Columns, Opinion

People with Projects: ‘Rick and Morty’ vs. ‘South Park’: Comparing two presidents

This year, our president instigated a new headline for himself on a weekly — no, daily — basis. From Russian collusion to paper towel-throwing and name-calling, it seemed we couldn’t escape reading about the guy. Having such a media-crazed leader affects how topical television is written. So as we cross our fingers for a better 2018, I thought it would be fun to comment on how two of my favorite shows, “South Park” and “Rick and Morty,” tackled president-iality in their season finales.

“South Park did it four years ago, Morty.”

“Wow, they’re fast.”

“Or, we’re slow.”

Finishing up its third season in October, “Rick and Morty’s” characters Rick and Morty battle with the president for a selfie in its episode titled “The Rickchurian Mortydate.” The scientist grandfather and his grandson become sick of being the president’s personal set of “ghostbusters,” and boycott their duties of exposing of alien life forms on the president’s behalf. Then, they get Israel and Palestine to sign a, “pretty obvious if you think about it” accord, which sets forth a permanent ceasefire between the two countries. Once they’ve upstaged the president and gotten his approval ratings to 100 percent, Rick and Morty ask for a selfie as a reward, and propose they come to a mutual ignorance with the president.

“Let’s set some boundaries with a spoiled control freak that thinks he runs the world and orders drone strikes to cope with his insecurity.”

Interestingly enough, the president in “Rick and Morty” is black, yet his personality is portrayed to be childish and power-mongering. Could it be that this depiction is an Obama-Trump hybrid? Well, not quite. I think the reason “Rick and Morty” doesn’t commit to a particular president is to avoid politics as an expectation of the show.

In fact, they don’t even give the president a name. Creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have the freedom to make subtle topical jabs like the one above, without having to address specifics the way “South Park” does. In my opinion, that’s a very smart move for the series arc — especially since “South Park” struggles to mock the already satirical reality of Trump being our president. Politically, “Rick and Morty” operates in a different realm than “South Park.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing by any means. It just means that some shows aren’t as involved in politics as others.

Meanwhile, “South Park’s” episodes are each written and produced over the course of just six days. They’re able to get VERY topical, to the point where references age poorly. Season 21’s finale, “Splatty Tomatoes,” was extremely forward with its political message. Mr. Garrison, the president, wanders through town, seeking information about his Splatty Tomatoes approval rating from children. The townspeople try to get this Trump-esque character to “go away,” so Canada won’t bomb them (in the previous episode, the president bombed Canada, and has since gone into hiding). The kids search the woods for Kyle’s missing brother, an adopted Canadian who aims to take matters into his own hands. But back in town, the White family stirs up matters. “Hillary wouldn’t have been any better.” The episode emphasizes how Trump’s small number of supporters is what makes him so hard to get rid of. “South Park” doesn’t shy away from specifics like “Rick and Morty.” Featured in this episode alone, there is a “Make America Great Again,” balloon, a Fox News trap to catch the president and a blatantly orange complexion for Mr. Garrison. I find it great that “South Park” can still make light of political content, despite how heated the conversation has become lately. And the on-the-nose references make the show what it always has been: fearless to criticism.

If “South Park” and “Rick and Morty” approached topical content in the same manner, I might favor one over the other. But the fact of the matter is, they serve different purposes. I watch “Rick and Morty” when I want to laugh at nihilistic thought processes, and I watch “South Park” when I want to laugh at absurdist takes on whatever’s circulating the media. They are two great examples of topical animation: one is fairly new, while the other is one of the longest-running shows on television. Both shows can be commended respectively. “Rick and Morty” doesn’t push as many boundaries as “South Park,” but it also hasn’t built quite the same reputation. Frankly, I don’t even think “Rick and Morty” NEEDS to push more boundaries. I just really appreciate the art of each show and how they have power to tackle issues differently from one another.

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