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The Death Of Rick And Morty's Producer Mike Mendel Had A Big Effect On Season 5

The prolific television producer Mike Mendel (also known as J. Michael Mendel), who was a vital member and leading force of the "Rick and Morty" creative team, passed away from natural causes in September of 2019, in very close proximity to Season 5's production time frame (via The Hollywood Reporter). In a recent interview with Newsweek, "Rick and Morty" co-creator Dan Harmon spoke about this devastating and chaotic time trying to produce the show in the "absence of the absolute hub of everything," as Harmon put it.

"It was his job to hire and fire, and keep the train moving, then one day he's just gone..." Harmon said, also noting that Mendel was "a father figure to the entire crew." Harmon continued, "The very justifiable question the artists were terrified to ask out loud was 'Who's in charge of these knuckleheads, me and Justin, now?'" referring to Justin Roiland, the co-creator, executive producer, and star twice over of the series. In the end, Sydney Ryan, whom Harmon describes as Mendel's "protege," stepped into the vacant leadership role, having served as a co-producer throughout the show's run.

Harmon went on to imply that Mendel's death created an unfamiliar environment of instability throughout their creative process, resulting in a fifth season that the show's co-creator views as somewhat less-than compared to other outings.

Season 5 had a sense of insanity, per Harmon

On making the show in the wake of Mendel's death, Harmon said, "There was a transitional period during Season 5, we had to focus on the job itself." He is seemingly inferring that rather than focusing their energy toward the writing, performance, and otherwise purely creative aspects of making "Rick and Morty," they had to prioritize day-to-day procedural operations. This likely left little headspace to cultivate a cohesive fifth season. "I would compare [making Season 5] to a shopping spree after the death of a loved one," he continued, "where you're determined to make life normal, but you're actually behaving kind of insanely."

On the online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the show's 10-episode fifth season holds a series-low critic score of 86%, while its audience score has a "rotten" 58%. The site's critical consensus summarizes, "'Rick and Morty' starts showing signs of fatigue with an uneven batch of adventures that are often more crude than clever..." Early audience reviews on the website reveal some expected fanaticism and predictable issues with "political" content, but there's also a surprising number of users taking umbrage with the season's perceived "immature" sense of humor. This may be referring to the dragon-fetish adventure "Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim's Morty," or the bizarre, fluid-focused episode "Rickdependence Spray" — both of which rank in the bottom five "Rick and Morty" episodes reviewed on IMDb.

"I think Season 6 is better than Season 5, to talk in cynical fan language..." Harmon admitted to Newsweek. "You can feel that energy in Season 5, and it's not there in Season 6. There's a stability to it, and we're moving forward again." Thankfully, Season 6 of "Rick and Morty" has received generally positive reviews.