Lots of popular shows have that one character that everyone loathes; TWIN PEAKS fans tend to groan whenever that pouty biker James is mentioned, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER viewers got tired of Dawn’s whiny teen angst pretty quick, and everyone who grew up watching the various iterations of SCOOBY DOO knows that Scrappy Doo is the worst. But the supporting character that seems to draw almost unanimous ire amongst its show’s fan base is Jerry Smith, the bumbling and pitiable father of Morty Smith in RICK AND MORTY.
Before I get into this, I need to touch on something: As a film/TV viewer, I have an almost pathological tendency to sympathize with characters, and sometimes real-life people, that everyone else seems to hate. Maybe it’s a holdover from my teen years; I can still recall the times in my past where I was treated like a persona non-grata, therefore I find myself compelled to stand in that hated individual’s corner, with the notable exceptions of Nazis and pedophiles (sorry Richard Spencer & Gary Glitter, you’re on your own). My motivation to stick up for Jerry is roughly 90% personal right off the top. In addition, I can concede that he is, in fact, a pathetic person on the whole. There are many examples of him saying and doing stupid things that earn him scorn. Yet I’m still ready to go to bat for Jerry Smith.
First off, let’s address one of Jerry’s most defining but least discussed characteristics: He’s the only character in the show who, from the beginning of the pilot episode, recognizes that Rick is a manipulative garbage person who is a negative influence on his son. In the show’s infancy, we laughed at Jerry, seeing him as the typical square parent who just doesn’t get Rick & Morty’s special love-hate bond fueled by super-science adventure. But as the show has progressed, and we have witnessed Rick’s willingness to use his family and friends as a means to an end time and time again, Jerry’s suspicions have been completely validated. I even found myself on his side when he was pleading with Beth and his children to turn Rick in to the Galactic feds in the season two finale (“THE WEDDING SQUANCHERS”). At what point does sheltering a guy whose concerns for your wellbeing are, at best, begrudgingly expressed become a detriment that can’t be ignored? Hell, even Morty’s getting tired of Rick’s shtick at this point, if the ending of “THE RICKSHANK REDEMPTION” is any indication.
Another one of Jerry’s more admirable qualities is that he’s self-aware enough to recognize his shortcomings, when he isn’t busy being defensive about them. He genuinely cares about his relationship with his wife and children, and has the guts to admit when he’s made missteps; In “SOMETHING RICKED THIS WAY COMES” an attack of conscience forces him to humble himself and admit to delusional Plutonians that they are not residing on a planet, and his talk afterwards with Morty sees him finding comfort in the notion that his son thinks he’s a good dad, warts and all.
And even though he constantly fumbles as a husband, his earnest attempts to keep his marriage afloat are admirable (let’s be real, Beth does seem to have issues meeting him halfway on this; she’s her father’s daughter in a lot of ways). His elaborate gesture of love that lets Beth get another chance at performing surgery on that wounded deer in “A RICKLE IN TIME” shows that he understands how much pride his wife takes in her work, and his decision to take Beth out to dinner in order to show her some much-needed attention in “MEESEEKS AND DESTROY” is what tips those lovable blue bastards over the edge, but reminds her why she loves and (sort of) supports him.
Speaking of that episode, Jerry utters one of my favorite quotes in recent memory while he’s struggling to take two goddamn strokes off of his golf game: “HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO RELAX?! IT IS A PARADOX!” I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of freezing up in tense situations. Putting me on the spot is the surest way to screw up my performance, and I know that a lot of people out there feel the same way. Jerry’s also the patron saint for any person who’s no good with comebacks. One of the best lines in the whole show, if not the best line in the whole show so far, comes out of Jerry after Rick burns him for a bad joke in “RAISING GAZORPAZORP”. We can see Jerry’s attempts to think up a retort as his face visibly twists and tightens, only for it to result with contrived taunt. When he launches his weak counter and Beth asks him why he bothered to make the effort, he shouts back “LIFE IS EFFORT AND I’LL STOP WHEN I DIE!” I honestly can’t think up a sentence that more perfectly sums up my views of existence on this mad, spinning mud ball.
That’s where Jerry’s true strength as a character comes in; He’s the insert for every awkward, insecure person who’s struggling to find exactly where they fit in, who question their self worth. Sure, Rick is fun because the he’s the brash id who gets to basically say and do whatever he wants, which plays on our desires and leads us to put ourselves in his shoes, but at the end of the day, the majority of us are more like Jerry, struggling to do better and maintain our relationships, freaking out and whispering to ourselves “Why am I so mediocre?”
And that’s why you hate him so much, isn’t it, random person reading this? You hate Jerry because you wake up in the morning knowing damn well that when you look inside yourself, you’re more of a Jerry than a Rick, and that just tears you up inside, doesn’t it? DOESN’T IT?!
I. Rest. My. Case.