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Rocko’s Modern Life Season 4

It’s an accepted part of life that all good things must come to an end. Bad things have endings too, but the only endings that are usually painful are the good things. And for Rocko’s Modern Life, it certainly was a good thing that ended perhaps before it needed to. After 52 episodes (100 segments) creator Joe Murray felt it was time to move on. It should be said that it was more of a personal decision in that he just didn’t have anything more to say with the show. He even stepped back some taking on the role of executive producer for the final season allowing Stephen Hillenburg to assume the role of creative director. Murray encouraged the network, Nickelodeon, to continue the show without him, but the network decided not to renew it for a sixth season. This was pretty typical of Nickelodeon as it often didn’t go beyond this type of episode count with its Nicktoons, or really any shows. As a result, Rocko’s Modern Life is one of those shows that feels like it went out on top. There were likely many more stories that could be told with these characters, but they’ll have to remain untold.

The fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life continues to explore the setting of O-Town and life in the 90s for the main cast. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) once again is forced to tackle the mundane and the insane like managing conflicts between friends, rude neighbors, love, ghosts, and even a bout a hypnosis. His gluttonous best friend, Heffer, (Tom Kenny) takes on the role of co-star for many segments and even gets to assume a larger role at times than the star. Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) returns as a married turtle and will get to experience fatherhood this season while the Bigheads (Charlie Adler) are still around to make life miserable for neighbor Rocko.

A theme of the final season seems to be an emphasis on side characters. In this one, Rocko teaches Heffer’s mom how to drive.

The fourth season might be the best looking season of the show. I don’t know if anything changed on the production end, or if it was a case of the masters being better stored, but the DVD release really pops. The colors are deeper than they were on the first three seasons and the animation is quite fluid. It’s perhaps not as gross as the prior seasons, and that could be Hillenburg’s influence as creative director this season. There’s still moments that are somewhat gag-inducing, but it’s definitely not a defining characteristic.

Seeing Heffer, Rocko, and Filbert as O-Town High students doesn’t make much sense, but it does give us one of my favorite scenes from the show involving Filbert and some potato chips.

On the flip-side, this season seems to feature less continuity. We’ll see Filbert become a father in the early season episode “From Here to Maternity,” but afterwords his life doesn’t seem to change a whole lot. There will be times the gang goes to his trailer and it looks like he lives alone. I understand not wanting to be restricted by this development (it would be tiresome to write into every episode who is watching the kids), but there is a disconnect. Similarly, the dog Earl taken in by Bev Bighead seems to disappear this season and there’s a confusing flashback episode in which Rocko, Filbert, and Heffer are depicted as high school students even though Rocko moved to the US during adulthood. These aren’t really things that prevent one from enjoying the show, I just liked the continuity on display in the past seasons since so few cartoons contain such.

This season seems to feature a couple of movie parodies, including this obvious Ghostbusters one.

The show is still wildly funny in many places. I think a lot of fans consider season three of the show to the peak for it, but it’s hard to find any real drop-off with season four. “Sailing the Seven Zzz’s” might be the show’s funniest episode. The plot concerns Ed Bighead and his somnambulism in which he thinks he’s a pirate and makes nights miserable for Rocko. Heffer and Filbert see this as an opportunity to mess with him, and it gets pretty wacky. And speaking of Ed, he basically assumes a starring role in several episodes of this season. My favorite might be “Closet Clown” where we find out Ed enjoys playing a clown, but hides it from everyone. It’s yet another episode of the show that might be dealing with a sensitive subject, such as closeted individuals, but doing it in a very funny, natural, way.

There are a few segments that don’t work as well as others. “Dumbells” gives Gladys the Hippo (Adler) a starring role alongside Rocko in which she gets addicted to the thrill of the childhood prank ding, dong, ditch. It’s okay, but not really an interesting way to shine a light on a one-note character from prior seasons. “Wallaby on Wheels” is another episode where Rocko is trying to impress a girl (he seems to finally be over Melba) that feels a bit too familiar. The same could be said for one of the broadcast finale segments, “Turkey Time.” That one is depicting Rocko’s introduction to Thanksgiving and he invites a turkey home for dinner not realizing the intent is to serve it for dinner. It plays a lot like the episode where Heffer brings an elk home for the same reason. “Turkey Time” then gets extra redundant when everyone in town finds out about Rocko having a party and invites themselves over, which is the same plot as “Rocko’s Modern Christmas.” It does feature one of the racier jokes in the season though when Heffer brings out a turkey for the party and Rocko’s living room is basically decked out like a strip club.

Closet Clown is a funny episode, but might also be scratching the surface of a bigger societal issue.

