Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon is probably not anyone’s first choice for ruler of their universe, but alongside fellow co-creator Justin Roiland, they’ve built an infinite space that’s been withheld by the tension of finite time.
In other words, the third season of Rick and Morty took way too long to finish, and they’re now suffering the repercussions. Harmon has used Twitter rants in the past to explain in a detailed thread that rumors of a contentious relationship between him and Roiland weren’t to blame, but rather a drive for perfection that ran unnecessarily long.
It had been more than 18 months before Adult Swim finally gave anxious fans something to obsess over. The network dropped the first episode of the new season on April Fool’s Day, and now Harmon and Roiland are working the kind of charm offensive that reinforces the idea that these are good friends who are making a good thing — or a bad thing, depending on how you see the philosophy of a drunken scientist’s misadventures at the expense of a child.
Polygon sat down with Roiland and Harmon ahead of Rick and Morty’s third season. The two discussed the unreliable nature of the Rickverse, which took place after a discussion about how If You Give A Mouse A Cookie accidentally trained us to ignore altruism in favor of being a Republican.
“If you give an author a book deal …” Harmon says, laughing, while refusing to discuss his own book deal that has lingered for several years.
Harmon knows a thing or two about working on a project for an enormous amount of time. The co-creator has been on the defensive about the amount of time it has taken their team to create the third season. Harmon told Polygon that he worries there’s a mobius-strip of self-examination creators fall into, which can hinder the creative process.
“You have to worry about that but then worry about worrying about that without worrying about worrying about that. It’s like a solar flare. It blinds you, and it blinded us,” Harmon said. “Ultimately, you get through it by writing the same show you would’ve written just while freaking out. Decisions that would’ve taken five minutes start taking fifteen minutes and then everything takes three times longer. Then you look back at driving the same distance but it took three times longer. So now you’ve figured out the trick, which is just not worrying about it.”
There were a number of issues Roiland and Harmon faced as they worked on the third season — but not all of them were geared at one another. We asked Roiland about how Dan’s tweetstorm of emotional clarity made him feel, finally addressing one of the biggest elephants in the room surrounding the delay and their rumored embattlement.
“I saw a tweet he retweeted of an article citing a previous article as proof of our fighting,” Roiland said. “You realize it’s flattering that we’ve waited so long and there’s so much love for the show that life is spontaneously growing without our control.”
That’s why Harmon stepped in and took PR into his own, semi-drunk social media hands.
“I couldn’t let that happen,” Hamon said. “On Community, I feel like I broke fans’ hearts by feuding with Chevy Chase. I imagine kids thinking that they liked Troy and Abed but not having signed up for my fucking bullshit.”
Roiland echoed Harmon’s sentiments, while also recognizing what can go wrong when politeness gets in the way of important creative discussions. At the end of the day, being able to call each other our for being an asshole from time-to-time would have allowed for some shortcuts through all the perfectionism the planning stages afforded for. Instead, both Roiland and Harmon revealed that a fear of upsetting the others’ delicate sensibilities preventing them from taking on problems immediately … and, in turn, made each other the biggest nightmares to deal with in general.
At the end of the day, the two realized what was most important was putting in an equal amount of work and getting the third season out. The story of Rick Sanchez, Marty Smith and the rest of his family had stories to tell — and a cult-like audience who was ready to devour new episodes.
At the heart of the series is Rick, the lovable, patriarchal figure of this family-on-the-run. In the season two finale, Rick undertook the most selfless act he could — turning himself into the Galactic Federation so his family could return to Earth and live a semi-normal life while he was imprisoned in a maximum security prison. It was a rare, selfless act for the prickly figure, and it’s something that we won’t see become a constant.
“Sometimes you’re tempted to make Rick a softie,” Harmon said, “but then you have to undercut it. That’s why it is a tragedy when Rick gets proven right. Because when Rick is right, it means nothing matters and you should have always not cared about people. It’s a comedy when Rick is proven wrong because then he’s the voice of entropy.”
It’s evident in our conversations, that Rick is an important part of Harmon’s being and it left us wondering if the co-creator is worried that Rick will find out that Dan Harmon is his creator.
“I’m more worried that Rick will reveal to us that he created us,” Harmon said. “Like, he had some nemesis that destroyed him so completely that he had to float freely across the universe until he was assembled from our thoughts like a Clive Barker thing. I’m worried that we discover our universe is just Rick slowly coalescing into a being once again and then he would just kill us.”
This leads us to the inevitable question about the infinite and its place within the Rickverse. If there’s an infinite number of timelines, how do you keep the story contained and with real limitations and stakes? Harmon can only see it in the form of weapons versus heightened states.
“A rock got sharper and that got you twice as much food,” Hamon said, talking about human evolution. “You follow that trajectory to the nuclear bomb where you realize you can make the sharpest rock and then no one ever gets food again and it won’t do me any good. Rick understands better than advanced civilizations that among infinite realities, you are hitting yourself in the head with the sharpest rock imaginable, and Rick has to find a point between using that as a tool and obliterating himself.
“I guess what I’m babbling about is that that you can split infinity down into meaninglessness.”
Part of what makes the series so exciting — for both viewers and those working on the show — is the unpredictability associated with it. Actress Sarah Chalke, who voices Beth, Rick’s daughter, said she has stopped guessing about what’s about to happen on the show.
“I’m so excited when a new script shows up in my inbox, because it is impossible to telegraph what’s happening next on this show,” Chalke said. “You never know if this is actually happening or if it is a trick or if it is just Justin improvising in the room.”
It became abundantly clear that even the cast members never know when a fake-out is coming.
“It never gets too sentimental, it always gets undercut,” Chalke said. “What would Rick have to do for Beth to bail? I don’t know? Maybe that’s [a question] for season 12.”
For now, based on what Harmon and Roiland have told us, it’s time to expect another fun season full of great jokes — and preparing for events to occur that we can’t even begin to fathom.
Let’s hope we all survive it. Rick and Morty returns for its third season on July 30 at 11 p.m. ET for back-to-back episodes.