What ‘Ren and Stimpy’ Can and Can’t Tell Us About the Future of ‘Rick and Morty’
It’s hard to believe that, up until last month, the biggest Rick and Morty-related scandal we all knew about involved culturally-appropriated novelty sauce – but as most of us know by now, the show’s co-creator, Justin Roiland, has been fired by Adult Swim amidst reports that he is facing domestic violence charges stemming from a 2020 criminal complaint. Roiland is also the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, in some cases involving minors, and “grooming” young girls.
Roiland’s downfall has, understandably, sparked an avalanche of comparisons to Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, another acclaimed, boundary-pushing cartoonist who was axed from his own show – and who was revealed to have been a dirtbag who allegedly groomed underage fans.
So is it possible that the story of John K. can offer any insight into the future of Rick and Morty? It’s tough to say; in some ways, the two situations are very similar – but in other ways, they couldn’t be more different.
Obviously, there’s an artistic connection; Roiland has claimed that Ren & Stimpy was a major influence on Rick and Morty, as he told one interviewer: “I was only 12 when that show first came out, and it had a huge impact in shifting my perception about what could be done stylistically and tonally in animation.” Plus, both Kricfalusi and Roiland not only co-created their shows but also voiced lead characters. And, of course, both were canned by their respective networks.
Not unlike what’s happening with Roiland and Dan Harmon, following Kricfalusi’s departure, the show was entrusted to his “former partner,” Ren & Stimpy co-creator Bob Camp. And, as will soon be the case with Rick, Morty, and presumably Mr. Poopybutthole, the role of Ren was recast, with legendary voice actor Billy West taking on the part while continuing to perform Stimpy.
But a key difference is that Kricfalusi wasn’t sent packing because of any criminal allegations or reports of misconduct – those revelations came much later. According to Nickelodeon, Kricfalusi was dismissed purely because his “meticulous production techniques” routinely ensured that he wasn’t meeting production deadlines. As Bob Camp later recalled, Ren & Stimpy was “f**ked from the beginning.” The week after the first episode aired, “the second cartoon wasn’t delivered, and they had to rerun the first cartoon.”
John K. was even reportedly offered a “creative consultant” position at Nickelodeon’s new studio, Games Animation, which began producing the show in place of his Spumco, Inc. This still would have forced him to relinquish control, and it never actually happened, but still, it’s a far cry from Adult Swim’s swift and definitive excision of Roiland.
There was a perceptible, although not earth-shattering, shift in quality in the later Ren & Stimpy seasons. This makes sense: Kricfalusi was an obsessive and exacting creative force, which is what ultimately led to his fallout with the network. Justin Roiland, on the other hand, from all accounts … hasn’t been doing much of anything?
According to a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, Roiland “simply stopped showing up” during the writing of Rick and Morty’s third season and spent much of his time playing with remote control cars and Nerf guns, like a child who’s been Zoltar-ed into an adult body. And a “substantial number of staffers” from Rick and Morty – as well as his other shows, Solar Opposites and Koala Man – claim to “have never actually met Roiland, even over Zoom.”
One potentially ominous sign for Rick and Morty, if these shows do, in fact, share a similar trajectory: there’s always the chance that Roiland could get control of the series back and run the entire goddamn franchise into the ground. That’s pretty much what happened with Kricfalusi and Ren & Stimpy. In 2003, John K. got to make a new reboot series for Spike TV, and the result was the troubling, sex-filled Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, which was so uniquely awful, it was canceled after just three episodes.
Though, to be fair, that’s pretty much how Rick and Morty began…
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