Rick and Morty is Adult Swim’s latest hit. Premiering in December 2013, it appeared to be just another Adult Swim cartoon, but come the season 3 premiere it seemed to really take off. That was the episode, you may have heard, that involved a certain flavor of discontinued McDonald’s McNugget sauce that went viral. It caught the attention of McDonald’s, who seeking to capitalize on the spotlight, re-released this sauce in limited quantities and geeky fans did what geeky fans do – they went nuts.
As a result of that debacle, Rick and Morty seems to have engendered a bad reputation. Or rather, its fan base has. Some of that is due to lead character Rick, a super scientist of extreme, almost god-like, intelligence who also happens to have real character flaws. He’s a user and an abuser, but he’s almost always right and the victor of each episode causing some fans to view him in a positive light. He’s really not supposed to be though and viewers should be laughing at him, not with him, as the saying goes. He’s kind of like a Walter White, or if you want to get real nerdy, a Raistlin Majere before that character had his redemption arc.
Is it the show’s fault when its fans act stupid in its name? Yes and no, but I lean more towards the “no” side. Ignoring the drama, Rick and Morty is just a really fun, inventive show created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It’s ugly, cynical, gross, and strangely captivating. It took me a little while to get into it, but that was mostly because the Rick character and his constant burping and drooling just kind of grossed me out. I don’t know what it is about his constant burps, but it just makes me queasy and I’m not usually the type who is turned off by gross humor. I got over it though, and once I did I got pretty well hooked. This is the kind of show I can just drop in and out of and usually have a laugh. There is some connective tissue between episodes, but in general you don’t need to keep up with it to know what’s going on and to enjoy an episode by itself.
At its core, Rick and Morty is like a deranged Mr. Peabody and Sherman with a touch of Back to the Future. Rick is the old man and a super genius. Morty is his neurotic grandson. Together they go on interdimensional adventures where sometimes Morty learns a lesson, and sometimes he does not. Sometimes they stay home and watch television and don’t even bother with the adventure. They have a some-what combative relationship. Morty is a need for Rick and the why is a bit of a deep dive I don’t want to go on right now. For Morty, Rick is a presence who exerts controls over him. Sometimes he’s a means to an end, and usually his ends are like most teenaged boys, and sometimes he wants to go on crazy adventures, but usually he does not. Do they love each other? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes the show will tease genuine affection on the part of Rick only to reveal it was a farce and sometimes it does but leaves the interpretation open. He’s probably not a truly repugnant grandfather, but he’s certainly not the best.
Rounding out the cast is Morty’s family. Rick lives in their garage and the home is owned by his daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), a failed doctor who had to settle for veterinary work. She embodies some of her dad’s poorer qualities, like alcoholism and likely depression, and she’s in a rather loveless marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell). She and Jerry got pregnant young and had a shotgun wedding and never really figured out if they were even in love, though they seem some-what dependent on one another. Jerry is a meek and insecure individual and he loathes Rick and the influence he has over their son. Summer (Spencer Grammer) is Morty’s older sister and is a fairly typical teen. She tries to ignore the dysfunction of her home life, but sometimes she gets pulled into one of Rick and Morty’s adventures.
“Anatomy Park” is the show’s third episode and it’s lone Christmas episode to this point and it originally aired on December 16, 2013. What starts off as a fairly conventional sitcom plot, turns into an outrageous Jurassic Park parody. It also gets rather dark and uncomfortable for a sitcom Christmas special, but that’s Rick and Morty for ya!
