Rick & Morty Just Remembered How To Do A Good Parody
Gotron Jerryis Rickvangelion tries to steer season five back on course.
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Rick & Morty season five, episode seven is somehow a parody of both Goodfellas and Voltron, and it manages to do both well. In fact, several different pastiches are included in Gotron Jerryis Rickvangelion – a ridiculous title even by Rick & Morty standards – and pretty much all of them land. Rick & Morty usually throws in a couple of parodies each week, but they’re often just throwaway lines rather than major influences on the plot or episodic arcs. They’re also not that good.
There’s a time in every TV show’s life cycle when it becomes a parody of itself and thus can no longer successfully parody other things. For The Simpsons, this came shortly after the end of The Golden Age; Barthood is the only episode since then to really nail what a great parody is, and that comes in Season 25. If Rick & Morty is reaching that point though, it feels like it’s speedrunning jumping the shark. The Simpsons had its best parody in season six – Treehouse of Horror Five’s The Shinning – and has double the amount of episodes in a season as Rick & Morty. The Sanchez and Smith duo needed an episode like this.
That’s not to say the episode itself is fantastic. It’s pretty decent, if you ask me, but it’s currently sat at the second worst rating all season, which also makes it the second lowest rated episode of all time. This, I suspect, is because of general discontent with season five, which has much less continuity or cohesiveness than usual. The only thing binding this episode to anything else is the Giant Incest Baby, a returning character from the show’s worst ever episode, and even that is dropped in rather clumsily instead of trying to let season five tell one concentrated story with branching adventures.
In short, season five has been a misfire. It seems like, seven episodes in, folks are ready to call it. It’s not quite the review bombing that we often see in gaming, but it seems like people are rating the most recent episode for what it’s not – the saviour of season five – as opposed to what it is: a decent standalone episode that delivers a great parody.
Dan Harmon, the creator of Rick & Morty, is no stranger to fantastic Goodfellas parodies. The best episode in Community’s first season, Contemporary American Poultry, is also based on Goodfellas, although that is different to the Rick & Morty one. Community is your classic Goodfellas parody – a man on the outside becoming a man on the inside and losing himself in the process. Rick & Morty essentially tells the story in reverse; Summer becomes the man on the inside, but we get most of the narrative from Morty, who’s now on the outside.
This is all too often a problem with Rick & Morty – it plays the parody straight and makes it predictable. ‘You need a very high IQ…’ is the classic meme of smug Rick & Morty fans, but the fact is, the show used to trust its viewers to treat it with more thoughtfulness than it affords them opportunity for these days. Parodies rarely explore whatever media property they’re satirising, or reinvent its themes to apply them inwards. Look Who’s Purging Now, which uses The Purge as the backdrop for a much bigger story, is a great example of this.
Meanwhile, the show is propelled forward by the family making a Voltron like robot, before teaming up with five Smith families from different universes to make a Voltron of Voltrons, before… you get the idea. It’s taken to extremes, but is held together by the more character driven storytelling of the Goodfellas parody.
I mention Claw & Hoarder: Special Ricktims Morty a lot when describing my dissatisfaction with the show’s recent direction. But it’s hard to avoid when it feels like the show’s turning point. Once you make an episode about an elderly dragon masturbation cult, you never come all the way back.
Here though, it’s particularly pertinent. It feels as if Claw & Hoarder was a parody forced upon the show. Rick spends the entire time complaining about how weird and stupid dragons are, while the show falls over itself to prove him right. Morty gets magic powers, inverting the show’s dynamic, only for Rick to use the magic to make science, or something, flipping it right back instantly. I blame most of the show’s modern ills on Claw & Hoarder, and while they likely don’t all have roots in the dragon episode, criticism of how the show understands parodies has more footing than most.
Claw & Hoarder has always felt like a parody the show didn’t want to do, and since then a lot of its satire has merely been to point at a thing and laugh. There’s some of that here too – The Godfather and kawaii anime come in for that treatment – but mostly, the parodies have substance. There’s nothing wrong with using the point and laugh technique occasionally, but it’s refreshing to see Rick & Morty back to its old style of parody, even if the episode itself wasn’t great and features the return of Giant Incest Baby, who is now called Naturo because… sure, why not?
Gotron Jerryis Rickvangelion uses the innate silliness of Voltron well, folding it into itself while relying on the Goodfellas framework to tell the wider story. It’s a clever mix of the two, and for a show that prides itself on its intelligence, this is the first time in a while we’ve been able to describe any episode as clever.