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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.


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season 3

The third season of Rocko’s Modern Life originally aired from 1995-1996.

My rewatch of Rocko’s Modern Life really could not have gone better. I suppose it would be better if it wasn’t during a pandemic, but what can you do? The show has been a delight, and while I felt Season Two was pretty much on par with the first season, I think an argument can be made that Season Three is the best one so far.

In case you need a refresher, Rocko’s Modern Life is a cartoon created by Joe Murray that managed to amass a team of extremely talented people, many of whom went on to create more wonderful television. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) is a wallaby from Australia trying to navigate the 90s. Season Two saw him deal with thorny issues like immigration as well as some health problems. Money is often tight and his job as a clerk at a comic book store hardly feels secure, but somehow he gets by. The show is able to mix in real world problems with insane lunacy. The phrase “insane lunacy” sounds redundant, but for a show like Rocko’s Modern Life the redundancy feels very appropriate.

For an adult, few things are more relatable than car trouble.

For Season Three, the show tackled more real world issues and even managed to strengthen its continuity somewhat. The relationship between Rocko’s best friends, Heffer (Tom Kenny) and Filburt (Doug Lawrence) added a combative element to the mix to differentiate the two. They’re pals through and through, but the two get on each other’s nerves and they frequently fail to see eye to eye with Rocko often getting stuck in the middle. And for Filburt, Season Three was a big one because he gets engaged to longtime girlfriend Dr. Hutchison (Linda Wallem) in “The Big Question” which is immediately followed by “The Big Answer” where the two tie the knot. The Bigheads are still around as well and get their own shorts to shine and the show even tackles its first musical with the eco-friendly “Zanzibar.” That one, interestingly, is immediately followed by the show’s first dialogue-free short “Fatal Contraption.”

Season Three of the show never fails to be funny and the gags are really upped for this third season. The show’s first Halloween episode “Sugar Frosted Frights” has a lot of horror-themed gags and it’s paired with another spooky episode, “Ed is Dead.” One of the show’s funniest episodes is also present in this season in “Fish-N-Chumps.” The boys go fishing, only to find themselves in turn being fished, and all the while Filburt drives Heffer nuts with his enthusiasm for a new watch. Tom Kenny does some excellent ad-libbing with a captain character who features two peg legs, peg arms, and even peg eyes (Family Guy totally ripped him off)! My favorite might be “Fortune Cookie” though, if I have to pick a most funniest episode since it features the incredibly quotable fortune that Filburt receives, “Bad luck and extreme misfortune will infest your pathetic soul for all eternity.” There’s an episode where Bev (Charlie Adler) is accidentally given a new nose which reveals to her that her husband stinks, a crazed tour guide stalks Rocko and Heffer on a trip to France, and there’s even a famous nude scene in “Camera Shy.”

I don’t think there’s a more outrageous scene in the show’s history than this.

Rocko’s Modern Life is rarely short on laughs, but what sets it apart from its peers is the infusion of real world problems. None demonstrate that better than “The Big Answer” in which Filburt and Dr. Hutchison find out that planning a wedding is awful, especially when your guests don’t get along. It’s a great episode because in the end they realize it’s their day, no one else’s, and they do what works for them. “Old, Fogey, Froggie” deals with getting old, and uses Mr. Bighead (Adler) as a way of exploring that subject. It’s a subject few children can relate to, but one I sure can.

We get another look into what gets Bev’s motor running: novelty noses.

Season Three is also the season where the show got metta before that was even something in style. “Wacky Delly” is a two-parter all about making cartoons. For this one, Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) returns after airing the final episode of his cartoon The Fatheads and is eager to explore other, more respected, avenues for his art. The problem is the network he works for basically owns him and he owes it another cartoon. Rather than make something his heart isn’t into, he cooks up a plan to have Rocko and his friends make the cartoon for him assuming it will be so terrible the network will terminate his contract. Instead, the show is a huge hit forcing Ralph to go to extreme measures to sabotage it. He has a reckoning eventually, realizing his cartoon making is totally legitimate art and can be quite satisfying. It certainly feels almost autobiographical on the part of Joe Murray as Rocko was never his first choice to bring to life and it’s an episode many cite as the show’s best.