The episode opens with Jerry, dressed in a festive sweater, getting angry at his family for being too attached to their various electronics on Christmas. He makes them all put their tablets and phones into a stocking, and when Summer refuses he threatens to create a Facebook profile. He tells them his parents are due over any minute for Christmas dinner and it’s revealed they haven’t been by in several years. The rest of the family seems indifferent. Meanwhile, Rick shows up with a gross looking Santa. When Gerry questions who this guy is Rick says his name is Ruben (Jess Harnell) and every Christmas Rick takes him in and gives him a full check-up as some kind of charity case. Jerry isn’t buying it, and the only thing Ruben can say is “Pearl Harbor” while the rest of the family seems charmed. Rick and Ruben disappear into the garage and Jerry’s parents then turn up with an unexpected guest. Leonard (Dana Carvey) and Joyce (Patricia Lentz) have brought Jacob (Echo Kellum), a young african american male, along for Christmas dinner. They don’t really explain who Jacob is, and when asked they explain they’ve had a spiritual awakening of some kind and are focused on experiences and living while in the twilight of their lives. This seems to please Summer and Beth, but Jerry is just confused and anxious.
Rick pops back in to greet Jerry’s parents, but mostly to take Morty with him to the garage. Once there we see Ruben, naked on a table save for his tattered Santa hat, who Rick says is in bad shape. He’s speaking rather hastily and pushing Morty along who is growing increasingly concerned and panicked as Rick outfits him to look like a poor man’s astronaut. Rick doesn’t explain what’s needed of Morty, and only barks out important instructions as he shoves him into a device and then shrinks him into a tiny syringe. As he jabs the syringe into Ruben, Beth pops in to ask where Morty went and Rick explains he’s busy.
Morty finds himself injected into Ruben’s body and there he finds Anatomy Park. Rick has constructed a microscopic amusement park inside the man’s body and he introduces it in grandiose fashion as Morty walks around and takes it all in. He seems impressed and strangely not panicked, until he arrives at the liver. It’s a scary place, and Rick fills him in on Ruben’s alcoholism and mentions you have to be in a pretty bad place to let someone build an amusement park inside of you. Rick needs Morty to find Dr. Xenon (John Oliver) as something has gone wrong. He first encounters Poncho (Gary Anthony Williams), a crazed military man who freaks him out. Dr. Xenon, some kind of a sentient germ or something, shows up though and welcomes Morty and also introduces his fetching young assistant Annie (Jackie Buscarino) whom Morty takes an immediate liking to. With them is Roger (Harnell) who resembles Steve Irwin. Dr. Xenon explains the security systems have gone haywire as a giant, yellow, xenomorph-like creature bursts onto the scene.
Back home, the rest of the family is seated down for dinner. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves except Jerry, who is still really thrown off by the presence of Jacob. When he pushes the issue, his dad fesses up to what’s going on. Seeing as they’re getting older, Leonard and Joyce are focusing on the connections that will last beyond their years: their spiritual one. Less important is the physical, which is what brought Jacob into their lives. Jerry gets rather worried and asks if Jacob is their lover and is relieved when his dad says, “No.” That was a bit of a fake-out though as he explains that Jacob is actually his mother’s lover, he just likes to watch and often while wearing a Superman costume. Jacob acts like this is not the least bit awkward and the rest of the family seems amused by it, except Jerry.
Inside Anatomy Park, the others run from the creature and flee into the lungs. There they’re joined by a cast member of the park dressed like a dog (Rob Schrab). When he removes his mask he is immediately chastised by Dr. Xenon; apparently breaking character is forbidden. As they look around the lungs, Morty decides to bounce around and have some fun, until they’re attacked by tuberculosis. The little black beings descend like spiders and Poncho opens fire, which rips holes in the lungs causing Ruben to cough. The dog-guy gets caught in a cough, but Morty grabs his hand and requests his name (it’s Alexander), but another cough causes him to go shooting out of Ruben peeling the skin from his bones. He splatters as phlegm on Rick’s face.
Rick then starts to pass along advice to our adventurers and prepares to cure Ruben’s TB, until he flat-lines. Proclaiming he can’t cure death, Rick starts to advise Morty that things are going to get dark so he should try riding Pirates of the Pancreas, which is a ride he designed and is really proud of (he insists it wasn’t white-washed and the pirates get really rapey). He also adds that getting them out of the dead man alive is the priority, but why not treat yourself too? Morty is not amused by Rick’s logic.
