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The Surprising Inspiration Behind These Iconic Rick And Morty Characters

One could accurately call Adult Swim's animated series Rick and Morty the weirdest show on television, but they would still be only half-right; it's simply one of the weirdest shows ever made, full stop. The adventures of the alcoholic, misanthropic, dimension-hopping mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his increasingly battle-scarred young grandson Morty Smith (both voiced by the show's co-creator Justin Roiland) seem specifically designed to push at the boundaries of animation, story structure, and good taste. The Golden Age of TV has given us no shortage of morally ambiguous antiheroes, both live-action (like Breaking Bad's Walter White) and animated (like BoJack Horseman's titular cad), but Rick is in a class all by himself. Sure, as the smartest man in the universe, he's the first guy you'd want to turn to if the world needs saving, but he's just as likely to leave it a smoking ruin before abandoning it for an alternate universe (a failsafe he has employed on more than one occasion).

As totally bonkers as the show can get, it's tempting to believe that the inspiration for the bulk of Rick and Morty's characters and situations simply must be drugs and-or alcohol; heck, Roiland has admitted to occasionally getting full-on plastered before stepping into the booth to record lines for his perpetually drunken protagonist. This, however, is not necessarily the case. You may know that Rick and Morty themselves were inspired by the characters of Emmett "Doc" Brown and Marty McFly from the classic Back to the Future film series (or, more specifically, a jaw-droppingly vulgar short based on said characters, which Roiland created back in 2006). But when it comes to perhaps the most put-upon character in the entire series — the Smith family's patriarch and doormat, Jerry — Roiland's muse was nothing short of whimsical.

Justin Roiland named Jerry after his best four-legged friend

Jerry Smith (Chris Parnell) might be little-loved by ... well, pretty much everybody, but there's no doubt that his namesake is absolutely beloved by Roiland. Jerry is named after Roiland's dog, a diminutive, 13-year old pooch who is just cute as a button. (We know what you're thinking, and no, we have also never in our lives heard of a dog named "Jerry" before.) In August of 2020, Roiland shared with his fans on Instagram that a tumor had been discovered inside Jerry's nose, writing, "Little Jerry guy has cancer. For anyone who knows me, you'll know how destroyed I am. Going to do whatever I can to fight it and make him as comfortable and loved as possible for as long as I can." (What? No, we're not crying. Just a bit of dust in the old peepers, that's all.)

Fortunately, Jerry the dog's luck turned around in a way that Jerry the human's seldom does. In December 2020, Roiland updated his Instagram followers with the best news possible. "Jerry has recovered," he wrote. "He had to have radiation and it was rough. He was weak and not well and all the hair on his face came off. But now he's back to himself, hair grew back and very happy and healthy. He'll be 14 in April next year. Hope he lives till 60 in human years."

As do we. While it's not clear why Roiland chose to name the most sad-sack character on Rick and Morty after his little Jerry guy, it just so happens that he was also the visual inspiration for a season 1 character just as badass as Roiland's pooch would eventually prove himself to be.

Jerry the dog influenced the look of a classic Rick and Morty villain

Longtime Rick and Morty fans have probably already put together who we're referring to: Snuffles, the Smith family dog first seen in the series' second episode, "Lawnmower Dog," who bears a striking resemblance to Roiland's four-legged friend. In the episode, Jerry is having trouble housebreaking the pooch, so Rick assists in a very Rick-like way: By fashioning a special I.Q.-enhancing helmet which enables Snuffles to understand human speech. 

Of course, this backfires horribly, and Snuffles subsequently becomes far more intelligent than Rick had intended. He builds himself a cybernetic suit, adopts the much-more-dignified name "Snowball" (a reference to the classic George Orwell novel Animal Farm), and turns the tables on the family, keeping them as pets and threatening them with bodily harm should they step out of line. (He even, terrifyingly, threatens to "fix" Jerry.)

Snowball then begins replicating his tech to build an army of intelligent dogs with the aim of taking over the world — but, fortunately for humanity, Snowball has a dream in which Morty, the only human who ever loved him, dies due to his actions. Realizing that conquest is not the answer, he and the rest of the dogs depart for an alternate dimension, where they can rule over "Dogworld" in peace.

It's a brilliant episode and a sweet tribute to Jerry (the dog, not that loser Jerry Smith). Since Roiland's little buddy is still around after beating cancer, perhaps he's not done making his presence felt on Rick and Morty; after all, fans have long been quick to note that Snowball is still out there, and to speculate that someday, he may decide that he let those damn humans get off too easy.