Adult Swim’s chaotic adult cartoon Rick and Morty has no peers. There are no other shows as consistently inventive, weird, clever, honest, brutal or fucked up as Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s creation. When the show came to us in 2014, it seemed like just a zippy pastiche of Back To The Future (which in short film form, it was – with more dick jokes). What quickly transpired was pop culture’s most palatable presentation of ‘cosmicism‘. As Morty says, “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
With season five freshly launched, we thought there was no better time than to revisit – not travel back in time, Rick doesn’t do time travel – the ten best episodes to date.
10. ‘Ricksy Business’ (season one, episode 11)
There are better episodes of Rick and Morty than this. But ending with a fourth wall-breaking dance number does a whole lot of work. Not only that, but the episode brings many of the show’s great creations to the fore for the very first time. Here we meet Squanchy, Bird Person, Abrodolph Lincoler and Revolio Clockberg, Jr. It’s perhaps, the most sympathetic portrayal of Jerry to date, too.
Nerdiest nugget: Children of the ’80s might find Revolio Clockberg – for now, his cog testicles intact – familiar. Fans of the Masters of the Universe franchise will spot similarities to the character Roboto.
9. ‘The Old Man and the Seat’ (season four, episode two)
On one hand, it’s an episode about a selfish old man wanting to take a shit in peace and creating an entire planet to do so. On the other, it’s a portrait of sadness and a comment on mankind’s lifelong face-off with impending loneliness. And it’s got Ted Danson from Cheers in it. What more do you want?
Nerdiest nugget: Oh, here’s a doozy. The QR code on Rick’s hat is a real QR code. It takes you to the official Rick and Morty online shop, where you can buy the actual funnel hat that Rick wears!
8. ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’ (season one, episode five)
There’s a strong case for this episode being the moment Rick and Morty announced its arrival proper. Just five short adventures into its very being, it has moments of unbearable darkness (that public toilet scene, holy fucking hell). It has moments of great emotional clout (Beth breaking down, holy fucking shit). And it has the best guest character(s) the show has seen to date: Mr. Meeseeks!
Nerdiest nugget: Did you think of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight while viewing the post-credits scene? King Jellybean’s horrific crime is also buried to preserve his iconic status within the community.
7. ‘The Vat Of Acid Episode’ (season four, episode eight)
The arrival of this episode saved season four. Not that the show was going stale – it remained funny, clever and cool – but there was such invention present in seasons prior, that season four’s episodes had felt ordinary by the very high standards the show had set itself. And then Rick truly revealed himself to be the most malicious, evil, perverse bastard you always feared he might be. In doing so, the series widened the possibilities for extremity. Poor Morty.
6. ‘The Ricklantis Mixup’ (season three, episode seven)
In a brilliant bit of bait and switch, ‘The Ricklantis Mixup’ (though you might also know the episode as ‘Tales From The Citadel’), first presents itself as an Atlantis adventure, then quickly becomes something all together weirder. In fact, this might be the most timey wimey an episode of Rick and Morty has ever got. Even so, the variant Ricks and alt. timeline Mortys can’t disguise the episode’s searing takedown of police brutality and systemic racism.
Nerdiest nugget: The four Mortys are a reference to Stephen King’s 1982 novella The Body, and its 1986 film adaptation Stand by Me.
5. ‘Rixty Minutes’ (season one, episode eight)
There are episodes in this list with loftier ideas. There are episodes with bigger themes. There are episodes that say more. But if you just want an example of how funny, inventive and plain weird this show can be, there are few better than season one highlight ‘Rixty Minutes’. The episode introduces the concept of “interdimensional cable”. But also, because this is Rick and Morty, features some of Beth and Jerry’s darkest moments too.
Nerdiest nugget: During the discussion about Gazorpazorpfield’s voice, it’s revealed that Lorenzo Music is still alive in the reality in which the show airs. Lorenzo Music was the voice actor of Garfield. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. He sadly died in 2001, and was replaced by Bill Murray as Garfield’s voice actor in the two live-action Garfield films. Murray had also played the role of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2. Anyone else’s head hurt?
4. ‘Morty’s Mind Blowers’ (season three, episode eight)
You’d think a fourth wall-breaking exploration of the futility of memory – an episode in which eight characters die, including Santa for Christ’s sake! – might struggle to be this entertaining. Not if you’ve been present for the wild ride up to now, you wouldn’t. Mr. Poopybutthole. Snuffles. Mr. Meeseeks. And introducing, the Truth Tortoise! This episode has it all.
Nerdiest nugget: The Truth Tortoise is heard to say to Morty, backwards, “I am a Beatle, Paul is dead.” Since you’re reading NME, you’ll know that’s a reference to the longstanding conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike.
3. ‘Mortynight Run’ (season two, episode two)
The comedic nihilism core to the entire show’s identity is rarely more obvious than here. It’s also a deep dive into the contradictions of morality. And, it’s also – by means of Morty executing Fart – perhaps, the most significant episode in Morty’s character development. Somehow, in a piece of storytelling perfection, even with so much else going on elsewhere, the episode manages to tell the life story of a man called ‘Roy’, kill him off, make us grieve for him, all in a matter of minutes.
Nerdiest nugget: This episode bore the fan theory that has come to be known as the ‘Ticket theory’. This involves the show’s timeline being altered from Rick and Morty taking a different version of Jerry away from the daycare centre. Is that how “beloved family friend” Mr. Poopybutthole comes to be two episodes later? Hmmm.
2. ‘Total Rickall’ (season two, episode four)
AKA the episode that introduced the world to Mr. Poopybutthole, but also a raft of the show’s best creations. ‘Total Rickall’ is an orgy of creativity; Sleepy Gary, Duck With Muscles, Amish Cyborg, Hamurai – and of course, Ghost in a Jar. It is, self-referentially, the show’s take on the ‘Where’s Waldo/Wally?’ puzzle books, only delivered with a side dish of night sky bleakness; that post-credits scene lingers in the minds of any Rick and Morty mark.
Nerdiest nugget: Ryan Ridley (a former writer on the show and voice of Cousin Nicky in this episode) says the inspiration for the episode was the introduction of Dawn in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. “Everyone’s pretending,” he says. “I mean, they’re not pretending — they’re treating her like she’s always been there. But you know that, as a viewer, [Buffy] hasn’t had a sister for the first four seasons.”
1. ‘Pickle Rick’ (season three, episode three)
The best Rick and Morty episodes – and that, in truth, is a crowded field – are the ones that you think are about one thing, but really are about something else. In this case, it’s an episode about Rick turning himself into a pickle – but it’s really a mediation on mental health, male fragility, fatherhood and family. Some men will literally turn themselves into a pickle to avoid going to therapy.
Nerdiest nugget: Dan Harmon has said that the Emmy Award-winning episode was largely inspired by the Breaking Bad episode ‘4 Days Out’.