As retail continues to reopen and consumers return to brick-and-mortar stores, “Rick and Morty” will be waiting for them. The Adult Swim animated series, which returns for Season 5 on June 20, has not only been a ratings juggernaut — it has turned into a merchandising machine.
“Rick and Morty” now boasts more than 150 global licensees — spanning fashion, accessories, home, toys and games — that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Airing in more than 110 countries and dubbed in 26 languages, the show was basic cable’s No. 1 comedy in 2019 and has won two Emmys for animated program, in 2018 and 2020.
“That is surreal to see all the merch,” says co-creator Justin Roiland. “That was my lifelong dream. I was like, if I can create a franchise that gets toys made, I could hang my hat up and walk off into the sunset, having accomplished my ultimate fantasy. And it happened.”
Co-creator Dan Harmon credits Roiland for keeping a close eye early on in growing the show’s merchandising imprint. “At the beginning stages, even when Adult Swim was saying, ‘We do these things at a certain pace,’ Justin brought an obsessiveness about merchandising and franchising to the table that we really benefited from, and he continued to be really hands-on.”
Harmon is also pleased with how Adult Swim has handled the show’s explosive popularity, which particularly took off in 2017, when characters like Pickle Rick and a joke about finding McDonald’s obscure “Szechuan sauce” suddenly dominated pop culture. “The ways that they promote things and think about marketing ‘Rick and Morty,’ even in its success, are kind of miraculous,” Harmon says.
This year’s Season 5 kickoff includes what Adult Swim is dubbing a “Global Rick and Morty Day,” starting with the worldwide premiere of the first episode around the world starting on Sunday, June 20 at 11 p.m. ET. In an extensive deal with fast food chain Wendy’s, two new show-themed mixes will be found in Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in locations across the country: “Portal Time Lemon Lime” and “BerryJerryboree.”
In the Los Angeles, Morty’s, a weekend-long restaurant pop-up at the Wendy’s Panorama City location, will feature “a show-inspired menu, like the Jerry’s Single, paired with an out-of-this-world experience.” The “Rick and Morty”-themed menu will include a limited-edition “Pickle Rick Pickle Frosty,” only available at Morty’s.
Now the empire is too big for even Roiland to stay on top of, and he admits he’d love to be more involved than he is in the moment. Next up, he is excited to unveil a real, functional Butter Robot, which boasts sophisticated artificial intelligence just like Rick’s butter-dispensing creation on the series. “When it comes out, oh boy, it’s going to be one of the coolest things that we’ve ever made,” he says.
As for Season 5 specifics, Harmon and Roiland are mostly mum, but Roiland does promise that “this season we have a lot of really fun evergreen classic Rick and Morty adventures. But like we do every season there’s going to be some cool larger serialized stuff that we’re going to hit. Which I know the fans are going to be pretty excited about… I’m really excited for it to hit. I think it’s one of the better seasons that we’ve had in quite a while. I know, it’s a weird thing to say when you’ve only had five seasons!”
Season 4 of “Rick & Morty” ended with a bit of an open-ended question over which Beth was a clone: Space Beth or domestic Beth. It doesn’t sound like that question is picked up immediately — but with “Rick & Morty” in production on multiple seasons at once (part of the massive 70-episode order that Adult Swim made in 2018), it’s difficult for even the producers to keep straight what’s happening in what season.
“I believe that Season 5 doesn’t see very much of the space Beth versus domestic Beth kind of concept, but I also get a little tripped up when we’re writing Season 7, editing Season 6 and sound mixing on Season 5,” Harmon says. “Season 5 there’s a little break from that, which may or may not have been intentional. And then if that’s true, Season 6 sees a season of pickup in that. But, as far as macro canonical stuff, there’s a big to-do in the Season 5. I won’t say if it’s middle, beginning or end of the season. But we went there.”
Adds Harmon: “I mean there’s a lot of insane stuff, but I don’t know, I can’t even tell myself whether it’s insane in a different way than previous seasons, more or less insane. There’s some gems on the way, and some people will hate them and some people will love them.”