JUSTIN ROILAND, the co-creator of Adult Swim’s smash hit “Rick and Morty,” told Comic Riffs this summer, only partly in jest, that while writing the show, he has feared angering its millions of hardcore fans.
Perhaps McDonald’s should take the cue, because on Saturday, the burger chain managed to do just that.
In April, Roiland expressed his nostalgic love for McDonald’s limited Szechuan sauce — a promotional tie-in during the 1998 release of Disney’s “Mulan” — by incorporating it into a “Rick and Morty” plotline. In response, the fast-food titan sent the Cartoon Network creator/voice actor an industrial-size bottle.
After Roiland tweeted images of the mailed dipping sauce over the summer, fans of “Rick and Morty” — a.k.a. the No. 1 show among millennials — continued to grow a mass hankering for the Szechuan goodness. A Change.org petition to bring back the sauce drew about 45,000 supporters.
McDonald’s heard the call and promised a “super limited” release of the sauce on Saturday, only at select locations.
But the chain failed to anticipate the high demand — despite the Szechuan-sauce episode topping 11 million viewers. It delivered only 20 sauce packets to some locations. Others received zero promised packets. Soon, #RickAndMorty and #SzechuanSauce were trending on Twitter.
Now, containers of the sauce are for sale on eBay for hundreds of dollars for a single, wee packet.
Some fans have called for a boycott of McDonald’s. Others posted photos of themselves eating chicken nuggets and tenders at competing fast-food places.
McDonald’s apologized Sunday, emphasizing that the sauce was “super-limited.” And on Monday, the company realized it needed to do more: The brand has promised to bring back Szechuan Sauce in greater quantities, and to more locations, later this winter.
One Washington Post reporter was among those “Rick and Morty” fans who went questing Saturday for the fabled sauce, driving to three Maryland locations — one of them listed as an official “participating” outlet — and none had received a Szechuan shipment. One restaurant tried to pawn off Sriracha sauce. Another tried to sell the tangy Signature sauce. And a third outlet’s shift manager came to the drive-thru window to apologize profusely — clearly this wasn’t her first “Rick and Morty”-related apology of the day.
Fans’ frenzy for the sauce mimics that of the multiverse-hopping, ethically challenged mad genius Rick Sanchez in the episode in question, which aired by surprise on April Fools’ Day of this year. Rick draws upon a memory of going to a McDonald’s drive-through and ordering Chicken McNuggets with Szechuan sauce. By episode’s end, Rick declares his life’s goal: He must score more of the sauce that ceased production so long ago. (Not that time is any impediment to a desired condiment in the portal-dependent series, co-created by Dan Harmon.)
If there’s any upside to the incident, it’s that it underscored the pop-culture power of “Rick and Morty,” which just finished airing Season 3.
As Rick would say: Wubba Lubba Dub Dub.