Rick Sanchez, the brilliant protagonist of Adult Swim’s acclaimed animated series “Rick and Morty,” has a knack for inventing clever, and at times, sinister gadgets. In Season 6’s “Night Family” episode, he introduces a “somnambulator,” a device that enables his family to perform tedious tasks (like doing the dishes) in their sleep. As expected, nothing good comes of it.

Written by Rob Schrab and directed by Jacob Hair, the episode is competing for the animated program Emmy this year with “Bob’s Burgers,” “Entergalactic,” “Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal” and “The Simpsons.” Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, “Rick and Morty” follows the misadventures of mad scientist Rick and his good-hearted grandson Morty, as they travel to different planets and dimensions with the rest of their family. The show has been nominated five times and won the Emmy twice — in 2018 and 2020.

Executive producer Steve Levy points out that the nominated episode was one of the first times the fantasy-sci-fi show experimented with the horror genre. “We really got to dig into what makes the horror B-movie genre special,” he says. “We were able to use lighting, color and shadows and jump scares in ways we’d never done before. As a result, the episode really stood out as one of the past season’s best ones.”

A woman holds a rifle while riding in a vehicle with a cracked windshield being driven by an older man in "Rick and Morty."

The “Night Family” episode is one of the first times the fantasy-sci-fi show experimented with the horror genre.

(Warner. Bros Discovery)

Levy mentions that the episode’s veteran writer Schrab is a huge B-movie fan. “It’s really a love letter to the movies he grew up loving,” Levy says. “There’s definitely an homage to John Carpenter movies and classics like Stuart Gordon’s ‘From Beyond.’ The drones in the episode even look like the Daleks in ‘Doctor Who.’ Rob actually drew those designs. There’s also a nod to the spinning wheel in ‘Sleeping Beauty.’”

In addition to the horror references, the episode also spotlights the eccentric family’s dynamics. “The writing was great, because not only is it very funny, it is also one of the few episodes that keeps the family really close,” says the producer. “The emotional core is really there as it explores the deep-seated problems that the family members have with each other through the zombie-like, sleeping versions of themselves.”

Levy, who has been with the show since its second season, and also produced the FXX animated series “Little Demon,” believes the series is special because the writers can do anything with the characters and go anywhere. “Another reason is because we have some of the most talented folks I have ever worked with,” he says. “It can get really challenging at times because there are often so many rewrites, and we really want to push the art. We also had some character design changes late in the game, but the artists and writers really work well together.”

He also gives lots of credit to the two studios producing the 2D animation for the series — Bardel Entertainment in Canada and Lighthouse Studios in Ireland. “It’s really a labor of love, and they do an amazing job,” he adds. “Our asset count, which is every piece of art produced for the show, is to the roof. A normal half-hour show usually has about 100 to 200 assets, while some of our episodes need 600 to 800 assets.”

In the animated "Rick and Morty" a man and a boy in a laboratory are engulfed in flames down to their bones.

Things go disastrously wrong in “Rick and Morty’s” Emmy-nominated “Night Family” episode.

(Warner. Bros Discovery)

A big fan of animated shows such as “Doug,” “Rugrats,” “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Samurai Jack,” Levy says it’s been surreal to be nominated for an Emmy alongside his heroes. “To think that our show is nominated in the same category as ‘Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal’ is such a surreal experience. He’s a real legend!”

Unfortunately, the “Rick and Morty” staff also had to deal with unforeseen challenges earlier this year when co-creator and lead voice star Justin Roiland was charged with domestic violence. While those charges were dismissed a few months later, Adult Swim and Hulu cut ties with him. As a result, new actors will be used to voice the two lead roles for the upcoming seventh season of the show.

“We had a rug pulled from underneath us,” Levy acknowledges. “The only people we could lean on were each other. It would have been very easy to just say, ‘I’m done and I don’t want to do anything with this show anymore.’ But our crew said, ‘No, we’re not going to let one person drag down all of our hard work.’ This show is created by this team — this family of incredibly hardworking people, and we are going to push through and show the world that we aren’t going to miss a beat. The work that we’re doing across the board has only gotten better. When the new season comes out, we’ll focus on how amazing it all turned out. We hope the fans will realize that this is the same old show, maybe even better!”


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