Rick and Morty returned to Adult Swim in a wild ride of an episode Sunday after a five-month mid-season break, and it brought a spoof of some other animated characters with it. In one scene, mad scientist Rick Sanchez tells his grandson Morty Smith to turn to "my best friend and personal savior, Jesus Christ." Then the two are joined by a group of other animated characters -- including spoof versions of Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, stars of Christian entertainment series VeggieTales.
Family-friendly VeggieTales, which Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki began in 1993, might seem like an odd mix with racy, profane Rick and Morty, But Nawrocki told me he took the spoof in the best possible way.
"You know that when you are being satirized, you've left an impression," Nawrocki said in an email. "From Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons to now Rick and Morty, it's great that Bob and Larry are recognized as characters who remind kids that God made them special and he loves them very much."
Nawrocki said he didn't know the Rick and Morty spoof was coming, only hearing about it on Wednesday, several days after it aired. He teaches film and animation at Lipscomb University in Nashville, and one of his students sent him a link to the parody.
"I think the only major VeggieTales sendup I knew was coming was the Saturday Night Live one," Nawrocki told me, referring to a 2002 SNL skit called Religetables. "I believe we've been spoofed three times on The Simpsons and each of those was also a surprise."
The VeggieTales stars make an appearance when Rick and Morty seem to be trapped by the shirtless and studly Story Lord character. And in what seems like a completely off-the-wall decision for atheist Rick, he urges his grandson to fall to his knees with him and pray to "my best friend and personal savior, Jesus Christ."
By bringing religion into the episode, Rick and Morty successfully defeat the Story Lord character, who's on a train monitoring the episode. It's meta and complicated, but essentially, once religion enters the show, dials and indicators marked "narrative energy," "marketability," "broad appeal" and "relatability" all plunge, and the Story Lord screams out in frustration.
The VeggieTales characters aren't alone -- they're joined by a smiling cross Rick calls "Crossy," a dinosaur he calls "Biblesaurus," a celery stalk dubbed Mr. Celery, a walking Bible and others.
While fans are still debating the entire episode, this particular scene, called Rick's Prayer, was a hit when Adult Swim posted it to YouTube on Tuesday. In just two days, it's been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Joked one viewer in the comments, "THEORY: Pickle Rick is an old, jaded Cucumber Larry."
Rick and Morty returns to Adult Swim on May 10 with Promortyus, an episode spoofing the Alien movie series.