Time Travel, the Bumbling Art of Love, Dating and Relationships

I’m a really big fan of Back to the Future. So when I heard about this random somewhat new cartoon called Rick and Morty, I was a bit dubious. The show features a tall lanky alcoholic scientist grandfather with wily grey hair and a lab coat, and a young boy that shares that high pitch exasperated squeal that Michael J. Fox featured in the film.

Don’t know what I’m talking about – because like me you fell behind on all those Adult Swim and Cartoon Network shows out there, or you don’t do recreational drugs often – check this out.

martymorty-1600x1000Now before you think I’m going to go on about how a sacred film was ripped off I want to say I’m not. I’ve become a fan.

The creator, Justin Roiland, based the main characters on Dr. Brown and Marty. He originally did it as a parody of the two partners submitting The Adventures of Doc and  Mharti to something called Channel 101. [Channel 101 is a short film festival in Los Angeles co-created by Dan Harmon, and Rob Schrab where people submit 5 minute pilots and the audience votes on who should keep going.] Roiland’s pilot episode was an amalgam of sick and crude humor where apparently the basic premise was Doc trying to convince Mharti to perform oral sex on him. The crowd loved it and voted it on week after week. The Adventures of Doc and Mharti continued to be made by Justin, to the delight of audience members.

To make a long story short after being fired from Community, Dan Harmon was approached by Adult Swim for a primetime hit. He remembered Roiland’s shorts and the two of them worked on a pitch and pilot. Retooling the characters and building a domestic family around the two, Doc Brown transformed into Rick Sanchez –  the slightly insane, alcoholic genius scientist grandfather. While Mharti morphed to Morty (see what they did there) a dimwitted 14 year old boy. They all live in the suburbs with their Father Jerry Smith, the mother Beth (nee Sanchez) and Morty’s sister Summer.

The show mixes intergalactic science fiction fantasy with domestic every day family “drama.” It’s enough science fantasy adventure to keep things silly and off kilter, while still staying grounded with real issues when on earth and dealing with the family dynamic.

So why am I telling you all this? You could have likely read this all on Wikipedia (and I’ve included links throughout the write up.)

Because it’s a great show and you should get on board but also because I just watched Season 1 Episode 6 – Rick Potion #9 and the episode was so different from what you normally see on any cartoon family show ie Simpsons, Family Guy or … ugh American Dad. The premise is Morty wants a girl in his class to like him and Rick creates a love potion that is the pheromones of a vole (a species that mate for life) with Morty’s DNA. The potion works but because it’s Flu season the potion mutates and not only does hilarity ensue but absolute madness. And that is really an understatement.

But that’s not what got me. It was the ending. It was, in my mind, something akin to… dare I say… an Empire Strikes Back like ending. It was unexpected, and haunting. What surprised me the most was the show acknowledged the devices used when things go off the rails – Dues Ex Machina, or the favorite dream sequence. I fully expected Morty to wake up from a fever dream.

After all it was flu season. But they didn’t. Justin Roiland was the writer of that episode and admits it was his favorite of the first season.

It just seemed so unlike a cartoon to have such a dark ending – it twinges on a notion of the self, of life and death and what if anything does anything mean. And while I don’t make any sense right now, if you watch the show you’ll note 2 episodes later Morty brings up that moment (revelation) to his sister Beth.

I’m doing my best to avoid giving anything away. But it was very real, and very telling, and most of all touching.


One of the other reasons I loved that episode (Rick Potion #9) was the B-story line that focused on Jerry and Beth’s relationship. Relationships have always been an interesting topic and I’ve read up a many books (mostly by John Gottman) on healthy and successful relationship building.  One sure-fire way of rekindling a dull or troubled relationship, is through a shared experience. The experience though has to be done together, and it helps when it not only elevates your dopamine and oxytocin levels but having adrenaline thrown into the mix doesn’t hurt either. (Couple can consider doing those Tough Mudder marathons). In the episode Jerry and Beth are thrust together in a Mad Max meets the Walking Dead like reality where they have to fight their way through the streets to find safety. I guess nothing brings people together like a life or death situation.

Studies have shown that these moments can also be synthesized. Unlike like Morty we all don’t have a DNA splicer at our disposal, but luckily we have another way that involves way less mad-science and more social science. It’s called Misattribution of Arousal or the Capilano Bridge Experiment. All you will need is:

1) A large suspension bridge in the world. (Or similar)

2) An attractive female in the middle of the bridge

3) clipboard with survey

4) Male subject willing to answer said survey at the middle of the bridge.


Men would walk to the middle of the bridge to the attractive female and then asked a few questions. Then they were given the option to call the attractive female afterwards if they had any questions on the survey they took. The experiment was repeated on a more sturdy (normal) bridge (with different male subjects of course.) The scientists concluded that more men on the suspension bridge follow up with a phone call to the attractive female “confederate” (what the call the person in on the experiment) because the men attributed their fear and anxiety response caused by being suspended on the bridge with romantic feelings towards the woman.


Dr. Helen Fisher who is a leading expert in love and attraction science, likens Romantic love to more of a drive than an emotion, lighting up parts of the brain similar to those who do cocaine. Basically it releases the same chemicals – mainly dopamine. Ah dopamine.

The trouble with the drive and release of chemicals is that even something like a casual encounter can be mistaken for love because the brain releases those same chemicals after a little boom-boom. Sex releases dopamine – increasing arousal and sexual gratification, and oxytocin – the feel-good-cuddle chemical also known as the bonding or intimacy hormone.

The trouble in these situations – outside of the potential awkwardness (fun time) of a one-night stand – is you also potentially have the misattribution of arousal. You leave the one-night stand thinking you may really like them, or LOVE THEM, but it could have just been all dem chemicals making you feel soooo goooooood.

Dr. Fisher ended her TED Talk with a story about a grad student who was very much in love with a fellow grad student. Unfortuantely the feelings were not mutual. The two were at a conference in Beijing, China and the young grad student was determined to make his female classmate fall in love with him. He arrange a very thrilling rickshaw ride through the streets of Beijing in hopes of raising her adrenaline and dopamine levels. The ride was indeed exciting, and they held onto each other through every bump and turn in the road. And at the end when the dismounted from the rickshaw the female grad student turned to her counterpart and said “What an incredible experience I can barely catch my breath. And did you see how hot the driver was!”

I believe there aren’t any shortcuts to a meaningful relationships. Tricks and games just end up being just that.

While sex is a healthy and important part of a relationship it might be best not to base whether you get into a relationship with that person on the awesome night of sex you have with them.  It’s just those gosh-darn chemicals. There is a lot more to a healthy relationship than sex. If that were the case more people would marry their bag of cocaine. (Which would make your dealer your best man, and trust me no one wants that.)

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