Rick & Morty has parodied all manner of movies and television shows over the years, but what are the titles spoofed in the season 2 outing “Total Rickall”? Debuting in late 2013, Adult Swim’s hit sitcom Rick & Morty has come a long way from the rude, crude Back to the Future parody that the show began life as.
Coming from Community creator Dan Harmon and voiceover artist Justin Roiland, Rick & Morty is an anarchic sitcom that spoofs everything from sci-fi movies to superhero media, using the misadventures of the titular duo to parody both television conventions and specific pieces of genre fare. In the show’s recent fourth season alone, Rick & Morty parodied Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus, Game of Thrones and its obsessive fanbase, and even the idea of storytelling itself in one ambitious outing “Never-Ricking Morty” (season 4, episode 6).
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According to its season 5 trailer, Rick & Morty will soon spoof Hellraiser and Voltron, proving that the show intends to continue its parade of pop culture parodies unabated. However, one early outing of Rick & Morty’s saw the show spoof so many movies and series that few viewers could keep track of all the references piling up. Then again, that was the premise of the episode, “Total Rickall” (season 2, episode 4). The arrival of Mr. Poopybutthole brought with a whole host of new (short-lived) characters as the Smith family were besieged by parasites, but these were no ordinary aliens. The antagonists of this episode invaded the character’s minds and implanted false memories to make the Smith family believe these new figures had always been part of the family. This premise brought with a whole host of references from the works of Blade Runner creator Philip K Dick to a forgotten Tom Cruise-starring critical flop (and guilty pleasure). So, what were the movies referenced in the acclaimed outing?
The title of Rick & Morty’s “Total Rickall” is a nod to Robocop director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of the seminal Philip K Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” However, the connection runs deeper than the episode just punning on the movie’s title. The premise of using false (but enjoyable) memories to manipulate people into conformity is the conceit of both this Rick & Morty episode and the classic Schwarzenegger movie, which was one of a string of acclaimed sci-fi satires from Verhoeven between the ’80s and ‘90s. While the director used Robocop to criticize the militarisation of the police, Total Recall was an action movie that forced viewers to question if Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing up baddies was actually saving the day or just a violent fantasy that kept his character complacent. Similarly, Rick & Morty used Mr. Poopybutthole in the episode’s story to satirize the conventions of television writing.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Speaking of spoofing television writing (or at least, the more hackneyed cliches thereof), the idea for this Rick & Morty episode came about when one of the show’s writers noted that the characters on Buffy The Vampire Slayer suddenly acted as if Dawn had always been part of their lives when she was introduced, and considered this a disturbing premise. The story of a parasite that created fake flashbacks and embedded itself in the memories of the characters spawned from there and, although all manner of sitcoms had pulled a similar trick when adding new characters, it is easy to see why Rick & Morty opted to call out the ‘90s hit in particular. When it became a cult phenomenon, much of the praise for Buffy The Vampire Slayer centered on the claim that the series upended television cliches and subverted stereotypes, which made it more hypocritical for some critics when the series indulged in the same hoary conventions and lazy writing shortcuts that Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s characters often called out and commented on in-series.
Too Many Cooks
The premise of the Rick & Morty episode will be familiar to fans of Adult Swim, as the network also aired the 2014 viral short Too Many Cooks. In both “Total Rickall” and Too Many Cooks, a sitcom-style medley of characters are introduced joshing around and having a good time, then the deluge of characters becomes far too numerous and a sinister tone sets in, then the entire thing ends in gory fashion as the characters are killed off immediately after being established. At the end of the short, the dark humor of Too Many Cooks sees the short parody slasher horrors, something Rick & Morty has also indulged in countless times throughout its four seasons. However, “Total Rickall” actually ends with more of an action/Western-movie style shootout, rather than a stalk-and-slash massacre.
Frankenstein (or rather, Frankenstein’s monster, as Rick learns) appears in the episode. At first, the role is only a brief background cameo, as the iconic character/ Universal movie monster is seen in the crowd of new characters early in the action of “Total Rickall”. However, Frankenstein soon appears in a flashback to a sitcom-style memory of Jerry getting his head caught in the staircase (a very in-character fabrication by the parasites). Later in the episode, Frankenstein appears in a flashback to Rick’s time in Vietnam — before this is revealed to, of course, be one of the episode’s many false memories.
The actual name of the “Tom Cruise movie where he’s making drinks” (erroneously referred to as Cuisine by Rick) is Cocktail, a bizarre dramedy from 1988 that sees the star play a very impressive bartender. It’s not the only time that a Tom Cruise movie has been mocked on the series, with Edge of Tomorrow providing both the title and the general premise of the show’s season 4 debut, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Repeat”. Cocktail is, however, definitely the most obscure movie referenced in the episode, although to the credit of the Roger Donaldson-directed dramedy, it was a success with audiences upon its initial release (if not critics).
The cutaway gags that flash “back” to scenes that viewers have never seen before are set up in the style of Seth MacFarlane’s famous animated sitcom Family Guy. This gag style is a format rarely (if ever) used by Rick & Morty outside of this episode, with most of Rick & Morty’s throwaway gags being limited to the show’s “Interdimensional Cable” specials or the non-canon, Lee Hardcastle-animated Rick & Morty movie parodies. Whether Rick & Morty was mocking Family Guy’s reliance on cutaway gags or affectionately referencing the most famous aspect of the show is up for debate, but borrowing the format for this outing is a clear nod to the series.
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