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The untold truth of Rick and Morty

Combining science-fiction action with deeply crude humor, a vast mythology, and just the tiniest bit of heart, Rick and Morty was an instant hit when it debuted on Adult Swim in late 2013. The creation of animator/voice actor Justin Roiland and writer Dan Harmon (creator of Community), the animated series depicts the adventures of Rick Sanchez, a spiky-haired, somewhat reprehensible and usually drunk scientist, and Morty Smith, his kind of dumb grandson, as they travel through space and alternate dimensions while messing up history, the universe, and their own lives. Here's a look at some of the many mysteries behind Rick and Morty.

Rick and Morty began as a risqué riff on Back to the Future

Justin Roiland once made an animated short called "The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti." Unsurprisingly, it's a thinly veiled, barely copyright-skirting indication to viewers that he was parodying Doc and Marty from Back to the Future. Roiland's cartoons were screened as part of Channel 101, a weekly film showcase and competition in Los Angeles run by Community creator Dan Harmon. When Harmon got temporarily fired from running Community, he approached Roiland about adapting "Doc and Mharti" into a recurring series that toned down the Back to the Future references and explicit sexual content. That's why Doc became a different scientist and Mharti became Morty, Rick's grandson.

Rick's burps are real

The closest thing the show has to a catchphrase is Rick's seemingly random burping habit. While it's definitely gross, it's not at all random — and the burps are real. Creator Justin Roiland, who voices both Rick and Morty, says that during the audio recording for the show, he'll read through Rick's lines once, then mark down where he wants to insert the burps later. He then goes back and re-records his dialogue, this time with the burps inserted. To get himself to burp, Roiland drinks a bunch of low-calorie beer (Miller 64, to be exact) and water right before his session. He says the "whole process is disgusting."

A lot of Rick and Morty's dialogue is improvised

There's a very natural, off-the-cuff feel to much of the dialogue on Rick and Morty because it's just that. Roiland, while playing both main characters, loves to improvise. Here's how the process works: after running Rick's lines (for burp takes), Roiland will do a Morty-centric read through, and then do a take of the scene as both characters, letting himself riff (Harmon will also throw out ideas during this time). Then the scripts are rewritten accordingly, with the new bits added in, which are then recorded.

Rick and Morty fans figured out a big secret, but the creators aren't telling

Early in the production of the show, Roiland and other members of the creative staff decided they wanted to have a "secret" about the show's world that only they would know. They agreed that they would never explicitly reveal this secret during the run of Rick and Morty, but they did want to place clues and allusions throughout. However, Roiland has acknowledged that an unidentified Rick and Morty fan managed to figure out the secret and posted it on Reddit.

In keeping with his vow, Roiland didn't identify the secret, but other Rick and Morty fans have narrowed it down, based on the timing of Reddit posts related to Rick and Morty theories and Roiland's reaction thereof. Some of the most likely possibilities include the notion that Rick is an older version of Morty — or at least one of the many iterations of Morty — or that Rick is aware he's a fictional character.

Rick and Morty has used Instagram in innovative ways

Plenty of shows have debuted on the internet, or at least made web-exclusive content available. But Rick and Morty is believed to be the first to ever premiere an episode on Instagram. However, due to Instagram's video length limitation of 15 seconds (at the time), that meant the 2014 episode in question had to be cut up into 109 separate videos. Adult Swim publicized the event as "our latest frustrating exercise in audience engagement."

Building on its unique success on the service generally reserved for selfies and hot brunch shots, the show teamed up with Vice's gaming department Carrot Creative to do something else nobody had done on Instagram before: use it as a gaming platform. Rickstaverse launched in the summer of 2015. As the characters on the show jump through dimensions, players must follow tags and other clues to bounce through more than 80 Instagram accounts set up and dedicated to the game. Hundreds of thousands of fans took part in Rickstaverse, which involved 11 explorable planets and more than 1,000 individual images.

