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Rick and Morty’s 2021 SDCC panel took SDCC as seriously as Rick and Morty would

Breaking news: ‘A car is like a shoe for the whole body’

rick and morty firing guns in season 5 Image: Adult Swim / Frame design: Austin MacDonald for Polygon

How does a show famous for its subversive meta-commentary and disdain for genre tropes handle a no-contact version of San Diego Comic-Con? The same way everyone else does: with charming, awkward banter, enthusiasm about the work that comes across as largely sincere, and 10 minutes of a party game that’s just entertaining enough to avoid being a complete waste of time.

Anyone expecting juicy tidbits or hints about the rest of Rick and Morty season 5 (currently airing Sunday nights on Adult Swim) or the show’s future would be disappointed by the show’s 25 minute panel, which included multiple clips, but all from episodes that have already aired. There wasn’t even a whiff of a discussion about what’s to come. That isn’t hugely surprising; the show, which once aired a season premiere unannounced as an April Fool’s Day prank, has a history of playing things close to the vest.

Still, though the panel was light on actual information, it was a fun chance to watch a group of professionals reflect a bit on their work and manage the inevitable time delays of video conferencing. Brandon Johnson (who does the voice of Mr. Goldenfold on the series) moderated a bumpy, laid-back conversation between Dan Harmon (co-creator and executive producer), Scott Marder (executive producer and current showrunner), and the three main members of the cast who aren’t Justin Roiland: Spencer Grammer (Summer), Sarah Chalke (Beth), and Chris Parnell (Jerry). The chat started with some self-deprecating humor about the show’s notoriously inconsistent production schedule, before moving on to a quick victory lap about the recent Emmy win (in 2020 for “The Vat Of Acid Episode”) and various other topics.

There were a few tidbits of behind-the-scenes info for the patient. Scott Marder, when asked how he felt about the award win, mentioned that they plotted out the episode on his first day in the writer’s room. Dan Harmon said the idea for “The Vat of Acid Episode” came from a conversation about the prevalence of vats of acid in 1980s media.

The panel then cut to the introduction of Mr. Nimbus from the season 5 premiere, “Mort Dinner Rick Andre,” with Marder talking about how “[w]hen I started, Nimbus was just in this lost Rick and Morty episode. Everyone internally was like, there’s this character, he’s amazing…” There was a discussion about the inspirations behind the character, who’s positioned as Rick’s longtime nemesis despite never appearing on the series before. “We started with this question,” Harmon said, “‘How could you be into Sub-mariner in high school without being beaten up every day? And then we asked ourselves: What if the goal was to get beaten up?”

The conversation briefly touched on Beth and Jerry’s newfound sex positivity, with Dan and Sarah both agreeing that Beth, clearly, makes the couple’s pornography choices. Johnson asked why the current season seems more interested in family adventures, rather than just focusing entirely on Rick and Morty alone, which prompted Grammar to suggest that maybe the writers are just more interested in having “more female characters in the A-storyline,” an idea that Parnell quickly shut down. There was no tension whatsoever in the panel, but Parnell came the closest to going off book, maintaining a consistent deadpan from beginning to end that might suggest a certain lack of respect for the exercise. Or maybe not; given how straightforward and largely pointless it all is, it’s hard not start digging deep for potential conflict.

Muppet Rick and Beth in Rick and Morty season 5 episode “Mortyplicity” Image: Adult Swim

Harmon explained a bit more of the reasoning behind “Mortyplicity,” the season’s current standout episode about Rick’s near endless supply of decoy families. “That’s the ultimate fantasy, I think, once you get beyond am I going to be able to eat or pay rent, then you start worrying about … How can I keep what I have? My biggest nightmare is home invasion, and what would be better than just knowing that someone could home invade you, but they’d be home invading a fake family.” The conversation then turned to whether or not anyone on the panel would actually try and save their decoys, should said decoys exist, which led Harmon to wax poetic on how humans have become far too invested in protecting the tools which are intended to protect our bodies from harm, leading to the immortal line, “But a car is like a shoe for the whole body.”

The cast and writers’ clear affection and understanding of the show’s characters was a consistent panel highlight, with discussions about why Rick is spending more time with Summer this season (Grammar suggests, “I don’t think he can exploit Summer as much as he can exploit Morty.”) and karaoke picks. Parnell offers up “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as his thought for Jerry’s number one song choice, a joke good enough to appear on the series proper. This all led semi-naturally into the final segment, in which Johnson asks the panel to theorize which ensemble member would be most likely to do a variety of tasks ranging from self-improvement to sending food back to the kitchen at a restaurant.

The whole thing was cute, and there were some fun mini-debates on character choices, but it’s ultimately as inessential as everything else in the panel, up to and including a “surprise” drop in from Rick and Morty themselves in the final two minutes. Arguably, season 5 has been the weakest of the show’s run so far, too often approaching the vibe of contractual obligation that so often hits inventive series when their mercurial creators get distracted or run out of immediate inspiration.

It would’ve been nice to see some spark at the panel, some sign that the people behind a show once so dedicated to thumbing its nose at convention were working on something new, but if we can’t have that, we can at least get a nice time with some folks who all like each other, know their business, and who still, occasional bumps in the road aside, make good television.

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