What is the history of the genre? What is the chain of works of art, that led to the adult animated sitcoms like Rick and Morty, Beavis and Butt-Head, South Park, etc? Which one was the first?


Let me try to clarify my question. Every work of art is based on some experience of the earlier works. In this case we say that the previous works influenced it. I ask to build the biggest traceable chain of works that leads to Rick and Morty. Of course this question is subjective to some extent, as it always happens when it comes to art. But I would start to build this chain like this:

Rick and Morty ← South Park ← Griffin family ← The Simpsons ← ... ← The Flintstones ← The Honeymooners ← ...

The Simpsons ← St. Trinian's and Molesworth

(Where ← means "is influenced by")

Being a mathematician I would even say that it would not be a chain, but rather a tree. So it may not be convenient to express it as an ordered list.

The question is interesting, because in Russia, for example, we don't have such a tradition of cartoons at all.

  • 2
    My first thought was The Flintstones, but from your examples, I assume you're looking for cartoon shows with real adult themes? Could you elaborate?
    – Walt
    Oct 3, 2017 at 21:08
  • 3
    The notion that animations are for children is quite modern, Steamboat Willie was shown in cinemas before the film Gang War, which is definitely not suitable for kids. Oct 3, 2017 at 21:14
  • I want to know the history of the tradition of such animation. I believe that every of these cartoons is inspired by something that was before it. I want to understand this process better.
    – Dimitrius
    Oct 3, 2017 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


Well, you say "sitcom," so by that definition we're looking for an ongoing series of comedic television shows where the episodes involve the same characters in a more-or-less stable setting.

The first animated television series, by many accounts, was Crusader Rabbit, which ran from 1950-1959. It's not "adult" in any useful sense, and it's arguably too all-over-the-place to be a sitcom (but you include Rick and Morty in your examples, so your mileage may vary.)

Anyhow, we know there weren't any adult animated sitcoms before 1950, because there weren't any animated television shows before 1950.

The real stickler here is what counts as "adult." I see a few possible definitions:

The first is "includes themes and jokes only adults will appreciate." This isn't that helpful, because a great many TV shows will throw in the occasional topical, or even risque, joke for the grownups in the audience.

Another definition is "intentionally targeted at adults as well as kids." The answer by this definition is probably The Flintstones. It was based in large part on "The Honeymooners," which certainly wasn't considered a kiddie show at the time, it was broadcast in the evening, and it included a lot of material that's more from adult experiences than kids'. There were lots of job-related issues, marriage-related issues, references to things like fraternal lodges and golf -- not the sort of thing you write if you're only looking to sell breakfast cereal.

It's a bit hokey now, but most TV was back then. For it's time, it was as much an adult show as the Simpsons.

Just for the sake of completeness, if you want the first animated sitcom that would be considered "for adults" even by modern standards, the answer is probably Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which was roughly based on All in the Family, and dealt almost entirely with grown-up issues: If you look at the Wikipedia page, pretty much any of those plots would be right at home in, say, King of the Hill, and almost none of them are anything you'd expect to see on Disney XD.


I would look at British cartoonist Ronald Searle and his mid-twentieth century comics (notably, St. Trinian's and Molesworth). Searle is known to be one of Matt Groening's (creator of The Simpsons) inspirations and his comics fit much of what is now common in "adult" cartoons - dark material (including violence, drugs, gangs, weapons, and general naughty behavior) and child characters. These works are not animated, but they "feel" very much like adult cartoons.

  • Are these comics sitcoms? Or not televised? He may have been an influencer, but the question is asking for a specific sitcom instance in addition to themes. (Which is one reason why it's too broad to really answer well).
    – JohnP
    Oct 4, 2017 at 14:57
  • They are print comics. The OP specified that he wanted to know "the chain of works of art, that led to the adult animated sitcoms". A work of art that leads to an animation does not necessarily need to be animated itself. Oct 4, 2017 at 15:00
  • One person is not a chain. :)
    – JohnP
    Oct 4, 2017 at 15:01
  • @JohnP I think you are being a little too literal. The OP wants to know what inspired adult animated sitcoms. Oct 4, 2017 at 15:05
  • Thank you for your answer. Due to the lack of reputation I can't upvote it, but any piece of information is appreciated. My question indeed is too broad to be fully answered.
    – Dimitrius
    Oct 4, 2017 at 20:03

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