How the Rick and Morty Simpsons couch gag came together

In 2016, the Rick and Morty team put together one of the most memorable "couch gags" in recent memory for the opening titles of an episode of The Simpsons. Justin Roiland had heard a rumor that Simpsons creator and producer Matt Groening was a fan of his show, something he couldn't possibly allow himself to believe was true... until Groening confirmed it. 

That connection gave Roiland a funny idea: He asked Groening (and a guest of Groening's choice) to provide the commentary track on the DVD release of the first season of Rick and Morty. Groening agreed to do it, and brought along longtime Simpsons writer and producer Al Jean, who in turn asked Roiland to do the couch bit.

Rick and Morty probably takes place in the same "universe" as Gravity Falls

There's been a lot of overlap between the adult-oriented Rick and Morty and the now-ended Disney XD series Gravity Falls. Both are sci-fi comedies where weird stuff is part of the fabric of daily life, for example. Additionally, Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch has done voice work on Rick and Morty, while Roiland has returned the favor on Hirsch's show (they used to share an office at the Disney Channel).

It goes deeper than that, though — characters, objects, and other Easter eggs from Rick and Morty have subtly popped up on Gravity Falls. For example, Gravity Falls' evil, pyramid-shaped dream demon Bill Cipher briefly appeared in Rick and Morty. As Hirsch told Entertainment Weekly in 2015, this represents a dream come true. The two friends aspired to have "our own weird TV shows, and we would talk about ways in which we would childishly abuse this power. For some reason, the universe has blessed us with our mad wishes, and it occurred to us — let's start doing things nobody else does, that maybe you're not supposed to do. We started putting little Easter eggs in our shows that sort of connected the two. Our motivation for that is primarily to freak people out and blow their minds."

Rick and Morty is loaded with references to actors' previous roles

While the pop culture references on Rick and Morty abound, so do allusions to the voice actors' most famous roles. Actor/comedian David Cross plays an alien who can't handle nudity — almost as if he's a "never nude," like his character Tobias on Arrested Development. Then there's Snowball, a cute creature who wants to take over the world and is assisted by an accountant. They're played by Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche, the actors who voiced the title roles on Pinky and the Brain, a show about two lab mice with designs on world domination. Actress Sarah Chalke voices Beth Smith, Rick's daughter and Morty's mother. Beth is a cardiac surgeon, which makes Rick and Morty the third time Chalke has played a blonde doctor on TV, following her years on Scrubs and a recurring role on How I Met Your Mother.

Rick's full backstory will never be revealed

As vast and complicated as the Rick and Morty mythos has become, Roiland and Harmon never want to give too much information as to why Rick is how he is, or why he does what he does. The reason: they think it's "jumping the shark" (i.e., growing terrible past the point of no return, like when Fonzie ski-jumped over a shark on Happy Days) when other shows do that. And it's just too jarring for the audience.

Harmon told The AV Club, "we're very careful about delving into Rick's backstory, because when we do, we don't want there to be any shocking surprises. Justin was really smart about that, saying, 'No, we don't want to reveal that Rick started drinking when blah blah blah,' because then there's something very shark-jump-y about that, like where you learn that the Fonz didn't always wear leather jackets. Because people aren't like that." Harmon added that not saying too much also helps to characterize Rick as "all the more mysterious and selfish."

The McDonald's Szechuan sauce incident

As part of the promotional blitz for the 1998 Disney movie Mulan, McDonald's briefly offered a Szechuan-style dipping sauce for its Chicken McNuggets. In 2017, the Rick and Morty season 3 premiere — released online as an April Fool's Day surprise — Rick promises that the show will last for "nine more seasons," as that's how long it'll take him to get some more of the Szechuan dipping sauce, essentially his reason for living (and "series arc"). 

Consequently, the reference inspired a frenzied response from Rick and Morty fans. One guy found an ancient packet of the sauce while cleaning out an old car and put it up on eBay... where the winning bid topped $14,000. More fans created petitions at Change.org to persuade McDonald's to bring back Szechuan sauce, with the most popular version attracting more than 45,000 signatures. McDonald's spokesperson Terri Hickey addressed the fervor, telling USA Today that the restaurant chain very well could bring the sauce back, saying "We never say never because when our customers speak, we listen."

