How ‘Rick and Morty’ Benefited From Female Writers

“Characters that were maybe protected by people’s trepidation were now also out there on the playing field,” co-creator Dan Harmon told TheWrap

Rick and Morty
Adult Swim

Getting more women into the “Rick and Morty” writers room was never a goal for creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, but it ended up happening with Season 3 — and Roiland and Harmon say it helped their show.

In an interview published after the Season 2 finale, Harmon and Roiland revealed that while the previous two seasons didn’t have women in the writers’ room, that changed with Season 3.

“It hasn’t been an agenda thing, but just coincidentally for some reason — I don’t know why — this staffing round going into season three, we got a lot of female scripts in addition to male scripts,” Roiland explained.

With the new season just over the horizon, TheWrap asked both creators if there was a significant difference in the writers’ room now that it was mostly split down the middle, gender wise.

“I felt like it was awesome,” Roiland said. “Having many different points of view and perspectives in that room is only going to make things more interesting.”

“Rick and Morty,” an Adult Swim show about the adventures of a mad, sociopathic, alcoholic scientist named Rick and his dim-witted but good-hearted grandson Morty, is not something that would, on the surface, be at the forefront of conversations about gender.

Adult Swim — Cartoon Network’s more mature programming block  — was at the center of criticism in 2016 after it announced a new slate of shows that featured no female creators. Creative director Mike Lazzo was accused of sexism after he seemed to say that women create “conflict” in writers’ rooms, although he clarified his statement later.

“What I actually said was, women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects,” Lazzo said.

While “Rick and Morty” featured women on its animation staff, and of course on its cast, no women had ever been a part of the writers’ room until this season. Even so, later episodes, especially in Season 2, put the spotlight on female characters — specifically Beth, the matriarch of the Smith family, and Morty’s sister, Summer.

The latter became more important in Season 2, occasionally joining Rick and Morty on their adventures. In the Season 3 premiere, she fought to break Rick out of prison (even if he was fully capable of doing it himself). What started off as a one-dimensional caricature of a teenage girl — always on her phone and worrying too much about boys — managed to overcome her initial boundaries and sometimes overshadow Morty as a vital presence in Rick’s life.

Beth also got more character development in Season 2 as the audience learned more about how her struggle to build any relationship with her father Rick — who was gone for most of her childhood — tore the family apart, and how her marriage is stifling her.

Harmon says that the two will continue to get more depth in Season 3 thanks to the balanced writers’ room. Having women writing scripts alongside men, according to Harmon, allowed people to throw around jokes about the two main female characters, without hesitation or worrying if they were crossing a line.

“The writers were able to talk more about Beth and Summer without stopping to double the conversation with asterisks, as in ‘well we’re a bunch of guys talking about a teenage girl,’” he said. “It wasn’t so much all of a sudden there was an influx of ideas about Summer… it’s just that characters that were maybe protected by people’s trepidation were now also out there on the playing field and able to be manipulated and dimensionalized.”

Harmon echoed Roiland’s earlier comments that there wasn’t a deliberate push for diversity, but it did come naturally — a result of more great scripts from female writers.

If anything, Harmon is hesitant when discussing the idea of deliberate diversity, saying he wants somebody working on the team who isn’t defined by the fact they belong to an marginalized group.

“You want a comedy writer to be an iconoclast and an outlier,” he said, “So if they happen to be representing an underepresented group, do you want them to be a joyless ambassador of that group or do you want them to be a renegade?”

Besides teasing more Summer and Beth stories, Harmon also stated that the audience will be seeing the fallout over Beth and her husband Jerry’s separation in the Season 3 premiere, which builds off the tension expanded upon in Season 2. (By the way, Harmon coins their couple name — Jeth).

“The separation of them allows more surface area for each individual, so there’s more to examine there,” he said. “We get to see a little more of Jerry and a little more of Beth, what makes them tick.”

“Rick and Morty” Season 3 premieres on July 30 at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.