Now that his career has been destroyed, more stories about Justin Roiland are coming out; whether they’re true is up in the air. Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty with Dan Harmon, was fired by Adult Swim, the network that airs the hit animated sci-fi comedy, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, after news broke that Roiland was facing domestic abuse charges (which were filed in 2020). Hulu, on which his other shows Solar Opposites and Koala Man (the latter of which he only executive-produces) air, followed suit shortly thereafter. The Hollywood Reporter ran an article today with quotes from various anonymous sources connected either to Rick and Morty or Roiland himself that paint a stark picture of what’s been going on with Roiland over the years, from lascivious text messages to sexual harassment and the level of involvement he’s had with Rick and Morty over the years.
First, there are the messages and alleged sexual harassment that have been made public in the wake of the charges coming to light. If the messages are real, they’re creepy and weird, but they aren’t criminal; one is a joke, and the others are sexual propositions. The first few, he supposedly sent to Allie Goertz, a former Mad magazine editor and fan of Rick and Morty who wanted to produce a “concept album” for the show. I’m not reprinting the messages because those cans have worms in them, but you can read them in the THR piece linked above; those are ill-advised, especially to someone you don’t know and who could easily be made uncomfortable, but they’re also obviously jokes. Another one was sent to a tattoo artist and fellow Rick and Morty fan Veronika Sweeney asking if she had a boyfriend and suggesting they hook up at Comic-Con. Again, this is creepy and weird, but not criminal. The final one suggested was to a Rick and Morty staffer asking her to visit his home. That’s the worst one; she’s an employee, so that’s harassment. But it also supposedly happened during Rick and Morty’s third season, which aired in 2017; how did multiple people know about this – multiple people who apparently always hated Roiland – but it never got reported till now?
The timing is what makes me most suspicious of this. I have no doubt these people don’t like Justin Roiland, for whatever reason. The quotes about his sense of humor are probably true, and not everyone is going to take to that. (Why they chose to work on a show like Rick and Morty if that’s their attitude, I have no idea.) They frame Roiland as a harasser of women – which, if the texting stuff is true, he could be – by saying he did things like draw penises on the blackboard in the writers’ room. But that sentence begins by saying that Rick and Morty hiring female writers “didn’t stop him” from using that kind of humor… the kind of humor found in Rick and Morty. In other words, Roiland behaved the way he always had, if this is true, and he didn’t suddenly change the attitude of the writers’ room because women were hired. Again, this was almost six years ago; why is coming out now? My guess is, to pile on to the charges. None of these actions suggest domestic abuse, but they are the sort of thing the media loves to run with when someone famous is facing charges even tangentially related to them. “How could Justin Roiland be innocent of serious abuse charges if he made sexual jokes to women?” If these things are real, I’m sure these women are angry with Roiland – I don’t blame them – but now, they’re trying to get their pound of flesh by ruining his life while he’s vulnerable.
And as for the moral outrage over the jokes from an industry that kissed James Gunn’s ass when he took over DC Studios, spare me. If one person shouldn’t have his life destroyed over jokes, neither should another.
The more interesting part for me is where THR quotes a bunch of Rick and Morty staffers to paint a picture of Justin Roiland as a useless slacker who’s barely involved with Rick and Morty or the other shows to which he’s attached. (In the case of Koala Man, he should take that as a compliment.) The gist is that, after the first two seasons, he did little more than voice work, barely showing up at the office (I guess it was during his infrequent visits that he sexually harassed everyone), and that Dan Harmon quickly became the true creative force behind the show. I’ve heard this suggested before, especially the part where Harmon is more story-driven and cerebral while Roiland is zanier and more gag-oriented. On a selfish level, I want to believe this. I love Rick and Morty, and if you read my thoughts on the show (in this order, if you’re so inclined: 1, 2, 3), you’ll see I tend to appreciate the character arcs, storylines, and sci-fi themes more than the absurdist humor, although I also love the latter. And I’ve greatly enjoyed the last few seasons, in part because the story and characters have gotten more complex. I hate what’s being done to Roiland, but I also want to believe the show will continue to be great without him. And it could be true; I watch those minute-long featurettes after each episode, and I don’t think Roiland has contributed to a single one in the last few years, while Harmon is in all of them. Maybe, outside of voicing Rick, Morty, and other characters (which is going to be a bigger problem than a lot of people are admitting right now – those saying they saw a video of someone doing a good Rick and/or Morty impression are the same idiots who think Sebastian Stan should be the new Luke Skywalker because of a meme), he’s already mostly stepped back from his creation.
Or maybe this is a public relations move by a company desperate to keep its cash cow gushing milk – meaning it needs to keep its fan base intact. The best way to do that would be to turn them against Roiland and convince them that he had little to do with Rick and Morty. Again, the timing of all of this makes me suspicious, as do the anonymous sources who are afraid to go public despite claiming to have the backing of everyone except the guy being canceled. I doubt they’re afraid of Adult Swim discovering their identities; the THR article also says that Roiland’s filing was brought on by a letter they sent to the network and Warner Bros. Discovery “that demanded the company put out a statement and clarify Roiland’s position on the show.” Supposedly, this was because they feared for their jobs and wanted clarity, but it sounds more like they were pushing for Roiland to be fired, especially since some of them “even considered leaking the letter.” If so, that makes Adult Swim and WB look even more cowardly and reactionary, acquiescing to demands rather than waiting to see if the guy who created their hit show is found guilty in court. Roiland is remaining silent, which is a smart move for a man going on trial in a couple of months, regardless of whether he’s innocent. And Harmon declined to participate in the THR piece, which is the decent thing to do. As for the rest of us, we’re where we’ve been from the beginning: having no idea what, if any, of this is true.