Something is off with Rick and Morty.
After introducing a fiesta platter of returning one gag characters in Season 7’s premiere, it became clear that the show was cushioning the blow of losing a huge creative voice by bringing in “fan favourites”. A disastrous first outing stuffed with these merchandisable “comedic” sidekicks like Mr. Poopybutthole, Squanchy, and Birdperson left such a bad impression that it honestly looked as if the entire show was in a nosedive from only a single episode. The follow-up possessed some decent ideas that recentered the Smith family, but barely upped the quality of its humor.
Air Force Wong is admittedly much better than the two earlier episodes. Ian Cardoni seems to have settled into a more self-possessed performance as Rick, bringing some much-needed confidence to a plotline in which he must be the villain. Even more importantly, the writing room seems to have shown up to work this week, as the gags increased both in quality and quantity, not simply depending on pop culture references and off-beat “Are we okay with this?” confusion. But the writers still seem to be more interested in reusing old Rick and Morty characters than creating impactful stories. The episode sees the return of the president as he recruits Rick to help deal with the abrupt perfecting of society in the state of Virginia. It’s almost like the entire state is suddenly unified… that’s right, she’s back! Rick’s assimilating entity ex-girlfriend Unity has returned to check in on him, all while the president tries to get with Rick’s therapist Dr. Wong. Isn’t that what you love about Rick and Morty: not the science fiction innovations and remixes, not the witty, often improvisational and always dark humour, but seeing how many characters we love from previous seasons can be canned and crammed into a single episode!
To be fair to it, Air Force Wong is not that bad. Rick’s arc into an ever so slightly better person works really well for a show that felt like it was losing some of his flavour. His development is a well-managed positive for the show, and plenty of the gags aren’t just funny but genuinely reveal great character. But the storyline being so dependant on Unity, the president, and Dr. Wong reveals more than just the desperation of the first couple of episodes; it brings none of the original science fiction innovations and remixes that made early seasons such a hit in the first place. The Smiths are not the Simpsons, where whole episodes and storylines can veer away from them to a whole world and supporting cast. The worldbuilding has constantly been in support of two of the protagonist’s earliest catchphrases, “it doesn’t matter” and “don’t think about it.” Treating Unity or Mr. Poopybutthole’s return as a victory worth creating a whole storyline around betrays a lack of confidence in creating new adventures populated with new inspirations like last season’s Night Family. If the season continues to scrounge around their lab coat pockets for loose ideas instead of creating their own, eventually the show will have nothing but lint.
RICK AND MORTY: SEASON 7 airs weekly on E4 and is available to stream on Channel 4