From Rick and Morty to Bojack Horseman: 5 shows changing the face of animated television for adults

Jack Shepherd

From Family Guy to South Park, there has always been a healthy appetite for animated shows aimed at adults - but they’ve nearly always followed the same comedy schtick.

In turn, the crude, fart-joke humour of Peter Griffin and Cartman has often left older generations turning their noses up at cartoons, dismissing Fox, Adult Swim and Comedy Central’s outputs as prepubescent.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, though, animated television have begun to truly ‘grow up’, becoming serialised dramas rather than straight comedy (in part, thanks to the death of the rerun and birth of the binge).

So, where to begin when watching these adult-aimed animations? Look no further, as here are five of the best shows changing the face of animated television.

Bojack Horseman

Will Arnett voices the titular character, a washed-up, alcoholic horse known around America for starting in '90s family sitcom called Horsin' Around. Riddled with insecurities, depression, and a tendency to party too hard, Bojack’s story is an all-out rollercoaster that’s both funny and deeply moving.

Upon initial release, the first five episodes of Bojack Horseman were highly criticised by reviewers, many complaining the Netflix series was littered with similar issues as other animated comedies. However, as the show progressed, viewers realised how great Bojack really is.

Highlight: ‘Fish Out of Water’ - Yes, we’re recommending you watch a silent television episode about an animated horse. Despite having no dialogue, season three’s mid-way point was one of the finest twenty minutes of television released last year, winning praise across the board. Vulture described it as ‘must watch’, so what are you waiting for?

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty follows a Grandpa and his Grandchild as they go on bonkers adventures through multiple dimensions and universes. While each episode can be taken at face-value for containing ridiculous (and sometimes childish) jokes, Rick and Morty features some of the best writing currently on television; gags turning into scathing critiques of religion, inter-dimensional travel making us question life’s meaning, and the government always suck.

Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s show may be Adult Swim property, but over here in the UK, the show has amassed a huge fan-following after being made available on streaming services. The first episode of season three has already won praise from numerous critics, thanks to both sharp writing and fantastic use of continuity.

Highlight: ‘Total Rickall’ - In ‘Total Rickall’, the Smith family are stuck in quarantine because the house has been infested with shape-shifting, memory altering parasites. As the show progressed through season two, other family members - Beth, Jerry, Summer, and Mr Poopybutthole - were all given more moments to shine, none-so-much as this brilliant and hilarious episode.

Archer

As with all great espionage shows, Archer’s main character is called Archer, full names Sterling Malory Archer, a James Bond-like hero who happens to be a womanising secret agent. Chock full of pop-culture references and hilarious set-pieces, Archer has become must-watch television for everyone.

Originally on FX, Archer is one of the shows that helped kick off the recent fascination with adult aimed comedies. Now, while you can watch Archer as an episodic show, there are some fantastic serialised jokes you won’t want to miss - plus, like Rick and Morty, the show has become particularly popular in the UK thanks to being hosted on Netflix.

Also recommend: Frisky Dingo - From the maker’s of Archer, Frisky Dingo was two seasons of ridiculous gags, mocking superheroes and action films. One of the main supervillains, Killface, even runs for President of the United States after accidentally solving the Global Warming crises (and only after trying to destroy the world), something that doesn’t seem too far fetched considering today’s political climate.

South Park

Yes, while I mocked Cartman in this article’s opening paragraph, South Park changed quite significantly for seasons 19 and 20 - both to acclaim and criticism. Rather than following the episodic antics of the South Park kids, Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to make story arcs continue over entire seasons, revitalising the series.

The better of the two seasons was no-doubt 19, which saw Mr. Garrison build a wall around America to keep out Canadians, spurring him on to run for President of the United States (that episode aired in September 2015). The show then spent numerous episodes criticising political correctness, sponsored online content, and gun politics. It was all wonderfully funny and poignant.

Highlight: ‘Where My Country Gone?’ - South Park was lampooning Donald Trump very early on with an incredibly funny storyline featuring Mr. Garrison. Unfortunately, Parker and Stone played there hand too early, quickly running out of material against Trump in season 20, the creators having seemingly not thought the current President would actually get elected.

Moral Orel

Yes, this one actually came out in 2005, but was really quite great. Each episode was only around 12 minutes long, but they managed to satirically take jabs at Christianity and deconstruct American family life. You can watch the first episode of the Adult Swim show below which basically sets the weird tone for season one and two.

During season three, everything changed. Orel’s alcoholic, abusive father was no longer a joke, but a dramatic character with large amounts of depth. The writers decided to tackle higher concepts through numerous episodes, getting so serious that the show was cancelled because everything got a little too dark.

Creator Dino Stamatopoulos explained in an interview with Vice: “[Producer, Mike] Lazzo wrote me after reading the episode ‘Numb’ and said, ‘There's only one joke in this script.’ I wrote him back, tongue-in-cheek, and said ‘Well, tell me where the joke is and I'll take it out.’ He said, ‘Well, I hope they get funnier.’”

Season three of Moral Orel, while not exactly Adult Swim’s best known animation, ended up being the precursor to Bojack Horseman: it’s not difficult to imagine that, if the show appeared on streaming services today, Stamatopoulos may still be writing the show now.

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