Rick and Morty's Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland: Splittin' Ritalin | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Rick and Morty’s Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland

Splittin' Ritalin

Dec 05, 2013 Justin Roiland
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Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland are in exuberant form as they discuss Rick and Morty, their latest collaboration, which charts the outlandish, anarchic inter-dimensional adventures of a morally ambiguous scientist and his idiot grandson. Rickvoiced by Roilandcatalyzes the show’s humor as he switches between amoral antagonist and endearing protagonist.

“A good antagonist can be very redeeming,” Harmon explains. “Sometimes it’s good to remember that magic doesn’t always mean if you eat a flower then a rainbow will sing you a song. Sometimes magic means motherfuckers are out to get you and they’ll eat you if they get the chance.”

Harmonthe very publicly fired, exiled, and recently rehired creator of NBC’s Communityand Roiland are longtime friends who first met through L.A. filmmaking institution Channel 101. Their friendship was born out of Harmon’s admiration of “Justin’s passion for subversive animation.” During this fertile time, Roiland conceived the widely acclaimed House of Cosbys. “Watching that for the first time was one of my proudest moments,” recalls Harmon. “It was like dynamite going off in your face.” So when Harmon was approached by Adult Swim to develop an animated series, Roiland was naturally the first person he called.

Equal parts hilarious and twisted, the concept for Rick and Morty “organically leapt from Justin’s brain,” as Harmon explains. “The biggest mistakewhen you’re being creative for moneyis to start with a practicable approach…. What’s important is passion. The fun part is trying to turn that crazy idea into Laverne and Shirley.”

Taking the nexus of Roiland’s idea, they “split a Ritalin” and, as Roiland puts it, “took the seed of these two voices I’d developed and tried to figure out how the pieces could fit together…. We wrote the pilot on the same day we broke the storyit just clicked.”

When it came to the series’ dimension-hopping adventures, Roilandwho also directs the showdidn’t want to worry about restraints. “Everything is specially drawn for every episode. I wanted to make sure there were no limitations to what we could do on screen.” You might assume these limitless possibilities would represent a tough transition for Harmoncoming from the real-world constraints of a live-action sitcombut he says he found little difference between writing for Rick and Morty and Community. “Whenever I’m writing, I tend to work towards what I want and figure out how to do it later. I mean, when I’m writing Community the question is never, ‘Can we afford this?’ The question is: ‘How do we do this?’”

When asked about their influences for Rick and Morty, Roiland professes a love of Beavis & Butthead and Ren & Stimpy: “They felt like unique visions, something that wasn’t just there to peddle toys.” For his part, Harmon drew inspiration from Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. “My understanding of sci-fi isn’t: ‘Can the Millennium Falcon go faster than the USS Enterprise?’ It’s humor combined with the ability to deal with things as complex as the meaningless of existence given its infinity, but still understand the importance of a hug…. It’s like: ‘Sure, I can teleport anywhere at any time I want. Now let’s talk about my girlfriend.’”

Harmon is deep in the midst of working on Community‘s fifth season. It’s been a tumultuous road, but he’s in high spirits about his return to the show. “It’s going well. The stakes are high, especially for me and this odd story I’ve wandered into where I’m like a weird Lazarus figure who’s either a hero or a villain depending on what I do and how I do it.” Did writing sci-fi for Rick and Morty rub off on any of Community‘s new season? “Well, I can’t say much, but Rob Schrab is prepping to shoot something with a very dystopian-future feel to it, so we’re looking at a lot of Logan’s Run in preparation…I’ll leave it at that.”

Of course, beyond the latest season of Community, Harmon can’t speculate where his career will take him, although it seems working with Roiland will be part of that future. “In one of my fantasy lives-we finish up Community, it’s fantastic, people are very happy, and I slink back to working on Rick and Morty in semi-retirement from network TV.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December 2013 print issue.]


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