After the business with Rick is concluded, Dr. Xenon seems ready to eulogize his beloved park, but Morty shuts him up and insists they find a way out. Dr. Xenon explains, rather frankly, the way out is through the digestive tract and Morty insists they head there while Poncho is annoyed he’s supposed to listen to “some 12-year-old.” Dr. Xenon then warns Morty that what has happened to Anatomy Park is the work of an inside job, and cautions him about Annie in particular who was written up for her work at the churro stand. Undaunted, Morty tries talking to Annie where he awkwardly tries to explain he’s not 12, but 14, and it doesn’t go well prompting Rick to make a comment at his expense.
The group is then shown on the digestive tract ride, which is styled after It’s A Small World and apparently goes on for miles. They’re then set upon by gonorrhea, which rises from the brown water in a rather threatening manner. Dr. Xenon cautions that if they don’t move it won’t see them, then says “whoops” as he mistook gonorrhea for a T-Rex. Their boat is soon capsized, and they’re forced to swim away in the nasty looking “water.” They arrive “on shore” while the penile gonorrhea looms. Poncho then recalls Dr. Xenon saying the chamber was filling with gas and lights a match. With a cool parting line about a burning sensation, he tosses the match at the grotesque monster causing an explosion and destroying it.
At home, the family is gathered in a drum circle all except Jerry who is moping in the corner. Beth offers some consoling his way, but he knows she’s enjoying this. A teenaged boy then shows up and we find out it’s Ethan (Daniel Benson), Summer’s boyfriend. He’s pissed that Summer hasn’t returned any of his texts, but that’s because Jerry took her phone. Summer gets angry in return while Jerry demands to know if he is indeed Summer’s boyfriend which just causes Jacob to step in and defuse the situation suggesting that Jerry needs to get closer with his family.
Back inside Ruben, the “heroes” of our story have reached the end of the digestive tract. They need to gain access to the enlarger ray or whatever it is that gets them out. Before that happens, Morty notices a weird, black, slime creature poking out of Poncho’s backpack. It’s bubonic plague, and it turns out Poncho is the traitor who released the TB virus earlier. He grabs Annie as a hostage and explains he hates working for Dr. Xenon and a lot of people would pay for the plague if he smuggled it out (damn, Ruben had a lot of shit going on in his body). Morty attacks, likely wanting to impress Annie, and Poncho tosses him aside but he does release his hold on the girl. The plague breaks free though and bites him. He loses his balance, and plunges to his death off of the catwalk they’re all standing on. Roger then lets them know they need to go, as the retaining wall they built for Ruben’s bowels is about to burst. As they run, Roger’s foot gets caught. He tells them not to worry, then goes into a long-winded speech about telling his wife what happened to him as the damn breaks and he’s killed by poo.
In the livingroom once again, Jacob is trying to counsel Ethan who is a very angry and troubled young man and the source of his anger is Summer. Jacob works his magic and of course the scene ends with Summer and Ethan in tears making an uncomfortable display of affection in front of everyone. Everyone is pleased, and Joyce is apparently turned on as she and Jacob begin making out while Leonard ducks into the closet to observe from a distance. This causes Jerry to finally blow and declare he hates this, and he’s immediately reprimanded by his mom. Declaring he hates Christmas, Jerry takes his leave.
Inside Ruben, the three living beings are for some reason taking in a show. It’s a parody of Great Moments with Lincoln, only it’s hosted by an animatronic Ruben. Dr. Xenon is enjoying it while Morty and Annie make out. Rick asks Morty to shut the radio off so he doesn’t have to listen in when Jerry bursts into the garage. Apparently they can’t get out via the digestive tract any more, and something Jerry says about his relatives gives Rick an idea. He has Jerry get him some dynamite and as he cuts open Ruben and shoves the explosives inside him Jerry decides to leave. Rick then tosses the cadaver in his spaceship and takes off, telling Morty he needs to get to the left nipple.
