Between the public internal turmoil and recasting major roles several seasons in, “Rick and Morty” has always been a show that’s been as chaotic behind the scenes as it is on-screen. For series co-creator Dan Harmon, Season 7 represents the hope that “era” is over.
“I think Seasons 1-7 have always been the result of coping with the production pipeline. Then you get what you get off of the assembly line, which I’m usually massively proud of,” Dan Harmon told TheWrap. “But we’re coming up on an era now where it’s like, ‘Oh, actually, we can make creative strategic decisions about the content on the screen.’”
Harmon noted that the behind-the-scenes story of the shows “has always superseded the creative and onscreen direction.”
“It’s kind of a meta answer, but what Season 7 represents to me is the first season where we’re on schedule,” Harmon said.
To borrow a term showrunner Scott Marder used in a recent interview, “Rick and Morty” has never been “sure-footed.” Initially, the force holding the show back were its co-creators, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland.
“We were the natural disasters because our budgets were gigantic, and there were two people running the show as partners that neither of whom are really notorious as ‘up and at ’em’ kind of people,” Harmon said.
Then there were delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an internal writers’ strike that happened before the WGA strike (“I’m proud of [it],” Harmon said. “Our writers went pencils down and said it’s time to unionize, and it was.”) But few series changes have been as jarring as the removal of if co-creator and lead voice actor, Justin Roiland. At the beginning of this year, it was revealed that Roiland was arrested and charged with felony domestic battery and false imprisonment in 2020. Rather than waiting to see how his case played out, “Rick and Morty” and WarnerBros. Discovery announced it was removing Roiland from the Adult Swim series the same month the news dropped.
The task recasting of the series’ two beloved titular characters largely fell into the lap of showrunner Scott Marder. “It’s been a lot of hard work,” Marder told TheWrap. “The irony of voice matching is that it’s tons and tons of work, but if you do it perfectly, no one notices. So it’s got such a weird high bar of excellence.”
Ultimately, Ian Cardoni became the animated comedy’s new Rick and Harry Belden became its Morty, both of whom came on the show’s radar “fairly early in the process.” Still, there were details both actors needed to adjust. For example, since Belden’s from Chicago, “making sure we iron out Chicago-isms and accents that creep through” was a priority. For Cardoni, it was making sure his voice contained the “right amount of gravel and pitch” as Rick’s.
The structure of Season 7 also served as a boon to this recasting process. Because of the layout of this season, the first few episodes don’t feature Rick and Morty together as often as they typically are, a shift Marder called “unintentional.” But as a result, those early episodes served as a “big proof of concept as to how they sounded together.”
Marder noted that each episode he’s noticed the two becoming stronger in their performances. Still, it wasn’t until this past week’s episode, “That’s Amorte,” that Marder and the team felt like Cardoni and Belden really nailed it. “That was the one where we were like, ‘We got them. We got our guys, Rick and Morty,” Marder said.
“We’ve put in our 10,000 hours now,” Marder said. “And those guys, they can feel when they’re in the pocket. So now it feels like bringing anyone in to do in any role. It’s been enjoyable. We’re really set up for the future now with the with these guys.”
Though “Rick and Morty” fans have developed a reputation for being chaotic and outspoken, Marder has been pleasantly surprised by the feedback to the recasting.
“I expected a lot more negativity just because I feel like the people that speak out on the internet are largely more negative than positive. But it felt like a real tidal wave of positivity that caught me off guard. It felt like winning an award,” Marder said. “I’m just glad that people feel like we can keep moving forward.”
While the team continues to write Season 9, both Marder and Harmon want fans to know their content hasn’t fundamentally changed. “We want people who were in the know to be able to digest that we’re still moving forward,” Marder said. “And we want the people who had no idea what was going on to be like ‘Oh s–t, ‘Rick and Morty’ is on’ and just be able to jump in. I feel like we’ve accomplished that.”
New episodes of “Rick and Morty” premiere on Adult Swim Sundays at 11 p.m. ET.