared of the same lame dreams.
Anatomy Park is a reference to both Jurassic Park and Fantastic Voyage. Rick and Morty shows that the human body – which is often portrayed by movies like Fantastic Voyage as a wonder of the natural world – is just a gonorrhea infested nightmare. If there’s one humorous device that Rick and Morty uses more than any other, it’s robbing fantasy of its magic. It trivializes everything. Not only fairy tales, but family, love, and even life.