Dr. Xenon explains they can take the bone train and goes into a bit about it that Morty gets irritated by. When they get to the platform Dr. Xenon explains that one person will have to stay behind because the train doesn’t have an autopilot. He lets that hang in there an uncomfortable length of time before conceding he was a dick for doing that. Since Anatomy Park was his responsibility, he’ll be the one to stay behind. Before they can say good-bye they’re beset by ecoli and Morty and Annie jump into the train. As Xenon releases it he realizes it does actually posses an autopilot, but then claims he wanted to die heroically, but he’s not convincing.
The train takes Morty and Annie to where it needs to, while Rick deposits Ruben into space. There he enlarges the body well beyond its normal proportions (he’s a super scientist, after all) and Ruben floats over the United States. There the news picks up on this giant Santa and we see how everyone is reacting with relative calm at a giant, naked, Santa in the sky. All except a poor lumberjack who had the misfortune of being where Ruben’s penis made land.
Morty and Annie are preparing to flee through the nipple duct, when they’re attacked by the big yellow guy from early in the episode. Before it can get to them though they’re saved by Hep C in true Jurassic Park style. It gives the duo a thumbs up, which just confuses Morty as the two are rescued by Rick who can only admonish Morty for losing Dr. Xenon Bloom as Ruben explodes.
On earth, the explosion causes blood to fall from the sky. The family was preparing to head out for some holiday fun, without Jerry, but instead are forced to retreat in terror. There Jerry gets to comfort them assuring everybody things are going to be all right because the TV said so. He returns their tablets and phones and encourages them to relax. In the garage, Rick is a bit down that Dr. Xenon is dead claiming he was the only one capable of building an amusement park inside someone. Annie then chimes in that she thinks she learned enough from him and that she could possibly do it. Rick, apparently convinced, immediately shrinks her and puts her away for later use, which disappoints Morty. Rick assures him he dodged a bullet citing a “floppy vagina” but Morty doesn’t see the problem there. The two then head into the living room and find the family absorbed in their electronics. Rick goes on a rant about it being Jesus’s birthday and they’re all being self-absorbed, but no one cares and Jerry mugs for the camera. In a post credits scene, Rick is on speakerphone with Annie and her new team of developers as they build a new Anatomy Park. They question Rick’s design for Pirates of the Pancreas, causing Rick to hang up on them. The camera pans and we see it’s Ethan they’re inside and when he questions what’s going on, Rick goes on a rant how they’re building a monument to compromise inside of him. The episode ends when Ethan asks who’s paying him.
“Anatomy Park” is a vehicle for awkward humor that ties in the Christmas holiday. It wants to turn the holiday upside down, and is fairly successful at doing that. The holiday gathering with Jerry’s parents is basically a B-plot. After the reveal of Jacob’s relationship with Jerry’s parents is out-of-the-way, it’s fairly typically paced with the beloved outsider sort of usurping the holiday spotlight from the disgruntled patriarch. It runs out of steam, but those scenes are few and brief so it doesn’t overstay itself. The Jurassic Park parody is where the meat of the story lies, and it’s punctuated fairly well. The plot points aren’t afraid to “go there” with the poop jokes and such, but it’s really driven by the dialogue more so than the actual comedy bits. There are so many little jokes interwoven into the dialogue and I would be doing it a disservice by regurgitating them all here. Suffice to say, while this isn’t as outlandish an episode as it appears at first blush, it’s still very entertaining and I always like it when Christmas gets a little dark.
“Anatomy Park” should be an easy special to come by this holiday season. Adult Swim will likely show it multiple times, so if you were keeping up with the various holiday viewing guides you probably have seen it by now. And if you like waiting until the last minute (or first), Adult Swim is running “Anatomy Park” at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. If you prefer to watch without commercials, Adult Swim streams it and it’s also available as part of season one on Blu-ray. I recommend just getting that as the whole season is full of laughs and it’s definitely worthy of a purchase.