After the success of the second season of Rick and Morty, Dan Harmon’s brilliantly irreverent animated sci-fi show was riding an extremely large wave of anticipation prior to the season three premiere.
In fact, the hype was so large that Harmon and Adult Swim staged a wickedly devious prank on April Fool’s Day, quietly releasing the much-demanded first episode of season three online in an unpausable, nonstop loop.
All that hype and build-up did little to damper the quality of the show, however, as the series returned on July 31st, and the newest episode, “Rickmancing the Stone,” did not disappoint. True to the show’s format, episode two toys with the genre from the outset, with Harmon and the writers placing main characters Rick, Morty, and Summer in an apocalyptic wasteland alternate dimension a la Mad Max, an oft-used setting rife with opportunity for the series’ trademark satire of genre conventions.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR RICK AND MORTY SEASON 3 TO FOLLOW
From the opening moments of the episode, the show exhibits superb comedic and narrative momentum. It provides many funny moments and flirts with the line between humorous sci-fi anthology and wry situation comedy, poking fun of elements of both genres. Additionally, Harmon and his crew’s strong grasp of dynamic storytelling shines through once again, as the significant changes made to the family dynamics in the show feel natural and prevent the character moments from becoming stale or repetitive while providing new comedic avenues for the writers to flesh out and explore.
One of the episode’s most surprising standouts is the writers’ approach to Morty’s sister Summer, whose narrative in this episode is both engaging and maddening, with the character serving as a nigh-antihero or pseudo-antagonist. Summer has increasingly been featured in more of the title characters’ misadventures over the past season rather than being relegated to simple background jokes or B plots, and the writers appear to be continuing that trend. Throughout the episode, Rick’s plot takes a backseat to those of Morty and Summer, whose narratives in this episode are frankly much funnier and more engaging than Rick’s.
The voice acting in the episode is also impressive, with one of Harmon’s regular collaborators, Joel McHale (Community), providing a guest voice as Hemorrhage, a marauder leader with eloquence issues. He lends another layer of comedy to the episode, playing well off Spencer Grammer’s unconcerned and rebellious tone as Summer. As always, Justin Roiland’s work voicing both Rick and Morty is impressive, bouncing both characters off each other as if he were actually two people. Tony Hale, Laura Bailey, and John DiMaggio also make cameos in the episode, providing voices for a few one-off characters with chuckle-worthy jokes.
In regards to the visuals, the animation is as good as ever, with the show’s stylized imagery adding a fun level of flair to the Mad Max vibe. The character and background designs for the scavenger characters and their environments pull from the apocalypse genre’s main predecessors, while adding a level of ridiculousness and hyperbole that makes these overused tropes the butt of the joke. The level of polish on the actual animation itself is mostly unchanged and comparable to that of season two, albeit with what may be a small increase in the quality of the color and line work.
Overall, episode two answers the noisy demands of a clamoring and voracious fanbase with aplomb and preserves the quality of the work while avoiding the pitfalls of overt fan service. Because of the aforementioned April Fool’s prank, “Rickmancing the Stone” serves as the season’s grand entrance, choosing to relegate the resolution of last season’s cliffhanger to that unpausable hidden first episode. The show’s pacing benefits as a result, avoiding the slowdown of falling action, keeping the anthology vibe, and working the underlying narrative of this upcoming season into the action more subtly. One can only hope that the season’s momentum continues in this fashion, and the signs are definitely pointing to the showrunners nailing it for yet another outing.