It's a plot device in storytelling that Tony Zhou talks about in his film essay covering Orson Welles' F For Fake. Create two story arcs. Bring Arc A to its most exciting point, and then (meanwhile, back at the ranch) switch to Arc B. Leave your audience wondering what's going on in Arc A as you pull them into Arc B. Tell Arc B until it's at its most exciting point, and then switch back to Arc A, and so on and so on until your story is told. This form can be found in a lot of movies and television shows, largely because it's so effective. But it can make writers lazy. We need to be aware of these forms, and once in a while think about how we can play with them.
The most recent episode of Rick and Morty (2.9, "Look Who's Purging Now") is a prime example of how to play with form.
Arc B: Jerry (Morty's dad) and Summer (Morty's sister) struggle to bond as daughter and father.
How do the writers (Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland and Ryan Ridley) play with form? They don't create a consistent tone between their arcs. Arc A plays out like a gritty, violent thriller complete with insane technologies and explosive gunfights, while Arc B is so painfully mundane that the transitions are jarring. The contrasting environments make a joke every time we transition between arcs. The writers build a joke into the very structure of the plot, so every time they use the proverbial "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" they're not just utilizing a plot device but setting up a joke (the punchline of which is the contrasting tone of Arcs A and Arc B ). This is how you play with form.
By: Brian Dhaniram