Characterisation is a core element of storytelling, and it’s a powerful one at that. When crafted with great finesse and thought, characters are capable of winning over the hearts of viewers and making them root for them – even if their actions go against the conventional code of morality, ethics, or the like. Throw in well-developed backstory reveals and moments of growth (or even regression, in some cases), and this layered complexity further fuels their appeal.
For Rick and Morty, characters have always been at the forefront of the series. Rick and Morty, as the titular duo, continue to be an important driving force behind the creation of iconic cultural nuggets and memorable personalities, though sometimes, the results can be unpredictable. In fact, there are results that speak of the show’s far-reaching influence, with the overwhelming popularity (and controversy) of the McDonald’s Szechuan sauce proving how much impact the show has: in a season 3 episode, the mention of an old sauce from McDonald’s led the fast food chain to reintroduce it for one day, turning a gesture into an incident that riled the legions of fans who waited in line and were unable to get their hands on it.
Accompanying this classic example is the case of show references seeping into everyday life. ‘Meeseeks’, ‘Evil Morty’, and ‘Pickle Rick’ have grown to become such common lexicon that some non-fans and casual audience members know of their existence, even if they have never watched a single episode.
With the fifth season, the team remains committed to cultivating and developing that emotional bond between viewers and Rick and Morty characters, including fresh faces that have never appeared in the past four entries. “There are 100 percent some new characters coming down the pipe that people are going to flip out – it’s all very cool,” quips Scott Marder, showrunner for Seasons 5 to 7.
One of them will be the pompous and under-clothed Mr Nimbus, a fish-like anthromorph who is Rick’s greatest nemesis for this new season. Teased in a new cold open sequence, the trident-wielding figure has grown to become a beloved icon, especially for writer and co-executive producer James Siliciano, who admits to liking the character on numerous occasions.
“Mr Nimbus was a character we couldn’t crack the story for in Season 4, but we loved him, [and] we loved that he was Rick’s rival, so we just kept trying to break a story,” the man shares. “We’re still trying to crack stories that have been around for a while, because they are still part of us, and eventually, we find stuff that works with them.”
That, of course, turned out well in the case of this zany villain, but the ideation and execution process was far from easy. The general way that the show is made involves pitching idea after idea after idea, and most times, a lot of these end up being reduced to jokes, small scenes or backdrops – even as well-loved as they are. In a sense, the treatment is similar to a battle royale format: start from hundreds and thousands of ideas, and slowly whittle the list down to the best 10.
It’s a necessary evil that doesn’t automatically translate to the end of the road for the team, contrary to what some might think. Sometimes, the notion gets shelved for other brainstorming sessions; other times, it serves as a springboard for returning characters.
“Some characters just pop in; typically, we don’t break stories like, ‘Oh, what if we bring this character back? Usually if it falls into place, we’re like, ‘Oh, that’d be a great, great thing.’” Siliciano elaborates. “I think when you see those characters, people will just connect because they’re funny, goofy, and dumb – or the opposite of that.”
Indeed, some of the best Rick and Morty moments are those that go beyond the series’ signature sardonic, self-aware humour to explore the human element. The fourth season, for instance, followed the reconciliation of Jerry and Beth, who up to that point, had always shared a tumultuous relationship.
Likewise, the titular cross-generational duo also enjoyed further exploration of their complicated partnership, which has improved, on some counts, from the very start. Between Morty’s desire to have his ideas included in Rick’s schemes and the latter’s antagonistic reaction to that, however, there leaves plenty of room for mutual understanding, compromise, and communication.
It sets up the stage for season five, with the pilot episode showcasing more of Morty’s transformation from a naive, innocent teenager to a more self-assertive, bold individual who bears some of his grandfather’s negative, toxic qualities. Siliciano promises that more development for the pair is on the way – something he describes as ‘exciting’ – without compromising on the growth of other characters.
“We’re trying to break new stories [and] find emotional stories that don’t only just top it visually, but also build on what we’ve seen to connect with the audience in a way that you can be like, ‘Oh, I’ve been there.’
“I’m rooting for Rick; I’m rooting for Morty or Jerry. I understand where these characters are coming from because I’ve been there, because I’m a human, too. It’s always a big challenge, but it’s what makes the show so fun,” adds the co-executive producer.
Another thing that Rick and Morty has going for it is the sheer number of cultural references that span different categories, from the likes of classic movies and sci-fi titles to anime. The fifth season will naturally flow down this same vein, featuring episode titles like “Gotron Jerrysis Rickvengelion”, “Rickmurai Jack”, and “Amortycan Grickfitti” that Siliciano says are born out of the team’s love for different genres, movies, and TV shows.
And what of the love that he and Marder share for Rick and Morty merchandise? The former reveals that his favourite are socks or, more specifically, Pickle Rick socks, while Marder brings up a “super sweet” butter bot that apparently gets “smarter and more maniacal the longer you have it in your home” to the point of actually trying to overthrow the house.
There’s plenty to look forward to in the fifth season, but perhaps the most significant one for the community is its same-day premiere on the global stage, which is a first for the series. Where different countries previously saw staggered releases from the US, the pilot episode for this new season dropped earlier on 20 June worldwide to coincide with Rick and Morty Day. On that note, Marder remarks, “It’s so nice that everyone can watch it fresh, all at the same time and enjoy it together without anyone spoiling anything.”
It’s an especially welcome change for non-US fans of the series, who have long lagged behind their American counterparts whenever new seasons are released. Now, there’s no need to wait for months to enjoy new content – and a lot of that can be expected to be in the pipeline, with Season 6 and Season 7 confirmed for the future as well.
Rick and Morty Season 5 can be viewed exclusively on HBO GO, with the pilot episode available for streaming now and subsequent episodes released on a weekly basis.