Rick and Morty season 5: an outrageous upheaval of genre convention

The Smith family attacked by a cosmic entity. L-R Jerry, Summer, Morty, Rick and Beth. Image: Adult Swim.
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The crazy sci-fi adventures of the Smith family continue, while the show doubles down on postmodern genre experimentation and character exploration. Tim Bottams reviews season five.
Rick and Morty season 5: an outrageous upheaval of genre convention

With various implausible premises, a daring upheaval of genre convention, and some surprising attention to serialisation, Rick and Morty’s fifth season may be its best offering yet.

While the Adult Swim network always focuses on parody and genre, the latest season of their acclaimed sci-fi comedy, Rick and Morty, contains more homages than ever before.

The season is steeped in satiric iconography, evident in episode three, A Rickconvenient Mort, which perverts the nostalgic optimism of Captain Planet.

While episode five, Amortycan Grickfitti, sees Rick, Beth and Jerry beset by sadomasochistic creatures that are clear allusions to the Cenobites of the classic horror film, Hellraiser.

The season uses disparate topics such as environmental ethics and national mythology to weave a tapestry of eccentric and wickedly funny episodic tales.

But it’s the human element of the Smith family and their dysfunctional rapport that’s at the core of much of the season’s brightest and most memorable moments.

Rick and Morty season 5: an outrageous upheaval of genre convention
Rick, Beth and Jerry encounter clear references to the Cenobytes from Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic Hellraiser. Image: Adult Swim.

The episodes are often at their most interesting when they thrust the family members together on a singular adventure, allowing the strength of the characters to shine through in their zany dynamics and biting dialogue.

Rick’s character is explored perhaps more thoroughly than in any other season in a surprising transition to a more “canon” form of serialisation in the second half.

Episode eight, Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort, sees the titular mad loner scientist exploring his past with his best friend Birdperson in a surrealist mindscape that challenges pre-established notions of his closest relationships.

This devotion to character exploration continues through to the season’s final two episodes, where the dimension-faring grandfather and grandson relationship fractures in one of the highest stakes stories of the series.

It bookends the season finale with a delightful homage to anime and the return of a notable series villain.

Rick and Morty season 5: an outrageous upheaval of genre convention
Rick and Morty frequently deals with the nature of alternate dimensions and infinite possibilities. Image: Adult Swim.

The fifth season reveals so much more of Rick’s backstory, providing deeper insight into his motivations and downward spiral. Whether this proves to be canon or a ploy on behalf of the alcoholic scientist remains to be seen.

Rick and Morty maintain the standards set by previous seasons. The animation is lively and breakneck, with many rapid instances of violence and existential despair projected against a backdrop of vibrant colours, psychedelic imagery and memorable character design.

The main cast does a brilliant job injecting each alternate version of their characters (of which there is an abundance) with their own sense of personality and an embodied sense of self.

Special guest stars, such as Keith David and Alison Brie, round out many notable side characters, both new and recurring.

Rick and Morty continues to be a series unafraid to lampoon beloved genres and media in its exercise of nihilistic depravity. No story trope is left unmocked, no cliché unmolested, and, if the final episodes of the season offer any hint of direction, no characters are left unprobed.