How Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s Partnership Fell Apart
It’s been two weeks since Adult Swim cut ties with Rick and Morty co-creator and voice actor Justin Roiland after he was hit with felony domestic violence charges – but the relationship between Roiland and his former partner Dan Harmon had been all-but-severed for years prior to the formal split, according to Adult Swim insiders.
Earlier today, The Hollywood Reporter released their deep-dive into the implosion of Roiland’s animated empire, and their sources told the story of a once-fruitful creative collaboration that spiraled into absolute acrimony between Roiland and Harmon. Despite Adult Swim’s efforts to mend the fractured partnership with the help of a professional mediator, Roiland and Harmon allegedly haven’t been on speaking terms for several seasons, and Roiland’s involvement in Rick and Morty had been reduced entirely to recording his voice parts from home and submitting them without direction by the time the domestic violence allegations became public knowledge.
According to accounts from inside the Rick and Morty writers’ room, what began as a fruitful friendship and an award-winning collaboration turned into a bitter, resentful and irreconcilable schism – while Rick and Morty fans were blindsided by the allegations that led to Roiland’s departure from the show, for Harmon and his staff, it was the last straw.
The collaboration between Roiland and Harmon began at Harmon’s immensely influential comedic film festival “Channel 101” where Roiland represented the most chaotic, subversive and shocking voice of comedy’s fringe. When Harmon was unceremoniously booted from his role as the showrunner of Community, Adult Swim approached the acerbic television savant and asked him to write a new series for the network – Harmon, self-conscious about his fit at a network known for rebellious and envelope-pushing humor, recruited Roiland to be the loose cannon cop to Harmon’s by-the-book pencil pusher.
Harmon and Roiland adapted Roiland’s animated short series, a Back to the Future parody called “Doc and Mharti,” into a full-length show that quickly became Adult Swim’s flagship program as its critical and commercial success in just its inaugural season broke precedents and built a rabid fanbase that would become the butt of every joke on the internet in just a few short years. “Everyone was calling Dan and Justin geniuses,” a source close to the duo reported – but success brings scrutiny and raising standards, and the first cracks of the fracture began to show in just the second season.
While the first season of Rick and Morty was loose, playful and free-flowing, Harmon had higher ambitions for season two – said one insider, “When Harmon wants something to be even better, it means later nights, it means being more careful, it means saying yes to fewer silly ideas, and Justin is the king of silly ideas.” Harmon revamped the show’s writers’ room, bringing in his colleagues from Community to counterbalance the zanier voices that Roiland recruited from “Channel 101” for the first season.
“They just weren’t going to mix,” one source said of the writers who were Roiland’s hires and Harmon’s sitcom ringers. “Dan is all on the page and mathematical about story breaking, and these guys that Justin hired were like, ‘Look, I drew a turd with eyes, let’s do a story about that,'” they said. Suddenly, Roiland wasn’t as engaged in the writers’ room as he had been when the show started, and his disinterest in the dissection of story elements in the Harmon style was widely apparent. Said the source of Roiland, “This is a guy who likes being home with his dogs, not in a room with writers, and he wasn’t afraid to say that.”
By season three, Rick and Morty was a cultural institution and a finely-tuned storytelling machine of Harmon’s making, while Roiland was “surly, petulant, uncommunicative and grouchy, like he always wished he was doing something else.” Allegedly, Roiland would interrupt writing sessions to take “his guys” in the writers’ room across the street from the show’s offices in Burbank, California to a Toys ‘R’ Us to buy nerf guns and action figures, “Then he played with them the rest of the day and we couldn’t get any work done.”
In the middle of that third season, Roiland stopped showing up to writers’ room altogether, relegating himself to his voice performances – except when a celebrity wanted a tour of the offices. Roiland would usually only show up to work when he was accompanied by celebrity fans such as Kanye West, the Impractical Jokers cast or porn star Riley Reid. The third season also marked the introduction of female writers to Rick and Morty, and Roiland’s outspoken sexual appetite became an uncomfortable element in the show’s culture.
Roiland would regularly talk about how he and his fiance engaged in threesomes, with one writer saying, “It was something we just ignored because it was disgusting.” Roiland allegedly sent one female staffer a late night text telling her to come to his house – “She didn’t want to run it up the flagpole,” said one source, “and then it was just this really fucked-up, awkward thing.”
By the end of the internally tumultuous third season of Rick and Morty, the relationship between Harmon and Roiland had become so combative that a professional mediator was hired to try to mend the partnership that sparked the megahit series – Harmon and Roiland managed to put aside their differences to sign on for the show through ten seasons, but it was clear to both creators that the personal relationship was unsalvageable.
For the next three seasons, Roiland had become such a distant presence at Rick and Morty that many writers staffers reported that they had never actually met the co-creator and voice star – even on Zoom calls. Sources from Roiland’s other animated shows – such as Hulu’s Koala Man and Solar Opposites – reported similar behavior wherein Roiland would record his voice roles from home and separate himself from any other responsibilities on the projects. “He knew the power of being the voices,” said one source close to Roiland who claimed that Roiland considered his key voice roles to be his safeguard against future firings.
Clearly, Roiland was mistaken in his belief that his unique voice was a valuable enough asset to protect him from being ousted – all three of his animated shows are now in the process of recasting his roles after cutting ties. Two weeks ago, Roiland seemed to be an irreplaceable voice both creatively and literally – in light of these revelations, it looks like the only hard part of removing Roiland from Rick and Morty will be finding the TikToker with the best impression.