Since its debut in 2013, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s animated dark comedy “Rick and Morty” has consistently taken science-fiction misadventures to new heights (and juvenile lows). The pop-culture references, the attention to detail, the world-building, the music cues, the nihilism — “Rick and Morty” has a neverending story (or “Never Ricking Morty”) supply on tap.
Every new adventure for Rick and Morty (and sometimes Summer or Beth or… Jerry) brings something different to the table, which is to be expected considering the infinite universes on said table.
“Rick and Morty” returns for a 10-episode Season 5 on Adult Swim this Sunday, June 20. Much like the infinite universes presented in the series itself, there is seemingly an infinite possibility of what could possibly be considered the best episodes of “Rick and Morty,” especially depending on what you’re looking for in an episode. But on this particular universe, in this particular timeline, these are our picks for the 10 best episodes of “Rick and Morty.”
10. “Meeseeks and Destroy” (Season 1, Episode 5)
This episode gets exceptionally dark in the Rick and Morty plotline, as Rick allows Morty to choose the adventure for once, leading to a scene with a predatory jellybean that is not played for laughs. But the family storyline back on Earth makes up for that with its version of “light.” With the introduction of the Meeseeks Box (and the single-use humanoid genies known as Mr. Meeseeks), “Rick and Morty” doubles down early (especially after “Lawnmower Dog”) on just how pathetic Jerry is — something that has not changed in the subsequent seasons of the show — and how that can snowball into something detrimental to his life and life of everyone around him. Plus, Rick invents his catchphrase in this episode: “Wubba Lubba Dub-Dub!”
9. “Morty’s Mind Blowers” (Season 3, Episode 8)
It may seem hard to believe, considering the entirety of the series, but there are actually memories that have been deemed too traumatic for Morty to remember. Those are “Morty’s Mind Blowers.” On the list of terrible things Rick has done to Morty, removing his most traumatic memories doesn’t seem that bad. But as the episode quickly reveals, Rick’s obviously not just doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Like Season 4’s “Never Ricking Morty” (or to go back into the Harmon vault, “Community” Season 2’s “Paradigms of Human Memory”), “Morty’s Mind Blowers” gets a lot of mileage out of the fake clip show element of these awful memories (and the memories of Rick looking like a fool). According to the episode’s writers — six were credited, including Roiland and Harmon — they originally pitched “about a hundred” mind blowers, narrowed them down and voted, and then wrote even more.
8. “Auto Erotic Assimilation” (Season 2, Episode 3)
It’s a Rick and Morty and Summer adventure, as the trio ends up on a planet controlled by a hive entity known as Unity, Rick’s ex. Rick dragging Unity down to his level goes from a fun (and nasty) party romp to a downright race war that Morty and Summer have to navigate, culminating in Unity abandoning the planet because it knows that it can’t be with Rick, as much as it loves him. As Rick’s self-centered, self-destructive nature has been an integral part of the series since the pilot, here we see firsthand how it can affect someone (or more specifically, something) that loves Rick romantically — and how that realization can affect Rick.
7. “The Wedding Squanchers” (Season 2, Episode 10)
A lot about “Rick and Morty” shouldn’t work, especially on an emotional level, when you consider how absurd it is. For example, the friendship between Rick and Birdperson. Or even the Birdperson and Tammy romance, considering how it was formed in Season 1’s “Ricksy Business.” And yet the wedding toast Rick ultimately gives does work. As does Birdperson’s (may he rest in peace) stunned reaction to Tammy’s betrayal on what should have been the happiest day of their lives. Ultimately, this is all a means for Season 2 to end with Rick sacrificing himself to the Galactic Federation to protect the family, though Beth simply thinks it’s her father abandoning her again. A bleak ending to a bleak season of “Rick and Morty,” with a major status quo change set for Season 3.
6. “Rixty Minutes” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Don’t mess with the original. While “Rick and Morty” has gone to the sequel well a couple of times when it comes to Interdimensional Cable, there’s just something about the original episode that stands a cut above the rest. Perhaps it’s because of the “almost improvisational tone” that Roiland brings to his (and others’) voice acting in this episode. But in addition to the Interdimensional Cable aspect, the episode also features Morty revealing to Summer the truth about his identity (due to the events of “Rick Potion #9”), giving her the poignant, albeit nihilistic pick-me-up in the process: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody is going to die… Come watch TV?”
