a colored image of animated characters Rİck and Morty being transported to another universe through a green portal

Rick and Morty: What does Adult Swim’s Legendary Show Tell Us?

Spoiler Alert: For the ones who haven’t watched the first three seasons, this blog contains spoilers.

Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody is gonna die. Come watch TV. More or less, we are all familiar with this iconic phrase from Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty. We have spent enough time with scientists who travel in time, such as Back to the Future’ s Dr. Emmett Brown and many others from Doctor Who. And now we have Rick Sanchez. This crazy scientist role still maintains its popularity, this time with a more nihilistic and absurdist touch.

It’s season 5, and the series said goodbye to the fifth season with a reflection on our mad scientist nihilist grandpa Rick’s past. No worries, Rick and Morty will be sticking around some more time. I think what makes this show great is the way it dashes our wounds and makes us aware of our porous selves. In its absurd and nihilistic nature, the show deals with big questions and reveals the existentialist crises of the characters. Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland as an animated American science fiction sit-com, Rick and Morty offers a metaphysical experience with lapses in time and space.

The main story of the show revolves around grandpa Rick’s adventures that take place in intergalactic space. As Rick opens green portals with his portal gun, we find ourselves in totally different worlds. Full of raw fart jokes, farcical elements, and dark humour, Rick and Morty is deep and gives us hints about how to deal with the corrupted reality of the world. And that’s what motivates me to write this article: Could such a show guide us in our moments of failure?

a colored image of the Smiths household from an animated TV show as they stand in front of their house and say hi , a the grandpa and Morty stand in the front whilte the mother, father and daughter stand behind
Credit: rickandmorty.fandom.com

Let’s meet Rick Sanchez’s family: the Smiths household

Even though the adventures mostly belong to Rick and Morty (Rick’s grandson), which also gives the show its name, we get to know other characters equally well. In the background story, we have Beth, Rick’s daughter, Jerry, his son-in-law, and Summer, Rick’s granddaughter. With these minor characters, we can have a better glimpse of what a traditional home is like, as well as family relationships with ups and downs, concerning the interactions between parents and children, as well as husband and wife. Also, we see teenage dramas, their insecurities and confusions. For instance, Morty  is too shy to talk to a girl he has a crush on, and Summer feels insecure about how she looks. In short, the Smiths are just any other nuclear family with only one exception: they have Rick Sanchez, the mad scientist who is the most intelligent man not only on Earth, but also in the universe.

That’s just one side of the coin, of course. The other part is replete with intergalactic adventures and we discover various social organizations, which allegorize capitalism and matriarchy. Most importantly, the show speaks to us through philosophical agendas such as nihilism, absurdism, and existentialism. Let’s explore what they mean one by one.

a colored image of animated characters Rick and Morty as they run towards the opposite directions, on which " nothing you do matters! Your existence is a lie is written
Credit: youtube.com


Nihilism contradicts with many traditional western belief systems and philosophies that put emphasis on human dignity, rationality, knowledge and objective truth. Basically, it is the denial of meaning and reality. Etymologically, nihil- means nothing, related to annihilate, which means to “destroy something so that nothing is left.” In Fathers and Sons, the Russian novelist, Ivan Turgenev, who is said to make this term popular, writes: “A nihilist is a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept a single principle, on faith, no matter how much that principle may be surrounded by respect.” In other words, it refers to someone who questions everything and doesn’t take anything for granted.

In Rick and Morty, it’s Rick who fits this profile, since he defies and challenges every institution he encounters. Also, as Rick and Morty get transported to other universes, it doesn’t matter whose truth, whose society, whose rules anymore, or even who you are. In the show, for example, there are countless versions of Mortys and Ricks, who are good, evil, rude or kind. Even if they die in one universe, they can replace themselves. Given that, everything loses its meaning, including death, in this nihilistic world of Rick and Morty.

a colored image of animated character Morty in his yellow t-shirt and jean. As the countless copies of him are walking, facing their back to us, the android version of Morphy faces us
Credit: vulture.com


“Absurdity is one of the most human things about us: a manifestation of our most advanced and interesting characteristics. Like scepticism in epistemology, it is possible only because we possess a certain kind of insight-the capacity to transcend ourselves in thought.”  (Nagel 727)

We use the word “absurd” very frequently for almost anything which doesn’t make any sense to us. But what does “absurd” really mean from a philosophical perspective? To start with, Thomas Nagel and Albert Camus are two main philosophers associated with absurdism. Rooted in existentialism, in Camus’ terms, absurdism refers to human beings’ search for a meaning but failure to find one. As for Nagel, absurdity occurs when what we take so seriously turns out to be something insignificant. Absurdity doesn’t stem from the collision between the world and ourselves, but it is within ourselves. To put it differently, he places self-awareness and our human limitations at the core of the absurdity.