Speaking of racy jokes, you can’t have a discussion about Rocko’s Modern Life without a discussion of censorship. This season contained one episode that was essentially banned after its initial airing and that’s “Heff in a Handbasket.” In it, Peaches returns whom viewers should remember from “To Heck and Back.” Peaches is the lord of the underworld and he’s tasked with acquiring Heffer’s soul, since he outwitted him before. It’s nothing too salacious and it’s a very silly episode where Peaches rigs a game show designed to steal Heffer’s soul, only Heffer is so stupid that he keeps messing it up. It’s a funny episode, so it’s a shame it got kicked off the air, and I guess it got the boot simply because part of it is set in a version of Hell.

Unlike a lot of cartoons, Rocko’s Modern Life did get a proper series finale. The segment “Future Schlock” is the intended finale, though the Thanksgiving episode aired after it to line-up with the actual holiday. Most of the episode takes place in the future when Filbert’s kids find a banana in the refrigerator of Rocko’s abandoned house and bring it to their eldery-looking (but only 38 year old) father to find out why anyone would put a banana in the refrigerator. Much of the episode from there is a flashback, but I enjoy the fact that it displays Filbert’s contempt for Heffer which is something that seemed to be rising with each season (though Filbert in general got a bit nastier, see him try to sacrifice Rocko for a wig in the segment “Rug Birds”). The show ends with the whole gang getting mistakenly blasted-off into space and the Netflix special Static Cling from 2019 actually picks up where the episode leaves off and you’ll definitely hear my thoughts on that before the summer is through.

The plot for the final episode is set in motion by an old banana.

The DVD for the fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life is a lot like the other three. It’s essentially just the episodes presented in broadcast order. It would have been nice if they could have been arranged in production order for this season, since it has a proper ending, but it’s not a big deal. The only special feature is a video recording of a fan event from 2012. Hosted by voice acting legend Rob Paulsen, it’s a gathering of the main cast of the show for a reading of “Wacky Delly Part 1” and it’s quite a bit of fun. After the script is read, they also talk about the show and share their thoughts on everything. It’s crazy to think this was recorded 8 years ago at this point, but everyone sounds great and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

If you liked Rocko’s Modern Life or have all three seasons up to this point, then there’s absolutely no reason not to own season four. It’s a little different, but still plenty hilarious, wacky, and silly. Some characters get more of a spotlight shined on them so if you had a favorite side character from before then maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their inclusion here. There’s just a great chemistry between the characters in the show and the people behind the image that shines through. Joe Murray and his team can be proud that they created a cast that could work in almost any setting because they’re interesting, funny, and even sympathetic. Reliving this fourth season has me wishing even more than I already was for more content down the road. I don’t know that any will ever come, but it doesn’t hurt to hope.


Dec. 10 – Rocko’s Modern Christmas

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Rocko’s Modern Christmas first aired December 1st, 1994

Rocko’s Modern Life may be the most 90s cartoon created during that decade. It’s certainly the most 90s of the Nicktoons, Nickelodeon’s very successful foray into original animation after years of airing other studio’s work. Rocko’s Modern Life centered around a wallaby named Rocko, naturally, and his journey into adulthood, which most notably includes self-reliance. He has to maintain a job, a home, friendships, and relationships, in a world that mostly seems out to get him. It’s very adult for a children’s show, and I don’t mean that in just the sense that some of the humor skews older, but the subject matter. Rocko  deals with stresses kids don’t have to, but maybe they’ve seen their parents do so and are able to relate that way. And if not, there are plenty of gross gags to keep them occupied.

Since Rocko is very much a good-natured person, he’s a natural protagonist for his own Christmas special:  “Rocko’s Modern Christmas.” This is Rocko’s first Christmas on his own away from his family back in Australia. He wants to have a nice Christmas with his closest friends, and is in search of Christmas cheer. Across the street, a new family is moving into a previously vacant house and they’re apparently really into Christmas since their yard is outlandishly decorated with Christmas cheer. Rocko notices the family appears to be elves, and they’re cleverly designed to kind of resemble rolled up wrapping paper with limbs. Next door, Rocko’s curmudgeonly neighbor Ed Bighead, is this special’s Scrooge. He hates Christmas and the good feelings it brings out. He wants the world to be miserable like him, and he is very distrustful of these elves.

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Rocko wishes for snow. Apparently he didn’t think to check outside for snow before heading out with his sleigh and snow suit.

Rocko is a bit down at the lack of Christmas cheer in his community. It’s rainy, and there’s no snow, and few people decorate for the holiday. To explain the lack of snow, there’s a cloud over Rocko’s house that’s basically struggling to take a dump, hence the lack of snow (and our first dose of the show’s brand of visual humor). Rocko decides his house needs decorations, and he wants to throw a party for his friends. He calls up his two best buds, Heffer and Filbert, and invites them over for a Christmas party. Those two are eager to share the news around town, even though Rocko didn’t intend for them to, and soon the whole town is RSVPing to Rocko excited about coming to his party.