If you ever wanted to know how to make a cartoon, “Wacky Delly” has you covered.

It was also quite interesting to see the show branch into activism for its third season. I mentioned it earlier, but “Zanzibar” is not only the show’s first musical, but it’s also very much about environmentalism. The subject came about naturally, according to Murray, and the musical format was settled on to make the message of the episode not feel so preachy. It’s almost painfully relevant today, but at least the songs are quite catchy and pleasant so it hopefully won’t bring you down too much.

A new hero for environmentalists every where: Captain Compost-Heap!

Over the years, Rocko’s Modern Life has become somewhat infamous for its humor aimed at adults. These are the gags that when looked back upon viewers are shocked they even made it into the show. While there was no major act of censorship after the fact with Season Three, there’s still plenty of humor that’s a little blue. There’s an episode titled “Schnit-heads,” which is a surprising title all by itself. It features Heffer getting caught up in a sausage cult. Sadly, the phrase “sausage fest” is never mentioned. “Fortune Cookie” also features a segment that took a long time to get approval from Nickelodeon in which Really Really Big Man’s nipples go berserk. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds. Plus the whole time he’s trying to talk a bird down from a statue who’s threatening to defecate upon it. And the show even features some death in the episode “Bye Bye Birdie” when Heffer kills Filburt’s bird, Turdy, by sitting on it. Rocko and Heffer then try to hide it from Filburt in a Weekend at Bernie’s manner. Possibly the best piece of awkward humor arises in “An Elk for Heffer” in which Heffer is informed he needs to bring an elk home for dinner as part of a growing-up ritual with his family’s wolf pack. Heffer then goes out and finds an elk for a date not realizing the whole intent of the arrangement is to actually hunt and kill an elk and provide dinner for his family.

Heffer thinks he’s found love, but turns out Elky here is actually a racist. Maybe the show should have let the wolves consume her…

As far as physical releases go, the third season is also superior to the previous ones since it contains better bonus material. While I was hoping for actual commentaries on the episodes, there are what the DVD refers to as selected scene commentaries. It’s a misleading label as the feature is really just Joe Murray going over his thoughts and feelings on the third season of the show. He covers a lot of ground in the short run time and it’s definitely worth a watch and is more informative than the character portraits from the Season Two set. Again, it’s not what I was hoping for, but I did enjoy it.

The third season of Rocko’s Modern Life is simply the show at its best. I continue to be charmed and amazed by the quality and it truly is a show that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s been a real hit in my house where I’ll watch it with my young kids and even watch it with my wife after they go to bed. I don’t know what the fourth season can do to top this one, but I look forward to seeing how it tries.


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season Two

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The second season of Rocko’s Modern Life premiered on September 25, 1994.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my reintroduction to Rocko’s Modern Life via the show’s first season. Rocko’s Modern Life was a favorite of mine as a kid, and if you had asked me to rank the Nicktoons back then it would have gone something like this:  The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, followed by who cares? Those two cartoons were so far above the others that they didn’t feel worth mentioning. Sure, Rugrats and Doug were fine for what they were, but they weren’t appointment viewing for me. And after a few years, none of them were as I felt I had aged out of them. I was a young, dumb, kid though and upon revisiting such works I’ve come to find that, if anything, I’ve aged into a show like Rocko’s Modern Life.

What separated Rocko’s Modern Life from the other shows was that emphasis on the mundanity of life itself. Rocko was challenged by simple tasks such as laundry, household cleaning, commuting, work, and all of those others things we as adults have to deal with that we really take for granted as children. Rocko’s difficulties encountered with these tasks are obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but like all good comedy there is still an element of truth to all of it making the show arguably more relatable for an adult than it is a child.

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Like Season One, Season Two of Rocko’s Modern Life is surprisingly topical in 2020.

