With Rick and Morty season 4 just days away, it’s about time to take a fond look back at the Adult Swim comedy that brought Mulan Szechuan sauce, Pickle Rick, and a dozen more quotable memes into the mainstream.
With only 31 episodes to choose from, it’s a Cromulon-sized task trying to narrow it down to just 10 of the best Rick and Morty episodes – but we’ve done it. All your favourites are (probably) here: Meeseeks, Interdimensional Cable and, yes, a certain pickle… Here are the best Rick and Morty episodes before season 4 starts. Spoilers ahead.
10. "Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender"
Rick and Morty is often at its best when it’s introspectively spoofing the world of entertainment. Here, big-budget superhero team-ups get lampooned to great effect, the twist being that the Vindicators all get killed off by Rick after he drunkenly concocts a supervillain masterplan. However, while this may be the basis for the episode, it’s Noob Noob who steals the show.
Initially just a background character, Noob Noob rapidly turns into the episode's central focuses as Rick admits he cares for him more than Morty, proving that showrunners Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon can make anything funny if they hit us over the head with it enough times.
9. "Get Schwifty"
For a show that loves to experiment, Rick and Morty hasn’t dived through the musical portal as often as you’d hope. "Get Schwifty", then, stands out as one of the series’ more unique episodes.
Just after an earthquake conveniently hits the Grammy Awards, killing hundreds of musicians, a race known as the Cromulons requests that Earth takes part in an intergalactic singing competition. It's up to Rick, Morty, and, Ice-T (obviously) to create a tune and win the X-Factor-type contest. "Get Schwifty" is the name of the show-stopping song, and its juvenile lyrics are still catchy. Now, all together: "You gotta get schwifty..."
8. "Morty's Mind Blowers"
"Morty's Mind Blowers" reveals that Rick routinely wipes Morty’s mind to save his grandson from the harrowing memories of their adventures together. This episode, from season 3, opens up a Pandora’s Box of pain and acts as a fake clip show for the random and downright hilarious situations that the dimension-hopping duo have gotten themselves into over the years.
The highlights? Morty experiencing truly level ground for the first time undoubtedly stands out, though Rick’s tongue-in-cheek meta jab at the Mind Blowers totalling more than three segments – unlike The Simpsons’ iconic Treehouse of Horror series – is characteristic of the show never punching down, just punching whatever the hell it feels like.
7. "The Rickshank Redemption"
"The Rickshank Redemption" is the most plot-heavy episode in the series. Where most concepts are one-and-done, the season three premiere continues where season 2 left off: with Rick’s captured by the Galactic Federation. It’s here where that Szechuan sauce meme was born, but it should perhaps be best remembered for the rollercoaster ride of a finale that sees the mad scientist escape his predicament by body-hopping into different Ricks before booting Jerry out of the Smith/Sanchez household.
6. "Meeseeks and Destroy"
"Meeseeks and Destroy" marks the moment where Rick and Morty transforms from oddball Adult Swim comedy into the animated sci-fi behemoth that has taken over the world. Fed up of dealing with his family’s rudimentary requests, Rick gives them a Meeseeks Box. Every time a big red button is hit, a member of the Meeseeks race – a species whose only goal is to complete the task they are given before dying – is spawned.
Of course, this being the Smith-Sanchez clan, it's never going to go smoothly. Jerry’s golf game is a particular stick in the mud, and eventually causes the Meeseeks to go into a frenzy. It’s silly, random, and a whole lot of fun – a successful blueprint Rick and Morty continues to use.
5. "Auto Erotic Assimilation"
Rick and Morty isn’t always a laugh-a-minute comedy. Occasionally, it digs deep into what makes each character tick, with devastating results. That’s the case in “Auto Erotic Assimilation” where Rick, Morty, and Summer stumble across Unity, a hive mind that also happens to be Rick’s ex-lover.
Before, Rick’s distance and alcoholism were merely used as a tick or an overused joke. In this second season episode, we find out how much of Rick’s pain originates from being alone in the universe – including knowing that he’s had to kill and replace an alternate universe version of himself.
The final moments are still an uncomfortable watch. Rick puts an alien out of his misery and then attempts to kill himself. And fails. It’s a brave creative choice to show the act itself – and one that proves Rick and Morty isn’t afraid to go to dark places to get the most out of its characters.
4. "Mortynight Run"
Like Rick’s own portal gun, the show isn’t scared to go on detours to avoid running out of steam if a certain premise isn’t landing. This frenetic, restless energy has never been more successful than in “Mortynight Run.”
Moments after being introduced to the fantastic concept of a Jerry daycare, we are whisked away to the arcade of our (and Morty’s) dreams. A sideshow involving Morty living an entire virtual life takes time to gain traction but eventually ranks among the series’ best one-shot gags.
The actual meat of the episode involves Morty trying to protect a gaseous being named Fart. But Morty’s moral compass again points in the wrong direction, as Fart is trying to bring about the end of all carbon life forms. The final scene sees Morty shooting Fart, rendering the events of the episode pointless and showing that Rick and Morty can juggle humour and heartache effortless in the same 20-minute span without missing a beat.
3. "Rixty Minutes"
Better known to fans as “Interdimensional Cable,” this episode sees Justin Roiland stretch his comedic muscles with a series of irreverent, improvised TV shows and commercials. While a second instalment came a year later, the original is still the best. There’s Ants In My Eyes Johnson, Real Fake Doors, and the ridiculously OTT trailer for Two Brothers.
Even when it’s literally making it up as it goes along, Rick and Morty still manages to provide enough meta humour and laugh-out-loud moments that you wish Interdimensional Cable would become its own spin-off. It’s that good.
2. "Pickle Rick"
The episode that spawned a million Funkos. On the surface, it’s a send-up of a John Wick-style revenge tale, but it’s actually hiding an emotional core – one that the show doesn’t mine very often but, when it does, it really hits home.
Sure, the action scenes involving Pickle Rick taking down guards and even a rat in one grisly scenes are bound to catch the eye, but it’s all a distraction for us and for Rick. His family are waiting for him at therapy and, yet again, he’s doing anything to get out of it.
For once, Rick owns up to his reckless behaviour and you get the feeling that, even if he would prefer to go off on wacky adventures, he still cares deeply about his family. For an episode that revolves around a pickle, that’s not bad going.
1. "Total Rickall"
Ooo-eee! Here it is: the best Rick and Morty episode – and god bless the animators who worked on it. When the Smith-Sanchez household is overrun by parasites who invent memories of made-up friends and family, Rick must root out the dozens of potential fakes to save the day.
The concept really allows the creative team – from the creators to the artists – to have a lot of fun, and it shows. They range from the tragic (Sleepy Gary), to the weird (Amish Cyborg) and the intentionally lazy (Ghost in a Jar). Each parasite that's unrooted in the absurd vignettes that take place in the episode – such as Reverse Giraffe saving Ghost in a Jar’s life in Vietnam – brings the family back together again, even if it comes at a tragic cost.
The kicker is Beth assuming that the peppy Mr. Poopybutthole isn’t real and shoots him. Of course, he’s been real this whole time. Beth just didn’t have any bad memories of him so assumed he was a parasite. Awww? At least we’ll always fondly recollect Mr. Poopybutthole’s first appearance before his season 4 return.