Rick and Morty has had phenomenal critical acclaim and success since its 2013 debut, but the animated show, as with so many areas of film and TV, suffered a distinct lack of women behind the scenes.
However, the Adult Swim programme moved to change that and ahead of the third season, hired four female writers – Jane Becker, Sarah Carbiener, Jessica Gao and Erica Rosbe – giving the writing room a 50/50 split (when creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland aren’t counted).
Quelle surprise that when shows dropped with the new writers credited, they instantly elicited cries of “Worst. Episodes. Evah.” from under various rocks, with the wild-eyed fury even extending to doxxing (when an online community will hunt down someone’s personal details in order to harass and abuse them).
But co-creator Harmon isn’t having any of it, branding “the testosterone-based subculture” carrying out the abuse as “disgusting”.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Harmon not only had harsh words for misogynistic internet trolls, but pointed out that the way their writers’ room works, it’s unfair to point to any one writer for perceived issues with an episode.
“High-profile women get doxxed, they get harassed, they get threatened, they get slandered,” he told the publication. “And part of it is a testosterone-based subculture patting themselves on the back for trolling these women. Because to the extent that you get can get a girl to shriek about a frog you’ve proven girls are girly and there’s no crime in assaulting her with a frog because it’s all in the name of proving something.
“I think it’s all disgusting.”
He added: “These knobs, that want to protect the content they think they own – and somehow combine that with their need to be proud of something they have, which is often only their race or gender.
“It’s offensive to me as someone who was born male and white, and still works way harder than them, that there’s some white male [fan out there] trying to further some creepy agenda by ‘protecting’ my work. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I loathe these people. It f**king sucks.”
So far, there have been three episodes with the main writing credit going to female writers, though there are credits for story editing throughout the season. These are 2. Rickmancing the Stone (Becker), 3. Pickle Rick (Gao) and 4. Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender (Carbiener and Rosbe). The third season is currently being aired on Adult Swim and Netflix.
Speaking about the writing process, Harmon explained: “I want to scream at my computer: ‘You idiots, we all write the show together!’ If you can tell the difference between one writer and another on a show I’m running I’ve probably gotten so lazy that it hasn’t all been blended and refined in the usual process.
“The reason one person’s name goes on an episode is that someone has to and everyone deserves one of those times at bat where they have to do all the grunt work – they have to do all the outlining, sometimes, if they’re willing to, they can expand into the post-production process. There’s a bunch of reasons why we don’t accurately reflect how many writers contribute to each episode.”
A quick Twitter search finds references to Becker, Carbiener, Gao and Rosbe as having “ruined” the show, with one writing: “I still love Rick & Morty but rewatching season 1 made me realise the new season isn’t as good & it’s most likely due to the new female writers.”
Another said: “Wow, Glad Rick & Morty HAD to hire super awful female ‘comedy’ writers to hit quota. This is a VERY obvious decline in writing.”
While one went full-on Comic Book Guy: “The Rick and Morty episodes with credited female writers were the worst ones they've made yet.”
Harmon told Entertainment Weekly he became aware of a Reddit thread condemning the abuse, which reportedly included threats and hate mail, and had seen some of the messages sent to writers.
Gao, also the first female writer to be employed by Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken, told The Hollywood Reporter in August that finding a 50/50 writing room was “incredibly rare, unfortunately”, adding: “More often than not, I’m the only woman in the room or the only person of colour – or I’m both.
“So, having a balanced room just makes things a lot easier for women in the sense that you feel you can pitch things and someone else will understand you.”
Though Gao pointed out that having women writers brought “nuance” to the storylines, given the female experience is obviously very different to men’s, Carbiener also said they didn’t feel the female characters of Summer and Beth had previously been sidelined.
“I don’t think they ever didn’t give Summer and Beth their due,” she said. “I think a lot of guys in the room were driving those conversations because they realised we need to tell more of these stories, and now that there are women in the room we can vet them and make them better.
“It wasn’t like we showed up and said, ‘Where are all the Beth episodes?'’”
Rosbe added: “There was probably a slightly more nuanced take on some of them.”
In an interview with thedailybeast.com, Harmon expanded on what he felt women brought to the writing room: “It meant that both the men and the women could increase their attention on Beth and Summer.
“Previous to that, as quote-unquote decent gentlemen in an all-male writer’s room, if we talked about Summer, [...] propriety and craftsmanship made us second-guess ourselves whenever we’d say, “Uh, I don’t know, is that how teenage girls work?” When you have a mixed room, it’s not about the women going, “Here’s a bunch of secrets about women.” It’s more about everyone being freer to just pitch randomness. So the result is you see cool stuff happen with Beth and Summer this season.”
And in The Hollywood Reporter interview, all agreed that there were no issues fitting in with the all-male team.
“I think there was a bit of attention on it,” Becker told the publication. “They hadn’t had female writers before. It was absolutely natural. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got women in the room so we can’t do what we normally do, wink-wink.’ There was no pushback. There was no weirdness.”
It has been noted that Adult Swim does not have any female showrunners, and last year network executive Mike Lazzo attempted to clarify a report that he’d said women in writing rooms cause conflict.
He apologised for his “dumb” words but simultaneously doubled down on sexist sentiment, saying: “What I actually said was women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects.”
Images: Adult Swim