When it came to Season One of the show, I was delighted by the humor aimed at adults. I remembered the Milk-O-Matic gag as a kid in which Heffer, a steer, is masturbated by a mechanical milking machine and knew there was humor in this show that really only older kids and adults would understand. That type of humor is more of a shocking variety of humor, what I had forgotten is the more nuanced approach such as the episode where neighbor Bev Bighead tries to seduce Rocko because her husband doesn’t make her feel attractive. It’s a pretty adult concept to try to base a cartoon intended for children around, and it’s even affecting in turning Mrs. Bighead into a sympathetic figure. And yes, there’s still plenty of physical comedy in that episode and all of them.

As I approached Season Two of the show, I was hoping for more of that style of story-telling:  mature in concept, but accessible for all via the physical comedy. And for the most part, Season Two really delivers. It starts off with a heavy hitter in the two-part “I Have No Son” in which we learn the Bigheads have an estranged son named Ralph (Joe Murray) who long ago disappointed his father by not accepting a job at Conglom-O where Ed worked. A father being so ashamed and disappointed of his son that it causes him to disown him is a pretty heavy subject for the show to tackle because it’s also a very real thing that happens. Ed looks down on Ralph for his wanting to be a cartoonist, but you can substitute that with pretty much anything and the episode would still work. And even though Ralph has found tremendous success with his cartoon The Fatheads (which is clearly inspired by his parents), he still hasn’t earned his father’s approval.

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The story of Ralph Bighead kicks off the second season.

The premiere is a pretty weighty episode to kick things off, but it manages to handle the delicate material with the show’s usual brand of humor. It does struggle a bit to fit it all into one episode and the resolution feels a bit rushed, but it’s still quite the achievement. The rest of the season will balance the absurd wackiness of Rocko’s world with actual real world issues and problems. Bev Bighead has to break the glass ceiling, so to speak, and go to work in one episode and another deals with Rocko having to thwart immigration officials who want him deported for an expired green card. That episode might actually hit too close to home for some given the current climate surrounding immigration in the US. A particularly heartfelt episode is “Tickled Pinky” in which Rocko deals with the fear of surgery when he finds out he needs to have his appendix removed. It turns into a story where Rocko meets a personified version of his appendix, named Pinky, via a dream. Rocko, in a bid to cheer up Pinky since he’s essentially about to die, takes Pinky out to essentially check off a bucket list of experiences for Pinky to enjoy before his time is up. It’s surprisingly sweet and it left me wishing I had thought of this episode when my own little boy had to have his tonsils removed.

Season Two is also not without its dose of more crass humor. The episode “Born to Spawn” basically deals with Filbert’s (Mr. Lawrence) desire to mate, though that part of it isn’t spelled out. It’s pretty funny though with that context in the back of your mind. In “Hut, Sut, Raw” Rocko, Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filbert go camping and leave the confines of a modern camp ground to rough it in the woods. The DVD is censored to remove a scene where Rocko picks berries off of a bush, only to have a bear scream and run out from behind it implying that Rocko just picked one the bear’s “berries.” The final cartoon, “Eyes Capades,” revisits the old white lie of Rocko’s eyesight going bad due to too much “jacking.” In the context of the episode, the jacking is Rocko practicing for a jackhammer competition that’s basically figure skating on a jackhammer, but it’s obvious the episode is playing off the notion that masturbation in a young boy can cause blindness.

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This is the season that features the Christmas episode basically making this a “must buy” for Christmas nerds like me.

A welcomed trend established by Season Two is that this show, unlike many other cartoons, actually has some semblance of continuity. Past episodes are referenced and new characters like Ralph will show up in later episodes at peace with his parents. The cartoon “Short Story” contains the most references when Really Really Big Man details Rocko’s good deeds and accomplishments for him in a bid to build him up. The episode “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” (which has been featured during The Christmas Spot) is the first episode to really bring the whole cast together when Rocko attempts to throw a party that everyone in town wishes to attend. It’s really satisfying to see the writers opening up the world of O-Town and incorporating a lot of these side characters.

