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Rick And Morty's Justin Roiland Dings The Big Bang Theory While Discussing Adult Swim Hit's Approach To Referencing Itself

Rick angry and Morty unconscious in Rick and Morty
(Image credit: Adult Swim)

When it comes to delivering memorable dialogue and wacky, fudged-up situations, few shows on TV are on the same level as Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, which is nearing the start of its latest and potentially greatest season yet. But even if fans around the globe have been happy to celebrate the animated hit’s return with gags and moments from the show’s past, co-creator Justin Roiland and the other writers are not so fond of making inside jokes and references that lean into Rick and Morty’s own history. And in explaining the reasoning behind that approach, Roiland took a not-so-subtle swipe at former ratings monster The Big Bang Theory

Both Rick and Morty and The Big Bang Theory are under the Warner Bros. Television Distribution banner, but that didn’t stop Justin Roiland from using the Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik-starring comedy as an example of what he’s trying to avoid with the sci-fi animated series. Here’s how he put it, according to ComicBook.com:

I feel like the smartest angle is to always try to just stay true to what you think is funny. [We] don't ever want to be like, 'Bazinga.' We never want to do that kind of shit. The jokes always need to feel like well-crafted jokes and not just references. . . . That's going to turn people off.

Considering the history of animation as a whole, in regards to canonical storytelling making up such a small percentage, it’s understandable why Justin Roiland and others behind the scenes would understand that not every Rick and Morty viewer is going to have religiously pored over every episode in its entirety. As such, a random audience member who pops in for a Season 6 installment isn’t going to be wowed if the ep is stacked from end to end with inside jokes that only longtime viewers would find value in. The same technically hold true for sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory that have hundreds of episodes, but live-action network series obviously have a different rulebook to follow.

Which isn’t to say that Rick and Morty avoids connective storytelling entirely, of course, or else Evil Morty’s return in the Season 5 finale wouldn’t have meant nearly as much to everyone who’d been theorizing about it. As such, Justin Roiland doesn’t want to rely on catchphrases that pay homage to moments that newer viewers have no context for, and thus no Bazinga moments. To be sure, there absolutely are jokes that fit under that umbrella, and Roiland himself recently said that the show will lean more into canonical storytelling in the new season. But such elements aren’t ever meant to be the crux or entirety of the narrative or humor.

Justin Roiland himself spoke to one of Rick and Morty’s most iconic episodes as an example of a self-perpetuating allusion, saying:

There [is] the occasional reference now because we have...we'll have an acknowledgement of Rick turned himself into a pickle. Just little things here and there that we've done.

Now, would it still be funny if a Season 6 episode featured every character walking around saying, “I’m Pickle [Name],” even if they aren’t also hybrid pickle/human creatures with rat-bone exoskeletons? Yeah, probably, since Rick and Morty’s voice cast can make any line worthy of laughter. But Roiland & Co. would rather craft stories that can stand on their own sans tiny bones, even if Pickle Rick does pop up every so often.

Considering The Big Bang Theory is one of the most successful sitcoms of the modern era — as well as one of the more hated ones — there’s certainly value in trying to ape its formula. But that’s for the world of multicamera sitcoms, and not the worlds of animated multiverses. But I would admittedly love to see what a Rick and Morty episode looked like that was written by Chuck Lorre. 

With all five previous seasons available to stream with an HBO Max subscription, Rick and Morty Season 6 will debut on Adult Swim on Sunday, September 4, at 11:00 p.m. ET. Head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what other new and returning favorites are on the way.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.