Sunday's Rick and Morty return marks almost five months since season 4 went on hiatus. Indeed, four seasons in six years, thanks to a less-than-straightforward development, speaks to a stop-start process. The show’s indefinite future with each season at risk of being the last was one at odds with the Adult Swim series' sustained popularity. It's a gap that even affects those who provide the voices to the Smith family on the show.
"I honestly don't remember much of what's coming up as it's been quite a while since we recorded these episodes," admits Chris Parnell, the voice behind the lovingly pathetic Jerry, as we discuss the upcoming batch of episodes that are set to air this month. But, powers of recollection be damned, fans will be eager to still see what's in store for everyone's favourite dimension-hopping duo.
We recently had the chance to speak with Saturday Night Live alumni Parnell and Spencer Grammer, who plays Summer, for their thoughts on Rick and Morty season 4, the show's future – and even how their characters would survive (and thrive) in a lockdown.
"There's definitely going to be some good stuff," Grammer says when previewing the upcoming five season 4 episodes, before placing her tongue firmly in her cheek. "They also told us to say that you're probably going to be disappointed, as it's obviously not going to be as good as everything else we've done, so enjoy what you can!"
"I think as always there's going to be a lot of interesting things that happen," Grammer continues. "You're going to have your normal family dynamic. I think there's a few episodes that are pretty family-centred, which I always enjoy because I think it really roots it in a good place to branch off into crazy dimensions." Parnell adds that one episode – as is standard for the show – will include "this sort of terrible destruction that Rick and Morty bring about."
This week's mid-season premiere, meanwhile, feels like a marked return to form after the bumpy, inconsistent batch of episodes that made up the first half of season 4. The upcoming episode is at once wonderfully deconstructive, with dashes of Dan Harmon-esque razor-sharp, precise meta musings laced with Justin Roiland's unique brand of anarchic humour. It also features several laugh-out-loud moments that will become crystalised in memes and messageboards across the internet almost instantly.
The waiting game
So, what of the long wait for the remainder of season 4? As of Sunday's mid-season premiere, it will have been 140 days – or 201,600 minutes, but who's counting? – since we last saw Rick and Morty. While she doesn't know the specifics behind the pause, Grammer put forth one theory, while believing that the long periods of radio silence only adds to the charm.
"It could be a number of things, so I can only speculate," Grammer says. "Probably, the fans wanted shows and we were like, 'We have these ones done that we feel good about' and we'll finish the other ones and get them really good. Who knows? It adds to the fun of Rick and Morty, even the scheduling isn't normal. Cool, we got [five] episodes? Bit weird! I don't know any other shows that do it like we do, so I feel it's a whole unique experience, even the waiting."
Parnell was more grounded with his reasonings. "It was just them catching up. Look, it was obviously a smaller break than we're used to having for the show. I think they just had to catch up with the scripts and it obviously takes a while to get it animated. It's the usual hold-up, except in the past because there was a big hold-up because we were waiting to see if there was a deal with Adult Swim or Turner."
It's that eye towards the show's future that clearly caused some consternation for both the cast and an expectant fanbase. But Rick and Morty's future – after years of limbo and waiting on renewals – is now secure. 70 episodes from Adult Swim were ordered back in 2018 (of which season 4 accounts for 10 of those) and Parnell is eager to use the opportunity to hopefully explore a different side to Jerry's character in future seasons. "There's a lot of room to explore Jerry's competence, because we haven't seen a lot of that. So, I think it'd be fun to see Jerry really excelling and succeeding and doing well, even if it's a particular dimension that's obviously an abnormality compared to the one we live in. That'd be fun."
For Grammer, she too is eager to see the show explore a different side to her character after so many years of being, at least in the world of the show, a fairly strait-laced teenager. She's even gone so far as to pitch episodes at premiere parties – Summer in a cult, Summer as a spy – although it remains to be seen whether it could happen. I do always want to see Summer become more evil, and sociopathic, and more narcissistic for sure. I think that makes her really, really interesting," Grammer says.
With Rick and Morty often referencing real-world events and remaining on the pulse of current trends – even nabbing Elon Musk for a guest voice spot in season 4 – it's hard not to wonder how the world of the show would react to the ongoing state of affairs."I feel like she might go on a murderous rampage," Grammer jokes. "She's a teenager, right? She might lock herself in a closet or she would just sarcastically destroy everyone's happiness with her passive aggressiveness."
Jerry, meanwhile, would probably "do pretty well, actually" and cope a little better than the rest of the family. At least, that's what Parnell believes. "Jerry doesn't feel like a very social guy, so I think he'd be happy just staying at home with his little hobbies and watching television," he says, adding, "He wouldn't feel a great need to go out into that world and explore I think."
Luckily, season 4, despite being bisected by a delay, hasn't had its ongoing production affected by the coronavirus. All five episodes will air in May and, as Parnell points out, there's now a boundless future for the series, especially thanks to how it's evolved over the years.
"There's more of a willingness to take more risks and just to see where they can go," Parnell remarks. "There's such a great premise with the show with Rick being the smartest being in the universe, at least as far as we know at this point, and the portal gun and being able to travel to any dimension. The possibilities are just completely wide open. When you've got that as your set up, sort of from a sci-fi point-of-view, it's endless what you can do."
Season 3's premiere ended with Rick addressing Morty (and the viewer) by saying he'll be around for "a hundred years". With season 4 soon to be in the books and several seasons confirmed to be ahead of us, the future looks brighter than ever for the series, even if it's not aiming to stick around for a century. Let's just hope we don't have to wait quite so long for new episodes next time.
Rick and Morty airs Sunday, May 3 at 11:30 PM Eastern in the US and May 10 in the UK at 10:00 PM on E4. Find out more on every season with our guide on how to stream Rick and Morty online.