5. “Total Rickall” (Season 2, Episode 4)
To quote Rick, “Look at all these zany, wacky characters!” And in a series that introduces plenty of zany, wacky characters on a weekly basis, that says a lot. According to “Rick and Morty” writer Ryan Ridley, the episode was inspired by the introduction of Buffy Summers’ younger sister, Dawn, in the fifth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — a character who all the other characters believe to have been there the whole time, even though the audience knows that not to be the case at all. In its execution, the episode also channels the best of the worst of episodic television characters that the audience has never met before but are apparently lifelong best friends with the main characters. “Total Rickall” manifests basically a series’ worth of episodic bit characters in the form of alien parasites and hilariously eviscerates every single one of them with a laser gun. But the most important part of all of this is that the episode includes the grand introduction of everyone’s favorite zany side character who’s always been around: Mr. Poopybutthole, the Dawn Summers of “Rick and Morty.”
4. “Rick Potion #9” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Halfway through its first season, “Rick and Morty” completely changes how the audience should expect to watch it. A seemingly run of the mill episode about Morty using a love potion leads to Rick and Morty having to abandon the Earth they — and the audience —know as theirs (due to the population becoming Cronenbergs), move on to a new, similar reality, kill the Rick and Morty from that Earth, bury their bodies in the backyard, and assume their identities. It’s a bleak ending to the episode, especially since it isn’t treated as a one-and-done moment but instead something that, at the very least, affects Morty moving forward. It is especially daring for a new series, especially one that just debuted the catchphrase “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!” in the previous episode.
3. “Lawnmower Dog” (Season 1, Episode 2)
The “Rick and Morty” pilot could be a bit of a difficult entry point into the series, as it’s about as much the opposite of a premise pilot as one can get, almost in a Rick-esque attempt to keep the audience at arm’s length from the jump. But those who stuck along for the cosmic ride were immediately treated for their patience with “Lawnmower Dog.” A strong (and, in some ways, more importantly, inviting) second outing for the young series, revealing just how weirdly intricate the series could and would get, both in its Rick and Morty adventure A-stories (an Inception meets Nightmare on Elm Street riff) and its B-stories with the family (in the eponymous Lawnmower Man riff with Snuffles/Snowball the dog).
2. “The Ricklantis Mixup” (Season 3, Episode 7)
In case you’ve forgotten the time that Rick and Morty took a majestic, life-changing trip to Atlantis, it’s worth noting that this episode is also known as “Tales from the Citadel.” While our Rick and Morty spend time in the lost city — offscreen — the series checks in on the Citadel of Ricks in the aftermath of the death of the Council of Ricks. Not only is the Citadel thriving, but the story charts the duplicitous rise of Evil Morty as he cons his way into becoming dictator of the Citadel, an act that still has major implications for the future of all Ricks and Mortys as we know them. This is also arguably series co-creator (and voice of both Rick and Morty) Justin Roiland’s most impressive episode yet, as the near sole voice actor of the episode. (Jeff B. Davis appears as Simple Rick’s narrator and Sarah Chalke has a single line as young Beth, but every other voice in the episode is Roiland.)
1. “Pickle Rick” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Like so many episodes of “Rick and Morty,” “Pickle Rick” is an episode that, by all sane logic, shouldn’t work at all. And yet, it’s the episode that won the series its first Emmy. The premise is simple: Rick gets into a pickle (by transforming himself into a pickle) and becomes the star of his very own hyper-violent action film… all as a means to avoid dealing with his fractured family in therapy. While Rick ultimately makes it to therapy to explain his self-centered worldview — at the tail-end of a session that pinpoints him as the root cause of his family’s issues — that doesn’t magically fix everything. In fact, things only become more fractured as a result of it, as it only strengthens the father-daughter bond between Rick and Beth, at everyone else’s expense. Not bad for an episode about an anthropomorphic pickle.