Rick and Morty showrunner Dan Harmon has called the global pandemic a “net zero” on his productivity during a virtual PaleyFest New York panel released Friday. The Emmy-winning writer and co-creator of Adult Swim’s animated juggernaut remarked that the isolating effects of the pandemic has led to some interesting changes to his staff’s workflow.
“It’s all about the removal of humanity, the forced compartmentalization. That’s good creatively for writers who are less socialized for loudness and interruption. There are some fellas that might not be heard when the whole fratty energy is at a full volume. I think in a lot of ways [it’s] a huge improvement and in a lot of ways rolling a boulder up a hill. It comes out to a net balance,” said Harmon.
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Joining Harmon on the panel were Chris Parnell (Jerry Smith), Sarah Chalke (Beth Smith) and Spencer Grammer (Summer Smith).
Filming during the COVID-19 crisis has proven an incredibly difficult task. Productions have been shut down by positive coronavirus tests and some shows have even opted to work entirely in a bubble. However, for an animated series like Rick and Morty, Harmon said that despite the remote working life being somewhat of a boon, he is cautious about being overly excited.
“We were certainly not already doing it the way we’re doing it now, definitely more than our friends in live-action we were able to make a transition. During this time Rick and Morty was already anticipating a shutdown and we were able to because it’s digital,” said Harmon. “I have survivor’s guilt. I like working this way. I can do it in my underwear and I always wanted to do it in my underwear, but the storyboard artists and the sound engineers have to put a little more time and effort. That keeps me from being jubilant about the whole thing. Everything always trickles down to labor and it sucks you don’t want to go ‘this is great creatively.’ We’re more on schedule than we’ve ever been. You have to have a remote bee colony so the honey is made more consistently.”
When moderator Michael Schneider joked that a silver lining of the pandemic is the public might get more episodes sooner than later, Harmon laughed it off. “Yeah I guess,” he replied. “Maybe they’ll suck, though. I don’t know.”
Even though they’ve had time to write since their gigantic 70-episode pickup in 2018, Harmon says there is no general game plan as they’ve written years ahead of the Season 4 finale.
“The last thing we want to do in an environment like that is [to] have a plan. We are the plan because we’re the future. We’re the guys who wrote the stuff they’re now drawing. We make a tremendous effort to stay in the moment and not box ourselves in,” said Harmon.
Chalke alleged she has been kept in the dark about who the true Beth is after the Season 4 finale showed Rick acknowledging both versions of Beth as real after erasing his memory of creating a clone. Harmon tried to clear the air revealing the true intention in writing that mystery. He even teased the second Beth might reprise her role in future episodes.
“You know as much as Rick knows,” he said “I don’t want to keep secrets with the audience. She’s Schrodinger’s Beth right now. The fact she may or may not be a clone is actually the important thing. It’s the profound revelation about Rick’s commitment to non-commitment and how abusive that can be as a parent. That is the important thing here. We’re adding aunts to the family. We’re having fun looking at more options with space Beth.”
Before the end of the panel, Harmon teased what he could about the upcoming fifth season, including a possible love plot involving Morty.
“There’s an episode in Season 5 where Morty has a relationship with another female character that’s not Jessica. It’s a great little story and my longtime friend and collaborator Rob Schrab wrote it. [Schrab] has a natural directorial instinct. He also is a tender writer, like a very juvenile John Hughes. He feels heartache on a level that a man his age shouldn’t. There’s an episode in Season 5 that my Emmy is going to,” Harmon quipped.
Harmon regretted what good the mundane tidbit of information will serve the public. Hopefully it will be enough to hold us over for the eventual premiere, which has not yet been set.
All of the PaleyFest panels will be available to view at 8 p.m. ET tonight here.
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