Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Rick and Morty Seasons 1-5.
Rick and Morty recently wrapped up its fifth season, and unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable affair when compared to past seasons. I didn’t get into Rick and Morty until Season 2, so I was a bit late to the party in that sense. But the show hooked me in with its incredibly funny, utterly random, and frequently dark sense of humour, as well as a compelling main character in Rick Sanchez. I’ve stuck with the series since, and generally I’ve enjoyed most of the episodes that the series has put forward.
Season 5 almost certainly had fewer laugh-out-loud moments for me than any prior season of the show. Several episodes barely won so much as a smile, and while animation can be about more than just jokes and gags, the truth is that I come to a series like Rick and Morty to have a fun time. In that sense, Season 5 was a let-down when compared to what came before.
When I watch something like Star Trek: Lower Decks, and to an extent shows like The Simpsons as well, dramatic moments can absolutely be as enjoyable and entertaining as the jokes and moments of humour. I don’t want – or expect – shows like those to have me rolling around on the floor all of the time. And to a degree that applies to Rick and Morty as well – when the show gets its character moments right, there can be some genuinely emotional story threads that contribute to the series and elevate it. In short, my expectations weren’t for pure comedy all the time; if I wanted that I’d watch a sketch show or something.
But even with that caveat, Season 5 feels disappointing. To have endured several episodes that were neither funny nor particularly dramatic or emotional either left me feeling, on more than one occasion, with a sense of “what’s the point in watching this?” I felt that I wasn’t getting anything from Season 5 much of the time: not jokes, not characterisation, just animated content that retained the show’s trademark colourful sci-fi aesthetic but with nothing to back it up.
Season 5 was also an incredibly meta season of Rick and Morty, one which abandoned the show’s earlier episodic format in favour of, as Rick derisively put it in the season finale, “serialised drama” and self-referential storylines. Being self-aware can be funny, and Rick and Morty has skirted the fourth wall on multiple occasions going all the way back to its inception. This time, though, the overreliance on meta-jokes, in-jokes, and self-reflection came across as self-congratulatory navel-gazing at best, and just plain boring and forgettable at worst.
While in the process of writing up this review I actually had to go back and read up on what happened in at least half of the episodes, as I’d literally forgotten entire stories and plotlines. Some story elements and moments from Rick and Morty have become absolutely iconic: the Mr Meeseeks from Meeseeks and Destroy, the “show me what you got” aliens from Get Schwifty, and even the stupid szechuan sauce from The Rickshank Rickdemption that kicked off a run on McDonald’s restaurants. All of these moments – and others, too – stick in the mind and have become emblematic of the series as a whole, showing how every aspect from concept to writing to vocal performances and animation all came together to create moments of amazing comedy or drama. Season 5 had no such moments, and will remain a forgettable season.
As I’ve said before, practically every television series has a natural lifespan, and after seeing the lacklustre Season 5 I can’t help but feel that Rick and Morty may have peaked somewhere around Season 3. It’s not impossible for the series to recapture the magic, and I’m rooting for Season 6 to do so. But when a show becomes aware of its own success and its own reputation – which Rick and Morty surely did around the time of the szechuan sauce affair, if not earlier – it can be impossible for writers and producers to get back to making the show the way they used to.
There are myriad examples of this. In live-action we can point to Game of Thrones, specifically how in later seasons the writers and showrunners wanted to keep the unpredictability alive, leading to many disappointing out-of-character moments and storylines that felt random because of how they hadn’t been set up. In animation we can point to how The Simpsons lost its way sometime around the millennium and has limped on ever since, impotently trying to recapture its glory years.
Is that where we’re at? Has Season 5 marked the beginning of “zombie Rick and Morty” where the series mindlessly shuffles onward, not really funny any more but with enough of a pop culture following as to be uncancellable? I certainly hope not.
The season finale strikes me as particularly odd. The “evil Morty” storyline from Season 1 was brought to an end, but it was handled in such a way as to at least tease that Rick and Morty might go through a soft reboot of sorts; the destruction of the “central finite curve” potentially opens up new parallel universes for the titular heroes to explore. But the series never struck me as one that was running out of ideas in that sense – the multiverse the series has depicted since Season 1 feels so vast that we can barely have scratched the surface even after five full seasons.
Perhaps the best episode came late in the season, with Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort. Birdperson – one of the few characters we could describe as being a true friend to Rick – had been killed off, then resurrected as a villain, before being killed off again in earlier seasons. Giving this character a better send-off was as close to an emotional moment as Season 5 managed to get. Despite not being an especially funny episode, the interplay between Rick and Birdperson as they traversed the latter’s dying mind was dramatic enough to carry the story.
It’s difficult to know what else to say about a season of television that was so bland, uninspired, and just plain forgettable. Rick and Morty Season 5 marks a low point for a series that has previously delivered some incredible sci-fi humour. I’d considered Rick and Morty a worthy follow-up to Futurama, which was another great animated sci-fi series, but perhaps the reality is that the show needs a break.
It’s profoundly odd to think that a series like Rick and Morty – with potentially an entire multiverse at its disposal – could have come to the end of its run so quickly, but a series of poor decisions on the part of its creative team left this most recent outing feel incredibly shallow and disappointing. Perhaps the pressure of writing for an increasingly-popular series is to blame. Perhaps it’s the decision to go down an incredibly meta route. Regardless, what resulted was a season that failed to recapture the magic of earlier episodes, and one which came up short in practically every respect other than the quality of its animation.
Rick and Morty Season 5 is broadcast on Adult Swim in the United States and on Channel 4 in the UK. Rick and Morty is the copyright of Adult Swim, Warner Bros. Television, and/or Williams Street Productions. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.