In terms of missteps, there are few. The animation is as good, if not better, than the first season and the performances by the voice actors are all tremendous. Especially considering how much screaming is sometimes required of them. There are three oversized episodes in this season, which are episodes that dedicate both halves to one story and they are:  “I Have No Son, “Rocko’s Modern Christmas,” and “Cruisin’.” Of the three, only “Cruisin'” felt like it didn’t really need the extra time. It’s a bit of a weird episode in which Rocko and Heffer take Heffer’s grandfather on a cruise for old people (or rather, they got stuck on the boat by accident) and the ship enters the Bermuda Triangle making all of the old people young and the two young people old. It gives Grandpa a do-over with an old flame, a relatable and pretty adult plot, but one that struggles to remain interesting.

b-52s

Kate Pierson (left) and Fred Schneider (second from left) of the B-52’s were brought in to re-do the theme song. Their version would remain for the rest of the show’s run.

In terms of personnel, much of the folks involved with the first season returned for the second. Stephen Hillenburg was around to oversee everything as showrunner and creator Joe Murray still received several writing credits and remained involved. Doug Lawrence, also known as Mr. Lawrence, stepped back from directing, but still has a few writing credits. Some of the newcomers include directors Alan Smart, Pete Michels, and Howy Parkins. All would make future contributuons at Nickelodeon while Michels would go on to direct several episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy. Voice of Rocko, Carlos Alazraqui, even received a writing credit for “Gutter Balls,” one of two writing credits he’d receive on the show. Considering that episode has four credited writers, I’m assuming he must had ad-libbed something that was considered large enough to warrant a credit. The only major change between seasons is the theme song which was reworked by Pat Irwin and re-recorded by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. It’s still fine, though I miss the swank of the first season’s theme.

rocko_pilot

The pilot of the show is contained on this set and is notable for featuring a yellow Rocko.

The DVD release of the first season of Rocko’s Modern Life had the dubious honor of not containing any bonus features. Joe Murray was quite willing to contribute to these releases and for Season Two Nickelodeon at least made some effort to add a little extra, though not much. The original pilot of the show “Trash-O-Madness” is contained here. It’s not much different from the episode that made it to air, but it’s cool to see the original version of the show. There’s also a collection of segments hosted by Murray where he shares the ideas behind the show’s core characters while also demonstrating how they’re drawn. He doesn’t reveal any bombshells or anything, but it’s worth a look. That’s, unfortunately, all that there is for bonus material which means there’s no commentaries and no options to view the episodes uncensored.

Rocko’s Modern Life is a great cartoon series and I’m happy to say the second season is just as good as the first. The show definitely embodies that 90’s spirit of being a bit manic, loud, and certainly gross, but it also includes a surprising amount of heart and relatability as well. In some ways, it’s the perfect children’s cartoon because there’s plenty here to entertain a 7 year old while also keeping mom and dad engaged. And pretty much all are guaranteed to find something to laugh at as well, or be charmed by, or both! I’ve enjoyed it enough that I definitely intend to binge Season Three and report back here on how well I think it compares with the first two seasons, so stay tuned!


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One

rocko_season_oneThe late 80s and early 90s were such a fun time for cartoons. Television was rapidly expanding and there was huge demand for content for both children and adults. People who had grown up on Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry were also making the cartoons and wanted to do better than what had become the standard for television animation. Disney got the ball rolling by injecting more money into the animation and overall production for its shows. In the process, the company proved that it wasn’t as big a risk as some thought to go straight for a syndicated order of episodes because there was always room for more cartoons on television. Other artists also started getting opportunities to create better and more diverse cartoons. These were actually funny and largely felt like a response to the very dry and formulaic works put out by Hanna Barbera and Dic.