How do these anxieties find reflection in TV shows?  They take absurdism as their guide-philosophy, in particular, in mainstream sitcoms. Rick and Morty is no exception to this. The show ridicules the fact that human life is mostly equivalent to the sum of the socio-economic and moral values attached to having a job, marriage, belief and moral system. As Nadel states, people tend to endow themselves with a mission, something larger than themselves, such as seeking fulfilment in service to society, science, religion or glory of God (Nagel 721). In Rick and Morty’s world, these learnt-by-heart norms are boring and not satisfactory. Rick, for instance, rejects religion, education/school and society because they are insufficient to understand human nature. As such, these institutional constructions don’t apply a meaning to our lives, but only give some formulations to put our lives in a certain order.

a colored image of original Rick, Morty and Jerard along with many copies of Rick and Jerard standing inside the room altogether
Credit: intomore.com


“Ego Ergo Sic”  or
“I am, therefore I am thus.”

One of the best concise maxims that summarizes the gist of existentialism is probably “Existence precedes essence.” This phrase suggests that the essence of [wo]man isn’t determined, rather, s/he chooses to become whoever s/he wants to be. In other words, human beings exist as free beings and they are also conscious of their freedom. It also implies the “possibility and openness to the future as indeterminate potentiality” (Killinger 304). People become aware of their own existence in negative situations such as suffering, death, guilt and conflict (Killinger 308). In these situations, humans make decisions and chooses to act in certain ways, which in return differentiate them from others.

The show highlights that existence is painful. In the first season, for instance, we hear Rick crying out “Wubba lubba dub dub!” many times, which sounds like an expression of happiness. However, at the end of the season, we learn that it means “help me! I’m in great pain!”. Also, in the first season, episode 5, we meet Mr. Meeseeks. Rick gives the Smiths the Meeseek box to wish anything they want. It is more like Aladdin’s magic lamp. You press and a blue-coloured humanoid appears. In every press, there appears a Meeseek to whom you can  assign only one duty; it completes it and vanishes forever. If they can’t finish the assignment and live longer than a couple of hours, they start losing their sanity. What does this tell us? When they get stuck and can’t provide a solution to the problem, they find themselves in extreme pain and an existential crisis, which turns into violent behavior and self-destruction. Through different elements, the show plays with the correlation between existence and pain.

image of many Meeseeks losing their sanity in the moods of depression and going crazy in the sitting room of the Smiths household


Everyday moralities are deep issues and hard to read into. There are many factors to which we owe our current moral system. Natural selection, culturally shaped moral differences, emotions and reason are some of the actors that play a role as part of the moral mechanism. However, some parties seem to believe that religion is the foundation of moral values. Grounded on that, nihilism, which denies God as a cosmic force, is perceived as a destructive force, while the nihilists and atheists are seen as the ultimate threats to society because they don’t believe in divine punishment. Yet, is this really the case? Just because you don’t believe in God or anything , would that automatically turn you into a bad person? These are very challenging questions. Keeping these in mind, if we go back to Rick and Morty, would we directly attach the label of immoral to the characters because they don’t care? Even a character like Rick encounters moments in his life where he acts altruistic enough to give up on himself to save his family. In regard to that, there are many subtexts in the show in need of being evaluated.

Rick and Morty doesn’t do everything right

2017 was a very prominent year for Rick and Morty. It won the Critics’ Choice Television Awards as the Best Animated Series and Annie Awards as the Best General Audience Animated Television/Broadcast Production. Likewise, IMDB (Internet Movie Database) chose Rick and Morty as the 7th best show of all time in 2017. The show got a lot of attention, even the creators hadn’t expected this much.

As mentioned before, Rick and Morty engages with philosophical questions about human nature, which is great. But by doing so, it somehow feeds toxic masculinity. Throughout the series, we see Rick getting away with anything, even if his actions result in catastrophes in others’ lives. In season 3, Pickle Rick says, “I’m a scientist, because I invent, transform, create, and destroy for a living, and when I don’t like something about the world, I change it.” It’s that simple for him, given that he is the smartest guy in the universe. When he has the power, he can go to the extremes, taking no responsibility for his actions. This would trigger a question: will the audiences of the show fail to see the wrongs of these actions?

a colored image of animated characters Rick and Morty in the parking lot walking as Ricks says, " what if the toxic parts of ours have their won identities"

How could we adapt Rick and Morty’s philosophy to our everyday lives?