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Heffer:  The Tree Slayer

To get prepared, Rocko and his dog Spunky head out to the mall to do some shopping. Along the way they see their new neighbor, a shy little elf. He doesn’t respond warmly to Rocko, and instead tries to hide from him. Rocko is not offended and leaves the little guy to his own whims. At the mall, Rocko stops to buy a Christmas tree at a tent outside that’s being manned by Heffer and Filbert. In a sort of sad (but funny) gag, picking out a tree is like picking out a puppy, only the puppy-tree dies when it gets cut down. After securing a tree, Rocko heads into the mall. The little elf has basically been stalking Rocko this whole time, and eventually he gets accosted by some literal crocodile shoe salesman. Rocko sticks up for the little guy, and soon finds himself in over his head. He cleverly disposes of the salesmen, and finds the elf hiding in a shoe. They hightail it out of there and Rocko brings him home. There he meets a surly head elf, who seems to feel obligated to invite Rocko inside. Once in the home Rocko meets the other elves, who all have simple names associated with tools like Hammer and Drill. Like most Christmas elves, they’re toy makers and hard at work with Christmas just around the corner. Rocko also finds out one of the elves is missing. Mitch, who was the first elf to make it snow (or the last?), has been gone for sometime and is why there’s no snow. He also has three feet, for some reason.

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The shy little elf from next door.

Rocko decides to invite his new neighbors to the party, and Ed finds out via spying. He tells Filbert that elves have nasty foot fungus, and the hypochondriac Filbert immediately breaks out in a rash in fear of contracting the elven foot fungus. Just like how news of Rocko’s party spread quickly, so does word that some infected elves are planning on attending. The party-goers all get scared, and when the night of the party arrives Rocko surprisingly finds his house empty. He’s pretty disappointed, but a knock at the door brightens him up a bit. It’s the shy little elf, and Rocko welcomes him in, but can’t hide his disappointment that no one else came. The little elf feels bad for Rocko, and after Rocko falls asleep reading him a Christmas story he heads outside. It’s there he looks up at the cloud over Rocko’s house and thinks about how the quiet little wallaby helped him out back at the mall. Then a heart pops out of him and floats up to the cloud. Like cloud Ex-Lax, the rear of the cloud begins rumbling in a rather gross fashion before he unleashes some snow – hallelujah!

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The cloud struggling to “snow.”

When Christmas morning arrives, only Rocko’s house is covered in snow. The whole town comes out to marvel at it, and they apologize for skipping out on his party. Mitch the elf even shows up and explains he’s been gone due to the lack of Christmas cheer, but the cheer of his little brother, the shy elf, has brought him back. Everyone heads inside for the party, and Ed Bighead is left to stew in his house as he looks on. The little elf shows up at his door though and invites him to the party. Ed starts to show hints of being touched by the gesture, when the little elf whips out a hammer and smashes his kneecap. Ed reacts accordingly, and then chases after the elf and manages to get tangled up in Christmas decorations and plunges into Rocko’s house, much to the delight of his wife Bev who was already at the party. As one last dose of Christmas cheer, Rocko gets a call from his parents wishing him a merry Christmas. And as a parting gag, we get a look at the next morning when everyone chucks their tree carcasses in the street.

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It’s a Christmas miracle!

“Rocko’s Modern Christmas” succeeds both as a charming Christmas special and as a funny one. Rocko’s brand of humor is on full display, with a lot of bad stuff happening to our main character and a lot of visual gags that are sometimes gross, sometimes mean, sometimes uncomfortable, but usually also pretty funny. It’s an extended episode, as most Rocko’s Modern Life cartoons were split into two cartoon shorts. Pretty much every character that had appeared on the show up until now is present as well, and the cast was pretty big after only 19 episodes. It’s also fully dressed up to feel like a Christmas special with its opening sequence and ending credits. This is the best Christmas special to come out of the Nicktoons besting Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy. And I’m torn on if it’s the Nicktoon that’s held up the best, but it’s a close call between this and Ren & Stimpy.

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Ed is forced to embrace Christmas.

Thankfully, Nickelodeon has caught onto the nostalgia thing and realized that the kids who used to watch their shows in the early 90s are now adults wanting to relive those moments and share them with their own kids. Which is why we have The Splat, a block of programming on one of Nickelodeon’s channels that airs usually late night and focuses on 90s programming. There’s a lot of crap on there, but the Nicktoons are mostly well represented (except Ren & Stimpy, for some reason). And ever since they started airing The Splat, they’ve re-run a lot of the Nicktoons Christmas specials every year so you will likely be able to catch “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” on there more than once before the month is through, and I suggest you do.


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