Season Two of the surrealist sci-fi animated series Rick and Morty just premiered on Adult Swim and it’s funnier and more insane than ever. The first episode of the second season, “A Rickle in Time,” picked up where we last left off, amidst a six month post-party time freeze that presents some mind-boggling space-time continuum/multiverse issues. Oh, and (SPOILER ALERT) there’s a Testicle Monster. I talked to the series creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, about the new season, their creative process, and the issue of content piracy.
While I was preparing for this interview a Back to the Future marathon came on TV.
Justin Roiland: That’s just more proof that we’re living in a simulation.
Last season ended with a nice little bow on the story arch. When you completed Episode 11 of Season One, did you know that you would be back for a second season?
JR: Yeah, we did. Right?
Dan Harmon: Probably.
JR: I don’t know when we found out officially. I think we had a good idea at the least.
Were there things that you intentionally left open in Season One so that you could revisit them later?
DH: Justin was pretty adamant early on that he wanted to pick up Season Two where the first season left off. He wanted to unfreeze time and get back in to it, or do an entire season with time frozen.
JR: In terms of other stuff in Season One, I feel like we were never really thinking, “Let’s leave behind all of these crumbs that we can go back and…” We all knew that we could revisit threads later if we wanted to. I don’t think we did that on purpose. I think it was just a side effect of us breaking and writing all of the interesting stories that we had, with interesting characters who had unresolved storylines that we could potentially go back to later. It was never masterminded that way. It was just part of the process.
Let’s talk about your process. How would you describe your working relationship when creating new episodes?
JR: Each season is different, but with Season Two I feel like I was hopping in and out of the writers’ room a lot more, just because I had more stuff to do on the Season One side. Usually Harmon is in the writers’ room pretty much all of the time, if not all of the time. There are no wrong answers. We’re breaking stories. Once we start to sort of hone in on something… I’m more crazy and Harmon is more structured, so the two sides of that coin come together in this weird marriage.
DH: We talk a lot as a group with the other writers about our favorite sci-fi concepts. We also talk about personal and childhood issues and domestic difficulties. There’s a certain point when the rhythm is going well. I think the big pistons are Justin saying, “I really want this random thing.” Just something so random that he couldn’t possibly be lying when he says he really wants it, because it doesn’t make sense that he would want it, so why would he lie? It’s not him saying, “I really want to win an Emmy by exploring feminism.” It’s him saying, “I really want a Testicle Monster.” It’s so specific and so random. That’s not Justin’s sole contribution, but it is the plutonium rod that powers the DeLorean. Without that, I don’t think you would have the best moments of Rick and Morty. The other piston is me and other people going, “Ok, how is that a story?” If that figment comes in halfway through an episode, is that something you fade in on? How do we find out why it’s there? Those are the two important elements: taking stupid things very seriously and taking serious things for the stupidity that they are.
Justin, when you’re doing voiceovers for multiple characters – especially in a conversation – are you recording that dialogue live, or are you doing one character’s full set of lines at a time?
JR: We do both. If there’s a scene with Rick and Morty primarily discussing something together, I usually do all of Morty’s lines first, then run scenes with the two characters and just riff and see what comes of that, then run all of Rick’s lines as scripted. When I get to the radio play, we see if there’s anything to be mined from the riffing. Usually there is. In Season One I did that a lot more than I did in Season Two. In Season Three I want to do it more. It’s fun. There’s weird shit that comes out of it that I would never be able to predict, or even know why I said it.
Dan, when you were working on this current season of Rick and Morty, were you also simultaneously working on the latest season of Community?
DH: No. I’m not great at multi-tasking. It was by the grace of God that toward the end of Rick and Morty’s Season Two work the Yahoo! calls started coming in. At that point, Justin knew that he was going to probably be on his own the minute I left. Justin does a lot more work on the show. In a live action show you have writing, editing and the set. For Justin, the editing and the set are all up to him. I’m not as involved as him on those things. I like helping him time the jokes in advance and stuff like that. I mean, Justin is still here posting Season Two stuff.
JR: Yeah, there are still fixes being done on two of the episodes. Harmon was here for all of the writing of Season Two. The timing worked out. We finished the last script probably during the first week of Community writing. So there was a little bit of overlap.
DH: It’s been that way both seasons. I got fired from Community. In the time it took for them to re-hire me, we knocked out Season One of Rick and Morty. Then Community got cancelled, so we did Season Two.
JR: As long as I can get notes from Dan on animatic and color picture, I’m able to kind of run with it. It’s just a lot of time consuming work getting things looking good. It’s all stuff that he doesn’t need to be here for. But his notes are super valuable to the show.
Justin, you recently tweeted a YouTube clip of a short, stop motion animation of Rick and Morty. Was that a fan thing, or will we be seeing a stop motion episode soon?
JR: That was just a fan thing that I was blown away by. Someone tweeted at me, “Hey I’m going to do a stop motion thing. Here are the puppets.” I was like, “Ok.” The next thing they tweeted was all of the mouths. Like, “Are these the correct mouths?” I retweeted that. It was so weird because it looked like the mouths that I drew for our first cartoon we ever made. The latest thing he tweeted was that test footage. I was like, “Holy shit.”
Have you considered playing with different visual mediums for any of the episodes, like stop motion, CGI, or something that crosses over into live action?
JR: No. The closest we’ve gotten was in the sketch episode when we tried different art styles for some of the sketches. One of our board artists who became a director, this guy named Juan, that was his episode that he directed for Season Two. He’s got a really cool style.
DH: He’s Juan in a million.
I saw that someone leaked the first two episodes in advance.
JR: We had a deadline to get those out for press and there were still fixes that hadn’t been cut in. They were little things. The average person wouldn’t really know the difference.
DH: The sound and the definition and stuff. All politics aside, creators would love for you to wait until they’re finished. Even if we don’t care if you steal from a company, we definitely, for the sake of the experience, wish that you abstain from watching leaks.
JR: The audio is subpar because it was a rip from the press site. The picture is sub-HD. Beyond that, there are little fixes that hadn’t gotten in yet. Little animation things and stuff that are fixed in the final version.
I saw people on Reddit having a discussion about the ethics of watching the leaked episodes. One commenter said, “These guys have been really good to us. I think they deserve our support. I would rather support the content creators than a leak.” On the other side there were people who were rationalizing, “We’ll buy it eventually anyway. Why not watch it now?”
JR: I will say this: I don’t think that any fans – or even non-fans – that end up watching it are villainous. I would have probably watched the Game of Thrones leak if it wasn’t for the combination of me being really busy and then too lazy to deal with torrenting and all of that. If it had been easier for me, I probably would have watched it. I get the temptation to watch it and I don’t think anyone should beat themselves up too bad for doing it, but it’s more of a bummer that someone else made the decision to put it out into the world before it was ready.