In this week’s Rick and Morty episode, “Get Schwifty,” cosmic disembodied heads force Earth to participate in an intergalactic music reality TV show, and Morty learns why Rick absolutely and legitimately needs to be an ass.
The second season of Rick and Morty so far has been absolutely everything we’ve ever wanted from the series: more scifi hijinks with surprisingly keen and clever cultural criticism cut into the mix. Literally every episode up til now has been a multiple-watch for me, but “Get Schwifty” comes as a passable but noticeable lull. The premise is definitely Rick and Morty material; just as Earth has reality TV shows like Eurovision with which to trivialize human emotions and dreams and reduce them to soap-y spectacle, well, as below, so above. Giant space heads are demanding that Earth produce an insipidly catchy pop single, or risk destruction.
The main problem with “Get Schwifty” was that it lacked a scifi brain-teaser for us to wrap our heads around, to occupy the rational mind as Rick lets his pottymouth run wild (looking back, the delivery on “Lick lick lick mah balls” in “Total Rickall” was awe-inspiring). The idea of a talent-scouting reality show on a cosmic scale simply isn’t as engaging as the memory-cloning conundrum of “Total Rickall,” or the implications of dating a disembodied hive mind in “Auto Erotic Assimilation.”
Perhaps more importantly, these other Season 2 episodes had jokes that revolved around a core of genuine thoughtfulness. Back in “Auto Erotic,” sure, we got to see Rick have aerial sex with a stadium of red-heads possessing a single mind, but even more impressively, Rick and the planet-colonizing consciousness Unity formed a very believable relationship; it was legitimately difficult to watch that relationship disintegrate, as Rick dragged Unity further and further away from herself.
Successful Rick and Morty episodes have often gone down the above path, or otherwise, relied on a real dynamo of a gag, like Jemaine Clement’s (one-half of New Zealand comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords) spectacular guest performance on “Mortynight Run” as the space-folk-singing gas being, Fart. The episode featured a song (basically a parody of David Bowie-style cosmophilia) so damn funny and catchy, they played it twice and I certainly didn’t mind.
The musical numbers in “Get Schwifty” don’t quite reach that level, though that’s probably the point: the episode is a partial send-up of pop music drivel driven by lines like “raise your posterior,” not too big a stretch considering Kanye’s poetic waxing on sex with mummies. There was no real central gag to latch onto, nothing you could bring with you to work the next day. The sub-plot with Principal Vagina and his new religion of Headism simply made too much sense to shock–it isn’t exactly surprising to say that organized religion relies on poorly-substantiated causation, although the glee with which the Headists exiled their undesirables into the sky on balloon-crucifixes brought a smile to my face (“You’re free to be free!”).
There probably was some anchoring moral in there somewhere, some essential absurdity in reality television, where we drag the fragile dreams of others out into the streets and beat them to death with criticism, but that was jettisoned for an Ice-T gag that was nearly Family Guy-esque in its randomness.
All that being said, the episode’s final act did eventually strike some chord when they hit upon Rick’s character flaws. Trapped in a recording studio with Rick and Ice-T, Morty steals the transporter-gun to try and rescue his family, while they hang back and trade banter. Morty eventually hooks up with the hawk-man from last season’s finale, who explains that Rick’s essential flaw is his power: Rick can come up with a mind-numbingly fantastic pop number on the spot for the same reason he can perform sexy science miracle magic: he simply does not give a sh*t, not for conventionality, nor morality, or societal pressure, or impending death. The miracle-working Rick is free to act because he’s also the arms-dealing Rick that’s free of obligation, and for Morty to accept that is for him to accept the chaos in his perpetually aneurysmic life. And there’s a cute portrait of Rick holding baby Morty.
Altogether, “Get Schwifty” isn’t a terrible episode at all, it simply isn’t the irradiated gold that we’ve been spoiled with in this second season. There’s no reason to believe the tank’s gone empty; in fact, I’m still excited that we’re inching closer and closer to Rick’s emotional core, to the heart of all the multiverse-weary cynicism and debauchery. After Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have done such a great job building him up as the duke of DGAF, expectations are still running plenty high.