The passing of time on television shows is a fascinating topic for those who like to nerd out about serialized storytelling. Some series, like The Simpsons or Law & Order, operate inside a timeless bubble where characters never age and nothing ever changes. Other shows, like Friends or Big Mouth, might adhere to a strict progression of events, with one season taking place over a set number of weeks or months and each episode paying off consequences from the ones before. And then there are shows like Adult Swim’s long-running Rick and Morty, which basically fall somewhere in between.
Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland got into the show’s complicated relationship with the status quo and the passing of time in a recent interview with Collider, explaining to me that the show’s loose approach to these matters is something he enjoys:
It’s always been a nice mixture of stand-alone episodic, good point-of-entry episodes, because there’s never any shortage of crazy ideas that you can make a great episode around. But we do have this larger canonical craziness going on. I don’t see it changing or shifting in one direction or the other too intensely. I mean, every season there’s going to be some larger canonical stuff in a certain number of episodes, and then a lot of just fun evergreen [stuff]. That’s something that I love about the show, having real consequences and having the serialized things, but we always try to think of how can we do these in a way where we’re not completely changing the landscape so once it’s all over, things aren’t completely different.
Looking forward towards the upcoming Season 5, Roiland noted that “it’s 60, 70 percent pretty evergreen episodic, and then 40, 30 percent super-serialized, to the point where you’re going to want to make sure you’ve seen stuff before.” But, he added, “we don’t like to do that too much… That was the thing in the past, where it was like, ‘Well, we want to do this stuff, but we also want to make the episode feel like it could be a point of entry if somebody hadn’t seen anything still.’ Now we’re getting to the point where there’s just so much, that it is what it is. It’s an episode that if you haven’t seen the previous stuff, then you maybe turn it off and wait or something.”
Sometimes, Roiland noted, there are instances in the show’s history when it feels like a lot of time has passed between episodes. “I love when shows do that. I’m such a fan of that, where it just feels like, ‘Oh, this is bigger than just a sequence,'” he said. “Although listen, I’ve loved stuff that is a really awesome story that takes place over a week or even a couple of days. Those are cool too. But I really love when shows have that like, ‘Oh, this is just going on. We’re going to be visiting these characters over long spans of time.'”
But does he have a firm answer to how much time has passed in the life of the show, beginning with the Season 1 premiere? Not really. While the show has been on the air since December 2013, and Roiland thinks it’s been “less time than that,” he said that “that’s where the cartoonness comes in.”
A key element to this is that both Summer (Spencer Grammer) and Morty (Roiland) are still in high school, and Roiland doesn’t want that to change: “I don’t want to see Morty graduate high school. Personally, I’d prefer that high school always be on the table, because there’s so many fun stories you can do there, and to me, that’s a great place to go for character and story.”
He did acknowledge that “we could always transition to college, I suppose, but Summer is still there, she’s older than Morty. There’s still all the same age, yet they’ve been doing this a while. There’s still character development and growth and stuff, but they’re all still locked into that same age. There’s that Simpsons energy going on where everybody’s not aging yet.”
It’s an aspect of the show co-creator Dan Harmon recently agreed with during a separate interview: “We want to hit the reset button for our own purposes, because we don’t want the Enterprise’s bridge to be refurnished every episode of Star Trek, we want to see the family back at the breakfast table… That’s the thing that you just carry with you when you love TV, you’re kind of like, ‘Actually I want there to be a sense of home and family.'”
The contradiction, though, arises when the show does have long-running plots, like Jerry (Chris Parnell) and Beth (Sarah Chalke) separating and eventually reconciling their marriage. But Roiland ultimately believes this: “Who cares? We can do whatever we want. Those things are a bit at odds with each other, but to me, I think that would be us jumping the shark if it was like, ‘Okay, Morty’s actually growing up.'”
For plenty more on the making of Rick and Morty, look forward to our full interview with Roiland soon. The show returns for Season 5 Sunday, June 20 on Adult Swim.
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About The Author
Liz Shannon Miller
(331 Articles Published)
Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, The AV Club, The Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.