Leading up to the premiere of the third season of Rick and Morty in July 2017, McDonald's came through. The company posted a picture of three giant jugs of Szechuan sauce on its Facebook page, along with an announcement that it would be giving them all away. In August 2017, McDonald's sent off all three 64-ounce bottles of sauce. One of the lucky winners was a guy named Robert Workman. But instead of using his Szechuan to party like it's 1998, he had a friend auction off the stuff on eBay. The final selling price for the half-gallon bottle: an astounding $15,350.

In addition to some lucky fans, one other person got a very special delivery of the sauce: Rick and Morty's own Justin Roiland. He tweeted out a photo of his own, newly acquired stash along with a personal letter from McDonald's. The note ends with, of course, a message to "stay schwifty." And one more nugget about sauce: In February 2018, about six months after the auction, McDonald's officially brought back that Rick and Morty -sanctioned Szechuan Sauce... or for as long as supplies lasted. The chain promised to ship about 20 million little cups of the stuff to its thousands of U.S. outlets. 

The unlikely inspiration for "Pickle Rick"

The point of a TV show's writers' room is to brainstorm ideas, work them out, and turn them into usable stories. That's how Rick and Morty writers got the nugget for "Pickle Rick" — the famous episode in which Rick turns himself into a pickle and has to grapple with all kinds of challenges to get to a family therapy appointment on time. 

"I think it was a case of somebody just saying, 'What if we started the episode this way, with him turning himself into a pickle?'" Co-creator Dan Harmon told Fast Company. But why? Harmon says it's because "Rick is his own worst enemy and he'd want to prove himself." That's when Harmon and his staff realized they could find inspiration from a second-season episode of Breaking Bad in which Walt and Jesse's meth lab-outfitted Winnebago breaks down out in the desert. "We get to see Walter White up against primal forces instead of watching him negotiate and bluff with street dealers and kingpins," Harmon explained. "It was interesting to watch him trapped in a hot van, about to die, and having to fall back on his basic science knowledge." Similarly, Rick has all sorts of tech at his disposal, but he can rely on only his wits to endure life as a pickle.

The story behind that spooky theme song

Each episode of Rick and Morty begins with one of the most recognizable — and spooky — opening sequences in modern television. As the camera soars through space, zooming by an hourglass, an eye, and planets, segueing into scenes of Rick and Morty and their family avoiding all sorts of dangers, it's accompanied by a haunting electronic score, driven by what sounds like synthesizers and a theremin — classic sci-fi entertainment instrumentation. Those elements sound familiar, but so does the final product, which might be because Rick and Morty composer Ryan Elder pulled from three famous sci-fi theme songs in particular... although it wasn't actually written for this show. 

"That main theme was written for another pilot that Justin Roiland and I were working on," Elder told . "It was called Dog World, and I guess the elevator pitch would be 'a planet where dogs evolved from men,' but it was more kid-oriented." Roiland asked Elder to some up with a song that was "adventurous," not unlike the themes from Invader Zim, Farscape, and Doctor Who. "I kinda put all those in a blender and came up with something that I felt had a nice adventurous build to it, a sense of anticipation, and forward momentum."

The reason season four took so long to arrive

Rick and Morty is one of Adult Swim's biggest hits of all time, and it inspired a fanbase so devoted it was willing to wage war against a major fast food chain. It's a successful series by most any metric, and yet it went on an incredibly long hiatus after the final episode of season three aired in October 2017 — the first episode of season four wasn't scheduled to hit the air until November 10, 2019, more than two years later. Just why and how did it take co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon to get more episodes in the can? 

The simple answer: contract negotiations dragged on. According to Justin Roiland in GQ, the creators wanted enough money so Harmon — a veteran TV writer and producer — wouldn't "have to take 12 other jobs while we're working on season four." However, the wait appears to have been well worth it. In 2018, Rick and Morty — a show that had only aired 31 episodes at that point — was officially renewed for a fourth season and beyond, landing a huge 70-episode order from Adult Swim.