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Creative Minds

Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland talk bringing absurd to 'Rick and Morty'

March 05, 2014|By Yvonne Villarreal
  • Actor/writer Justin Roiland, left, and Dan Harmon are the pair behind Adult Swim's animated series "Rick and Morty."
Actor/writer Justin Roiland, left, and Dan Harmon are the pair behind Adult… (Adult Swim )

The manic will soon return to Mondays.

"Rick and Morty," Adult Swim's wacky animated half-hour from "Community" czar Dan Harmon and actor/writer Justin Roiland, returns with new episodes Monday at 10:30 p.m. PDT.

The deranged comedy, currently in its first season, centers on mad scientist/drunken sociopath Rick and his woeful grandson Morty and their loony adventures -- a sort of unhinged spin on the Doc Brown-Marty McFly relationship in "Back to the Future."

It was recently renewed for a second season. As the series returns with new episodes, Show Tracker spoke with Harmon and Roiland about the show's genesis, bringing a longer format to Adult Swim and female disparity in the writers room.

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“Rick and Morty” is definitely one of the bolder animated series out there. Talk about coming up with the concept, Its rooted in rejection, right? 

Roiland: Yeah. I mean, the original concept was just me screwing around. I would go through phases in my involvement with Channel 101 [a nonprofit short film festival started by Harmon] where I would make stuff that was kind of intended to just shock people -- a lot of screaming and people covering their eyes, groaning. This was one of those things. It started just for me, doing these two voices, really bad impressions of Doc and Marty from “Back to the Future.” Skipping forward now, it’s completely different. Our show is so far removed from that [the Channel 101 pilot "The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti"], but some of the raw energy behind the voice performances is sort of still intact, especially for Rick. That’s the beginning of it. And me sort of falling in love with it over the short period of time I made it - -I think I made it over a period of two weeks. It had originally started as this thing I didn’t give a ... about at all, and by the time I was finished, I really had grown to like it. I was hoping the audience would vote it back. I had very little hope that they would because of the content, but I really did have this energy to continue telling stories with these two guys.

So, Dan, when Adult Swim says they want to work with you, what was it about this project that you thought would work?

Harmon: I knew I wanted to work with Justin if I was going to work at Adult Swim because, the truth is, my sensibilities left to their own devices are pretty bad. I’m not a huge animation guy by nature. I’m not tremendously visual, in terms of how I think. I tend to think in terms of dialogue and character and story. Adult Swim wanted to work with me but I knew that anything I did with them alone would probably be short-lived because I’d be removed from the tumultuous, passionate, rebellious, fiber of most of their audience because I own a home. And so I thought about Justin because he is the Adult Swim brand. He is the target for a lot of their stuff. And he’s also, like me, really passionate about story and franchise. 

He mentioned these characters that he had been doing for so long on the Internet that had just been really vile -- just vandalization of Doc Jones and Marty McFly that he had done to get the steam off of his chest from a long time ago. Every time I watched them, I always found myself laughing hard. It was because the person behind them was doing something important to themselves.  It was punk rock. It didn’t matter if it sounded enough like Mozart to register as proper music, what matters is the humanity behind it. I knew that developing that into a half-hour sitcom, which was what Adult Swim wanted, would be the same amount of challenge as a guy going to community college -- it’s the same amount of work shaping something into something resembling a Snickers bar -- you’re developing it into something appealing, digestible. What excited me about it was Justin was always laughing and having a great time with these characters. I think we wrote the pilot script in six or eight hours. 

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What?

Roiland: Yeah, we broke the story the same day that we pitched it to the network and then went and drafted it up right after that. It’s not always that fast. It was kind of lightning in a bottle. Dan was kind of ready to call it a day and I just felt it. I was like, “It’s in my head now.” And I will procrastinate pretty bad. But that day, for some reason, I was like, we need to do it.

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