Nickelodeon was one of the first cable networks to really go after children. It was somewhat of a contrast to its sister channel, MTV, which was going for a teen and young adult audience with the obvious focus being music. MTV grew more experimental as the years went on though and it even started airing animation. Up until that point, Nickelodeon was largely a network consisting of low budget live-action programs like You Can’t Do That on Television as well as re-runs of old general audience programming (Dennis the Menace, Flipper, etc.) with classic sitcoms at night. The only cartoons really being shown were Looney Tunes and some children’s animation the network licensed such as The Little Koala and David the Gnome. Parent company Viacom was seeing the success the big networks were having with exclusive children’s content and also with the stuff being made for MTV and decided it was time for Nickelodeon to get into the cartoon business.

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Games Animation was created so that Nickelodeon could keep production of its Nicktoons in-house.

The Nicktoons were born of this creative desire. The network sought upstart creators and basically gave them free reign to create a show that Nickelodeon would air as part of a block on Sunday morning. Saturday morning was the domain of the broadcast networks, but Sunday was essentially ripe for the taking especially as fewer and fewer families were spending the morning at church. The block launched in August of 1991 with three brand new cartoons:  Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren and Stimpy Show. The construction of the block is interesting in that it began with a very grounded show about a middle-school aged kid in Doug, then went to a more imaginative show where babies go on adventures largely created in their own head, to the surreal and more classically constructed comedy show with Ren and Stimpy. The block was a huge success virtually guaranteeing future Nicktoons. It’s debatable which was more impactful, Rugrats or The Ren and Stimpy Show, but the latter definitely seemed to be the most influential on subsequent Nicktoons. Problems with that show also caused Nickelodeon to go ahead and found its own animation studio:  Games Animation.

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The main cast of the show (left to right): Rocko, Spunky, Heffer, Bev Bighead, Filburt, Ed Bighead.

The first show launched by Games Animation was the Joe Murray created Rocko’s Modern Life. Premiering in the late summer of 1993, Rocko’s Modern Life was the fourth Nicktoon and first cartoon to be added to the lineup since its premiere two years earlier. It was a pretty big deal to have a new Nicktoon, and it also completed the Sunday block making it an even two hours. Joe Murray had wanted to make an independent film called My Dog Zero and only when Nick passed on that did he turn to Rocko. Rocko was originally conceived as a comic, but Murray wasn’t able to find anyone willing to publish it when peddling it around in the late 80s. He pitched the concept to Nick when it passed on My Dog Zero expecting them to pass, but hoping they’d at least give him some money for a pilot that he could put towards his passion project, My Dog Zero. Nickelodeon ended up not only commissioning a pilot, but also a 13 season order. After largely animating the pilot himself (“Trash-O-Madness”), Murray found himself in the unfamiliar role of a TV creator and director with a staff of over 200 people split between the US and Asia.

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Plenty of classic animation gags are relied upon such as Rocko’s brain constantly jumping out of his head when he screams.

Rocko’s Modern Life would run for 4 seasons totaling 52 episodes (100 segments). During its run it helped further the careers of some pretty important people. It basically launched the career of voice actor Carlos Alazraqui (Rocko, Spunky) who went on to star in other Nicktoons as well as many Cartoon Network originals. Charlie Adler was already a name familiar to cartoon fans at the time, but his portrayal of the husband and wife duo Ed and Bev Bighead really showcased his talents as he often would record the duo’s interactions with each other in one take. It’s hard to imagine him being entrusted to perform the roles of Cow and Chicken for the show Cow and Chicken without the Bigheads. Tom Kenny was also cast as Heffer Wolfe and he is likely best known now as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. And it isn’t just Kenny who went on to star there, the first director hired by Murray for the show was the late Stephen Hillenburg who went on to create the aforementioned SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Many episodes contain Rocko tackling a common task only with disastrous results.

