Rick and Morty is not a show that leaves much room for ambivalence. Either you gaze upon the multi-dimensional wanderings of the titular mad scientist and his grandson as a work of genius for which it would be justified to leap onto the countertop of your local fast food establishment to proclaim your love, or you think that everyone who does feel that way is overzealous, to say the least. There’s a little room for rationality here—I, for one, am an avowed supporter of Birdperson but have never once lined up outside of a McDonald’s at 7 a.m. in honor of an in-joke—but the split is pretty definitive: Either you think Rick and Morty is a masterpiece that navigates family crises, existential dread, and the average hangover with demented aplomb, or you think that it is a bleak, disturbing, and confounding monument to the darkest dangers of the imagination.
On Sunday night, in the waning hours of April Fools’ Day, Rick and Morty was scheduled for a re-run of the 2015 episode “Mortynight Run.” There was little reason to expect anything else: The show’s fourth season has been mired in contract limbo between its cocreators, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, and Adult Swim and parent company Turner; one of the show’s writers recently suggested late 2019 might be the earliest new episodes would appear.
Instead, we got “Bushworld Adventures,” the first new Rick and Morty episode since Season 3 wrapped in October. It is a first-ballot entry to the Things That Have Given Me Weird Dreams bedtime viewing hall of fame.
The episode begins with a familiar-enough premise: An under-the-influence-of-who-knows-what Rick turns up to snatch Morty out of his safe childhood trappings in search of an apparently critical galactic objective (this time the elusive “Green Cube of Bendigo”).
But it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t a normal episode, even by the show’s standards. “Bushworld Adventures” imagines that the Sanchez–Smith clan—or at least an alternate version of them, operating under the names “Reek” and “Mordi”—resides in Australia instead of the usual suburban North America. As a result, characters speak with Australian accents, though emphatically not convincing ones; the animation is sketchy and uncertain, as though it has been poorly transmitted across the hemisphere. The adventure quickly goes off the rails, because of course it does, and we find ourselves variously in the Australian bush and the cave-side living room of a giant, neckbearded soccer hooligan. The whole thing reads as though Harmon and Roiland, together with Michael Cusack, who wrote and directed the episode, got drunk and played at Australian accents, their animation skills declining in real time.
Was this Rick and Morty’s weirdest episode yet? It might have been. That’s a tough needle to move, given this is the sort of show where a segment could just as easily be devoted to the destructive manhood of a supersize homeless man in a Santa hat, a teenage girl in pursuit of her crush finding her skin turned inside out, or—of course—the (mis)adventures of Rick after he turns himself into a pickle. (Spoiler: Rats are disemboweled.)
“Bushworld Adventures” might be the creators’ answer to last year’s Great Szechuan Sauce Ruckus. As footage of Rick and Morty die-hards harassing McDonald’s employees in search of a limited-edition dipping sauce, proclaimed in a fleeting joke to be Rick’s raison d’être, swept the internet last October, the show reached a mainstream consciousness from which it had previously been self-excluded. Suddenly, there were news organizations trying to describe the show and its fanatics to the unindoctrinated: It was “a tripped-out, sci-fi cartoon” about “often hyper-violent adventures”; “a dark comedy” featuring “jokes about violent dismemberment, the meaninglessness of life and the absurdity of absolute morality.” To which the only reasonable response from a nice, law-abiding, minimally internet-addled, consistently McDonald’s-employee-respecting person was: What the hell is this crap?
“Bushland Adventures” is a nose-thumbing return to exactly what this crap is: A frenetic, deeply weird, mercilessly inventive voyage into the outer reaches of animated creativity. It reads at times like the worst possible parody of the show, putting gratuitous violence and even more gratuitous weirdness front and center and casually making light of topics including, but not limited to, murder, child murder, pedophilia, racism, and dementia. All in the space of a single episode. It’s very dark!
It’s also very funny, which it—like just about every other episode of this unrelentingly batshit show—probably shouldn’t be, but somehow is. All you can really do is parrot Rick, who, having finally dragged Morty to the promised land of Bendigo for reasons neither of them can at that point particularly recall, proudly tells an inexplicably talking car: “You bloody legend.”