How Different Would ‘Rick and Morty’ Be If Bryan Cranston Nailed His Audition for Jerry?

In some other dimension, possibly outside of the Central Finite Curve, Bryan Cranston is the voice of Jerry Smith on Rick and Morty. And, in that universe, Chris Parnell is the one who knocks.

When Parnell, an eight-year Saturday Night Live veteran and a longtime sitcom staple, joined the cast of Rick and Morty for its inaugural season in 2012, it was an obvious fit. By that time, Parnell was three seasons into his tenure playing Cyril Figgis on Archer, a nebbishy, unconfident and disrespected accountant at the spy agency that was once and never again known as ISIS. On Rick and Morty, Parnell plays a nebbishy, unconfident, disrespected, and perpetually unemployed father, Jerry Smith, whose paternal authority has been entirely hijacked by his space-faring inventor father-in-law. Parnell is a perfect fit for the role, and, barring any dark, disgusting news developments surrounding the star, he’ll probably continue playing the many Jerrys in the many Rick and Morty universes for as long as the show is on the air — or, about 89 more years.

But before Parnell scored the perfect voice role, another beloved sitcom actor threw his porkpie hat and black shades into the ring — at the tail end of his universally celebrated performance as Walter White on Breaking Bad, Cranston auditioned for the Adult Swim flagship show to play Parnell’s eventual part. We’ve seen what happened to Cronenberg Jerry — now we want Heisenberg Jerry.

Neither the Rick and Morty team nor Cranston have revealed why exactly the star wasn’t chosen for the part. It seems eminently likely that, with Breaking Bad in its final season in late-2012 to early-2013 and with many, many more Emmy awards for which Cranston would campaign around the corner, he simply didn’t have the time in his schedule to do a voice role for a bizarro Adult Swim show based on a debased Back to the Future parody. 

Nevertheless, Harmon and his writers are clearly still fans of Cranston and his work, as Rick and Morty is littered with references to Breaking Bad. Most notably, in the Season Three premiere “Rickshank Rickdemption,” the memory version of Rick lives in a house that was clearly modeled after a certain New Mexican abode, though Rick’s roof is absent of any pizza.

If Cranston landed the part, you’d have to assume that the recent increase in respect that Jerry receives from the rest of the family — Rick especially — would have begun much earlier in the series. Parnell perfectly reaches those nasal peaks in his voice that make it so easy for the audience to laugh at his character’s expense, while Cranston’s signature growl certainly would have commanded a little more deference.

Though Cranston is, obviously, a sitcom legend for playing Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, it’s hard to see how his performance as Jerry would in any way meet or exceed what Parnell’s done with the part. For all his talents, Cranston hasn’t shown himself nearly as capable as Parnell at playing the most pathetic worm (literally) in millions of dimensions, and the level of prostration required for the part would be hard for an audience to buy given that they just watched Jerry build up and burn down a meth empire.

As much as we’d love to see just a single episode with Cranston playing Jerry, Harmon and his crew made the right casting choice with Parnell. After all, you can’t have two guys building completely unrealistic killer robots in the same family.

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Keegan Kelly