The first season of Rocko’s Modern Life consists of 26 segments spread across 13 episodes. In this current climate of increased television time, I decided to take a trip down memory lane with Rocko and his buddies. A local retailer, Bull Moose, specializes in media such as music, games, and movies and I sometimes take a stroll through its retail location in nearby Salem, New Hampshire. It’s a great store that fills a niche that has been all but abandoned by most retailers. The current COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered all such spaces, but Bull Moose continues to operate as an online space. More importantly, the company continues to pay all of its employees which is an incredibly noble gesture and one that should be emulated by other companies. I wanted to show my appreciation for that by spending some money at the website, which is how I ended up with the complete Rocko’s Modern Life collection. In truth, this was a long time coming as I wanted to reconnect with the show. I see it sometimes on one of Nickelodeon’s channels, but the network seems to re-air a lot of the same episodes over and over. I also was originally holding off on buying this series as I hoped an uncensored version would arrive some day, but I have since given up on that.

Which is a good thing, because my re-watch of the first season could not have gone much better. Rocko’s Modern Life is a show about a wallaby named Rocko who has recently set out on his own in a 90s world. He’s an immigrant from Australia living in the US in the fictional town of O-Town, basically an every town USA concept. The show does not expressly state how long he’s been in the US, but long enough to have formed close bonds with friends Heffer and Filburt (Mr. Lawrence). Rocko lives alone in a small house with his happy, but dim-witted, dog Spunky. He works as a clerk at a comic book shop and he’s basically just struggling to get by. Many episodes focus on the mundane, like taking out the garbage or doing the laundry, but things go wrong with Rocko often remarking “[Blank] Day is a very dangerous day.” Episodes of the show are mostly stand-alone, but there is some semblance of continuity from one episode to another. We see Rocko get fired from one job and hired at a new one, characters reference past experiences, and eventually we’ll even see Filburt enter into a relationship with another character.

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Each episode is introduced with a hand-painted title card.

As a children’s show, Rocko’s Modern Life packs enough laughs to satisfy most kids, especially early 90s kids who had spent the past two years with Ren and Stimpy. It’s a disservice to call Rocko’s Modern Life a Ren and Stimpy clone, but both do love to indulge in gross humor. There’s lots of boogers, drool, farts, and vomit gags in this cartoon. Rocko and his friends are also prone to screaming with exaggerated results such as eyes popping out and brains bursting out of a skull. It’s a visual treat for those who enjoy physical comedy in their cartoons, especially cartoons that really take advantage of what the medium can do. It also allows the show to go to wild locations with Heffer spending an episode in “Heck” while Rocko gets to visit many different locations such as the beach, the movies, a plane, and so on. The show also possesses some surreal qualities such as the episode “Flu-In-U-Enza” where Rocko as a fever dream in which his vomit comes to life to coach him through his illness. Most of the world is also slanted with lines going to great lengths to not meet up. It’s a very stylized show, with good animation and colors.

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Bev Bighead is one of the break-out stars in Season One. Her attempts to seduce Rocko in “Leap Frogs” is a real highlight of the first season.

Where Rocko really separated itself from its peers though is in its depiction of everyday life. Rocko being short on money and newly set free from adolescence makes the show extremely relatable for anyone in a similar situation or who has gone through it. Stretching a paycheck, managing responsibilities, taking care of yourself – these are things many of us only really become attuned to when we’re out on our own. Most can probably recall a gag or two from this show that went over their head at the time, only to have it make sense later on. Some of the plots are also very adult in nature with perhaps the best example being “Leap Frogs” in which Bev Bighead feels unwanted by her husband. It’s almost like a Simpsons plot or maybe even a sitcom as Bev tries to then make herself attractive to Rocko in hopes of making her husband jealous. It’s a really fun and interesting episode that was eventually deemed too adult and was pulled from Nickelodeon’s regular rotation.

Rocko’s Modern Life is profoundly funny in its writing, acting, and direction, but it also has some value to impart on its audience beyond that. It’s never preachy, and it also never feels like an arbitrary quota for educational content was in play, but nevertheless some episodes are beneficial for its younger audience in ways beyond mere entertainment. “Who’s For Dinner?” deals with adoption and the emotions one goes through when they first discover they’re an adopted child. Rocko is also a role model character for just how loyal and unfailingly kind he can be. He is at times meek to a fault, but learns to stand up for himself when the world really tries to screw him over. He is patient towards buddy Heffer, who in turn is a harmful glutton mostly oblivious to how harmful his actions are for Rocko. He does have his own reckoning in “To Heck and Back,” though his behavior doesn’t really change much following the episode.

