How Rick and Morty can improve in season 4 and beyond

Rick and Morty season 4
(Image credit: Adult Swim)

The wait for a Rick and Morty season 4 comeback goes on. As the weeks turn to months, it feels like as good a time as any to forgo the waiting in favour of a little reflection.

The first batch of five episodes continued Rick and Morty's unique brand of sweary sci-fi magic – but they weren’t perfect. Whether it was an overreliance on guest stars, a fractured schedule, or a lack of serial stories to help underpin the season, there were a few issues throughout that can be addressed.

With that in mind, here’s what the second half of Rick and Morty season 4 (and the next 60 episodes commissioned by Adult Swim) can do to make sure we’re wubba-lubba-dubbing well into the next decade.

More high-concept episodes

Rick and Morty

(Image credit: Adult Swim)

First, the positives. Rick and Morty is at its absolute best when it delivers (and occasionally deconstructs) sci-fi tropes concepts, be it being able to see visions of your own death, time loops, or messing around with memory.

Of the first five episodes, two went above and beyond in their stories, presenting a hilarious twist on these tried-and-tested narratives – and it’s no surprise that they’re generally regarded as the strongest.

The season 4 premiere, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Repeat” sees Morty influenced by a death crystal that causes him to glimpse the end of his life and how can change it through insignificant moments. This runs parallel to a story of Rick trying to resurrect himself over and over across different realities. It’s funny, stands out as especially memorable due to its multiverse premise, and, crucially, also helps evolve both Rick and Morty as characters. Morty especially grows up throughout the episode and learns to take responsibility for his own actions. It just so happened to make us laugh along the way.

That level of quality can also be seen in the mid-season finale, “Rattlestar Ricklactica”. Rick and Morty find themselves causing a domino effect involving space snakes, naturally, and what follows is an epic tale involving time travel involving Twilight Zone-style morality and several twists and turns.

Paradoxically, these two episodes appear to show that the more complicated an episode, the better. You’re more likely to remember “Total Rickall” than “Lawnmower Dog”, for example.

The other three, while still good-to-great depending on who you ask, can be boiled down to single-sentence plots which each entry hangs its hat on. Morty gets a dragon. Rick pulls off a heist. Rick, uhh, takes a dump. They largely stay the course and don’t deviate from their gimmick, but the two brilliant bookends of the first half of season 4 suggest that a larger scope and purposefully smarter story is a portal that the show should be willing to jump through more often.

Evil Morty needs to return

(Image credit: Adult Swim)

While Rick and Morty tends to switch things up on a weekly basis, there are a handful of recurring characters and stories that re-emerge from time to time. Chief among these is Evil Morty, who is currently upsetting the Ricktastic status quo as current president/dictator of The Citadel

If there’s one thing the show lacks – especially in the absence of the Council of Ricks – it’s a serial narrative to run throughout the show. In an age of Prestige TV, week-to-week shows feel far more disposable. The return of Evil Morty, one teased on Twitter pre-season 4, can help transform the series from an entertaining show to one that has more stakes up for grabs, such as those seen within the season 2 finale with Tammy and Birdperson – a crucial change that helped the audience resonate more with Rick and the people he hurts along the way.

Of course, there’s still a place for 22-minutes-and-done in usual Rick and Morty fashion, but the show must have an eye (pun intended) towards the future, especially in light of several dozen episodes confirmed to be in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond. Having a killer baddie working against Rick and Morty will only help the show, and Evil Morty is not only that – but one of the few mysterious threads still left dangling.

Lose the guest stars

Rick and Morty

(Image credit: Adult Swim)

Guest stars are woven into Rick and Morty’s DNA. John Oliver, Christina Hendricks, Larry David, and more have all shown up over the years, but season 4 may have tipped the scales too heavily in the favour of celebrity voice acting.

*Deep breath* Taika Waititi, Sam Neill, Kathleen Turner, Jeffrey Wright, Justin Theroux, Matthew Broderick, Liam Cunningham, and Keegan Michael-Key showed up throughout just the first five episodes. Tesla CEO and super-fan Elon Musk even made an appearance as ‘Elon Tusk’.

It’s not that these guest stars can’t add to the show – they can and frequently do – but Justin Roiland’s often-immature, always-funny riffing and improvisational humour stands out, highlighting the show’s irreverent tone and humour. With guest stars, you lose some of that in favour of trying to match a voice to a name. So, it may be best to dial it back a bit in future episodes, lest we reach ‘guest star of the week’ territory – a fate season 4 has been perilously close to so far.

Fewer merchandise characters

(Image credit: Adult Swim)

Pop quiz: what was one of the first major things to come out of Rick and Morty season 4? Answer: Funkos.

Don’t all leave at once. A large component of Rick and Morty’s marketing in late 2019 revolved around these figures, which included Teddy Rick, Death Crystal Morty, and even Wasp Rick among their shelf-filling ranks.

The (probably) million-strong Pickle Ricks on everything from pillows to Pringles can attest to the fact that Rick and Morty going heavy on merch is a good idea for the franchise in the long run, but characters dreamed up for a one-note joke and plastered everywhere feels like the show attempting to recreate the Pickle Rick phenomenon, a move out-of-step the bountiful originality on show so far.

A proper release schedule

best Rick and Morty episodes

(Image credit: Adult Swim)

It’s hard not to ignore it. Rick and Morty season 4 has been truncated, split by a break from December and stretching out until who-knows-when. Seasons 3 and 4 also had a gap of two years. It amounts to a show that can never quite capitalise on its momentum.

For his part, co-creator Justin Roiland said at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, “There was a lot of stuff that happened between [seasons 3 and 4] that will never have to happen anymore so we’re good to go [for future seasons].”

But, for now, the series’ stop-start culture continues. As long as, in future, breaks are communicated to the fans, it’ll make the wait a far more palatable one.

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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.