After four no-longer-canonical seasons, Rick and Morty has given fans a massive variety of perceptibly disturbing jokes and visuals that will forever remain lodged in our brains. One of those images, of course, is the mighty Plumbus, arguably the most useful tool in the universe. I'm sure everyone already knows everything the Plumbus can do, so we won't get into that. Instead, let's take a few moments to talk about why this very common household object looks as gross as it does.
Within Rick and Morty itself, the Plumbus' icky aesthetic doesn't get questioned, but TV audiences have often questioned why the device looks the way it does. Beyond whatever answers are available to those who visit Plumbubo Prime 51b to see the Plumbuses being made in person, Rick and Morty's lead prop designer Brent Noll and storyboard artist Dan O'Connor addressed the origin of the Plumbus' design, which was revealed to be a weird mix between a musical instrument, a sci-fi movie reference, and private parts. In their words:
BRENT: Dan O'Connor sketched out this gross device that you couldn't really tell exactly what it was, but it looked really phallic.
DAN: Really, the Plumbus design is actually based on a banjo. The front of the Plumbus is those bristles; that's inspired by Jeff Goldblum's hairs in the back of his back in The Fly. And then the top is just genitalia, because everything has to have genitalia.
BRENT: The Plumbus was one take. It came out perfect the first time, like all good props.
So in case anyone out there ever felt like a weirdo for grabbing a Plumbus and trying to play "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" on it, now there's at least a reason, even though you are still a weirdo for that.
Of course, it's not the banjo shape that gives the Plumbus its visual non-appeal. That distinction definitely belongs in part to the hairy element, and its existence gets even more disturbing now that I know it was designed based on Jeff Goldblum's hairy ass body in David Cronenberg's The Fly, which is widely considered one of the most disgusting body horror movies out there. I definitely don't want to think about the Plumbus being covered in sticky fly goo.
The Plumbus also earns its share of "ewwwww" points by the rest of the device being influenced by the shapes and wibbly-wobbly nature of genitalia. And is it really a surprise that naughty bits influenced the design of such a universal household object? Remote controls are phallic, candles are phallic, bedposts are phallic, and so on. Naturally, something as universally useful as the Plumbus is going to be comparable to someone's junk.
As it turns out, the prop designers and animators tend to be guided by the potentially obsessive reactions from co-creator Justin Roiland, who is pretty particular about what makes it to the screen in Rick and Morty. In his words:
Props get the most notes from me I think. The kid in me is sort of thinking about what would be something if I was a kid that I would love or fucking want to be a toy.
I can't imagine Justin Roiland would think of the Plumbus as only a toy, so he may have kept his notes a little light when it came to designing to the pink creature. It does kind of look like a paddle-ball, but I'm not exactly sure which part one would hold to make the other partr bounce. Oh yeah, the gross part.