Tonight’s Rick And Morty opens by riffing on National Treasure. Things quickly spiral out of control from there, but I want to camp on this for a moment, because I think it’s a useful point to start from when trying to talk about the current state of the show. Rick And Morty have done movie references before, obviously, and National Treasure isn’t off-limits or anything. And it’s not like there’s a statute of limitations on this kind of gag. But at this point, who hasn’t done a National Treasure joke? It was a runner on Twitter for ages, the original movie has been out of theaters for almost twenty years—and while that doesn’t automatically mean there are no good angles left, and while “Rick And Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular” does, ultimately, spin this into something surprising, I’m having a hard time getting over how, well, flat it feels. A joke so stupid that part of the joke becomes the stupidity of the joke is a show staple, but we’ve reached a point where that’s lost whatever charm it once had. Stupid isn’t meta anymore. It’s just stupid.
You know what this episode feels like? A long-form version of one of those “Interdimensional Cable” sketches, an improv session that someone turned into a script because, hey, ten episodes a year aren’t going to make themselves. That’s being harsh; this isn’t rock bottom, and there’s a structure here which, while ridiculous, at least shows that someone took the time to make sure the story felt like a cohesive whole. But there’s no magic to it, none of the subversive spark or sudden, shocking emotional depth that defined the show at its height. There’s no real subtext to speak of. Everything we see is everything we get, and even the attempts at satire or thematic resonance are the most obvious they could possibly be. This feels like the sort of episode Rick And Morty was made to make fun of, and it’s super weird that the folks involved now expect us to take it straight-faced.
Well, sure, we’re probably not supposed to take a story about super-soldier turkeys and a pair of secret races that crash-landed on Earth and bonded over their mutual hatred for turkeys that straight-faced. But there’s a joke about halfway through where Rick, President Curtis, and Morty go to a bar to recruit some soldiers to their cause, and the bartender says to President Curtis (an African American man) “We don’t serve your kind here.” Morty says, “Seriously?” and the bartender points to a sign saying they don’t serve presidents because Jimmy Carter has a bar tab. This is a hack bit. Making a joke where part of the punchline is that you thought it was racist but it actually isn’t is tired as hell, and there’s no extra spin on this to make it unexpected or clever or anything more than what it obviously is.
Which is basically the episode in a nutshell. It’s not as nearly as gross as “Rickdependence Spray,” and it’s probably more coherent overall, but it’s in that same vein. Remember “Pickle Rick”? That episode had a ridiculous plot too, but the twist was, the ridiculous plot was intended as a commentary on Rick’s desperate attempts to avoid ever growing as a person or building actual relationships with his family. I don’t need every episode to have heavy-duty family drama, or to have a guest star pop in to give a helpful summation of the theme, but the acidic, lacerating self-awareness that defined the series seems to have been given up in favor of settling into a rut of genial shenanigans that have no real edge to them at all. Nothing here lands, and every meta-joke (ha ha, Rick and President Curtis are fighting so two different people tell them they should get over it and just fuck already, ha ha) is weightless and generic.
Is there anything to like about this? Sure: it’s always nice when the show introduces a new character who isn’t going to be disposable like everyone else, and President Curtis is a fun choice, especially given Keith David’s general greatness. It’s fun to hear Timothy Olyphant, especially when he’s transformed into a very professional turkey, and the story escalation, while never really exciting, at least moved quickly enough that it never became boring. There’s “and then this happened” logic to it all that’s entertaining in a “well we’re all high so why not play a game of Telephone” kind of way.
Jerry’s “This Charlie Kaufman reboot of Wizard Of Oz is destroying itself” is cute, although the cut to the TV to show it’s just the Scarecrow acting like Nicolas Cage in Adaptation kind of ruins it. Still, funny idea. Kaufman absolutely would ruin that movie if he decided, for some reason, to reboot it. Morty’s speech at the end about being bummed to discover that America was actually built by a pair of warring alien races is maybe a good gag about all that Chariots of the Gods shit, although it would’ve landed better if it didn’t make Morty sound like an idiot. (I get that he’s not supposed to be all that sharp, but this episode felt especially egregious in Dumb Morty Shit. But then, pretty much every regular character came across as the most obvious version of themselves.)
Beyond that, I’m struggling to come up with any emotional reaction to this beyond a shrug. Which is a weird thing to say about an episode where Rick and Morty transform into turkeys so they can trick the president into giving them a pardon—and credit where it’s due, I appreciated the idea that Rick’s been doing this for years, and that Curtis has spent a lot of time preparing for this particular trick. But as with so many other episodes this season, I kept waiting for the turn, the moment this would go from being a silly, uninspired, riff on American exceptionalism and reveal what it really was all about. But that turn never came. Maybe next week.
- The “we’re changing into turkeys” song was pretty good.
- So what happened to the giant French assassin robot inside the Statue of Liberty that Morty set free?
- “Morty, if winning the argument was that important to you, you were never alive.” -Rick
- “Just two questions, chief: Lock? And load? They’re rhetorical, sir.” -Coop