“’Don’t run. Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die… Come watch TV’. It’s sort of the thesis of the show, and a call to ride out the absurd waves of chaos that constitute life by finding things you like, things that entertain you or people that you love.  It is a sentiment that finds itself right at home with today’s youth and with internet culture in general. Thus, the show has become an anthem for disillusioned young people everywhere.” (Christian Zeitler studybreaks)

As Christian Zeitler writes, the show really resonates with people who feel disappointed with the reality that is surrounding them.  In other words, the show stays loyal to our daily dramas. By doing so, it makes us laugh at our trivial problems and makes us question ourselves about human nature, social structures and institutions. It also gives the message that you are not alone, we are all together in this sinking ship, which is life with ups and downs.

Furthermore, what we can translate from the show into our world is how our interactions might lead to significant changes. For instance, the little moments we share with people we care about can turn into our biggest journeys. Perhaps above all, what we should embrace is the meaninglessness that the show puts emphasis on.  The grand narratives or teleological ends or Hegelian reconciliated synthesis that leads to an absolute reason, aren’t likely to happen. At least, in the show’s nihilistic world, it doesn’t exist. Yet, Rick and Morty also shows that this doesn’t hinder us from achieving peace. Rather than hoping to be part of a larger plan, we should focus on our tiny moments which we share with others and ourselves to enjoy the moment.

a colored image of animated characters, Rick and Morty, as they are walking in the corridor of a beauty center as Rick says " complimentary psychological detox? removing all your cognitive toxins"
Credit: medium.com

What would Rick and Morty do in Covid-world?

How does the world operate in moments of crisis? Unlike Rick and Morty, we don’t have portal guns to jump into parallel universes and see what other versions of us are doing in other galaxies. We don’t know what comes next in life. That’s the beauty of it. Lawrence J. Hatab states in his article, “Lived experience shows the human self to be a process which can never be adequately described in purely positive terms” (105). What he implies is that the moments that make us who we are are mostly the moments when we feel most insecure, confused and anxious. The same goes for external dilemmas. They guide us to our further internal discoveries.

During the Covid-period, we got stuck in an isolated life, and had to reformulate our social connections with the outside world. We had to relearn and relearn everything. As Rick says, “I know that new situations can be intimidating. You’re looking around, and it’s all scary and different, but, you know, m-meeting them head on, charging right into them like a bull, that’s how we grow as people. I’m no stranger to scary situations. I deal with them all the time.” The names and the faces of the problems will keep changing and only one thing will remain: the way we cope with challenges. We learn, adapt and move forward. Lastly, to quote from the co-creator Dan Harmon:

“Knowing the truth, which is that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get to that terrifying threshold, accepting that every place is the center of the universe and every moment is the most important moment, and everything is the meaning of life…”

a colored image of sunset where a yellow open field stretches, meeting water and mountains as in the front, Rick is standing with open arms and closed eyes
Credit: fansided.com

Significance of Rick and Morty in popular culture

What makes us watch Rick and Morty? Why do we love it? Where everything is fastened in this technology-driven, capitalist and postmodern society, we all feel empty and anxious from time to time. We need to calculate the changing dynamics and how to respond to them in this world. Despite all, it’s good to be human, whatever that means, and try to put our lives in balance.

We have been to the Moon. Scientific discoveries and AI are adding many dimensions to our lives. Who knows what Elon Musk is up to again? Despite all that progress, the biggest puzzle that still dazzles us every day is  how we interact with others, what kind of social bonds we develop with others. Rick is an example of this. He is the smartest man in the universe, but when it comes to human relationships, he is a failure who has bailed on everybody, including himself in Morty’s words. Life is complicated, and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. In one perspective, Rick and Morty teaches us how to be carefree, and makes us question institutions and taken-for-granted truths. Rick and Morty is a show that consists of many philosophical layers. To rephrase that popular phrase: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody is gonna die. Come watch Rick and Morty.”



Hatab, Lawrence J. “Nietzsche, Nihilism and Meaning.” The Personalist Forum, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 1987, pp. 91-111.

Killinger, John. “Existentialism and Human Freedom.” The English Journal, Vol. 50, No. 5, May, 1961, pp. 303-313.

Nagel, Thomas. “The Absurd.” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol 68, No.20, October 1971, pp.716- 727.

The co-creator Dan Horman’s interview on Rick and Morty, the search for meaning.

Leave a Reply