Rick and Morty, an animated series on Adult Swim about the otherworldly misadventures of degenerate scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty Smith, has amassed an army of devoted fans over the course of its three seasons. But after a promotional stunt gone awry, McDonald’s learned the hard way that you don’t stand between nerds and their limited-edition szechuan sauce.
Here’s the rundown: In 1998, McDonald’s ran a promotional campaign for Mulan which saw the release of limited-edition szechuan McNugget sauce. The season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty made extensive reference to said sauce, to the point that McDonald’s sent half a gallon of the stuff to one of the show’s co-creators. The initial PR effort got so much positive press that the fast food chain decided to bring a “super-limited batch” of Mulan szechuan sauce (and some limited-edition Rick and Morty posters) to the masses for one day only. What could go wrong?
Pretty much everything. As it turns out, extremely limited sauce supplies and an army of over-eager fans willing to cross state lines and camp out for hours to get their hands on a condiment they saw in a cartoon is a combustible combination. At McDonald’s locations across the country, lines of blue-haired Ricks and costumed Mortys stretched for blocks. Hordes of man-children chanted “give us sauce” as they descended on the chain’s employees. In some cases the police were called in to quell the feral mobs.
In the aftermath, many took to Twitter to vent their anger at the global fast food chain. Some called on McDonald’s—a restaurant that does not host events—to “organize your events better.” Some threatened McDonald’s with lawsuits. Few took time to sympathize with the plight of McDonald’s employees who probably didn’t expect to get yelled at about sauce when they showed up for their shift that day.
As with any divisive moment with even a tenuous connection to popular culture, the outrage to the outrage was just as swift and significantly more entertaining.
Recognizing the rancor of militant Rick & Morty fans, McDonald’s released an apology and announced that they’d give the promotion another try sometime “this winter." This time, it’ll be available for more than one day, and in quantities that should allow everyone to walk away satisfied.
For those who feel a perverse need to possess the cartoon sauce at any price, you can pop on over to Ebay and place a bid. If Rick and Morty’s assertion that there are many different universes is true, we sure are living in a strange one.