Ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe had hit peak fandom, clickbait publications are always quick to look for “shared universes” in any medium, whether it’s in comic books, TV shows, and yes, animation. In our case, a lot is being made about recent episodes of Solar Opposites (The Simpsons) and Rick and Morty (The Simpsons/Futurama/South Park) featuring call-outs or “Easter Eggs” of other series. The problem is, the intent of when this happens usually gets overblown and misunderstood. As mentioned, it’s usually in the guise of “shared universes”, but that isn’t the case at all.
Stuff like this happens because the producers of these series, either have been influenced by, or have even worked for these recent hit series. Guys like the dearly departed J. Michael Mendel(Rick and Morty/Solar Opposites) and Wes Archer(Rick and Morty) were both former producers for series like The Simpsons and Futurama. Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon is certainly part of a chorus of TV producers in the industry now having been influenced by The Simpsons. Rick and Morty’s other co-creator, Justin Roiland, has even told us about how South Park inspired him to draw dirty comics in his school newspaper. Mike McMahan (Solar Opposites) was a former PA on South Park to Scott Rudin.
When Easter Eggs featuring the likes of South Park or The Simpsons show up, it’s not shared universes. It’s paying an homage to the franchises that not only provided employment for a lot of the people mentioned, but from a historical point of view, laid the groundwork for what is now an affluent adult animation industry that is still growing. Just like when depictions of Freddy Kreuger, whether in the form of Robert Englund doing guest voicework or the likes of “Scary Terry” showing up in Rick and Morty, it’s not Freddy inhabiting these worlds, it’s the obvious influence of a pivotal slasher film character getting kudos for scaring the shit out of us kids in the eighties. Futurama gags in Disenchantment? Okay, maybe shared universe, but highly unlikely and probably more of a fun note given that a bunch of the producers inhabited both series at one point or another.
That’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable. I was tickled to death to see this past weekend’s episode of Rick and Morty featuring some of the cast in outfits similar to the kids from that little mountain town that may or may not have given away the ending or Rick name-dropping Futurama and yes, that Moe’s bar in the background. When Solar Opposites shouted The Simpsons, it’s awesome to hear. Shared universe? Maybe some of the producers share a lunchroom, but that’s about it.