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Sadly, we’ve been deprived of Heffer’s romantic tryst with a milking machine. The full clip can be easily found on the Internet, but it would have been great to have the original toon restored.

As mention previously, there is some censorship when it comes to Rocko’s Modern Life. Often, the show got away with a lot and the episodes made it to air without controversy, only to be edited later. That’s true with the episode “The Good, The Bad, and The Wallaby” where a segment involving Heffer, a male, getting hooked up to a milking machine has been removed. My understanding is the segment wasn’t restored largely because it can’t be cheaply. When these shows were edited for air, no one had the foresight to think money could be made down the road so they just edited the masters and basically lost the footage forever. The episode was released on VHS unedited so they could have transferred it off of that if they were willing, but that didn’t happen. Future edits would be made to the show, such as rebranding the restaurant The Chokey Chicken as The Chewy Chicken, but Nickelodeon didn’t have anyone go back and remove the offending name from prior seasons.

The DVD release of Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One is bare bones. It was originally released by Shout! Factory on two discs with no bonus features. It’s also arranged in airdate order, which is not the preferred order to watch the episodes. The compilation release put out in 2018 containing the whole series is the same. It would have been fun to hear some commentary tracks by Joe Murray and some of the other creative people involved, but oh well. The episodes really stand on their own though, and Season One is the only season to feature the original theme song which I prefer to the one performed by the B-52’s in the subsequent seasons. Season One is also incredibly strong and it might be my favorite season of the show, but that remains to be seen as I work my way through the show. As a kid, The Ren and Stimpy Show was always my favorite of the Nicktoons, but as I get older I find Rocko’s Modern Life has taken over that throne. It’s funny, manic, and very 90s in its style and presentation, but also surprisingly relatable. I’ve had a hard time shutting it off and it’s been a real crowd pleaser in my home of four. Hopefully my enthusiasm continues and I come back and tell you how much I loved Season Two and beyond.


NECA Turtles in Time Slash (TMNT)

img_1071Ever since NECA forced the hand of Nickelodeon to grant them an expanded license for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the toy company has been killing it with its releases. We don’t know if Nickelodeon found a loophole to exploit with the master license that has been held by Playmates since the mid 80s or if the company had to sign off on it. Either way, I like to think this is all a result of NECA just making a product that could not be ignored. And if everyone is making money, then everyone is probably happy.

With the expansion of the license it meant NECA could move from small batch, convention exclusives and market its product direct to consumers via more conventional means. NECA quickly secured distribution arrangements with Target and GameStop. Target would sell two-packs of figures based on the classic 87 cartoon while GameStop was handed single-packed figures based on the 1990 movie (a deal that is expiring soon and shifting to Wal-Mart). NECA would be the first to admit though that it wasn’t places like GameStop and Target that supported and grew the business when it got started. No, it was smaller, collector-oriented shops and online vendors that first carried NECA product and helped the company become what it is today. As a way of saying “Thanks,” to those businesses, NECA wanted to include them on this newfound TMNT craze and devoted a new line of product just for them:  the Turtles in Time line.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the TMNT could be found in arcades and home consoles about as often as they were on broadcast television or movie theaters. Anyone who had a love for the Turtles and a game console probably had at least one video game based on the property. While they were of varying quality and some were more popular than others, it’s hard to argue that the one that has endured over the years as a particular favorite has been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time (alternatively known on the Super Nintendo as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time).

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Check out that classic, old school, logo!

Turtles in Time was essentially the true sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both games were fairly straight-forward beat-em-ups by Konami, a company known for creating such titles for the arcade. Players could play as one of the four turtles and bash their way through many a Foot Soldier in a quest to stop Shredder and save April. The games were simple and fun and also a great way to gobble quarters and turn a profit for anyone who plugged one into their establishment. Turtles in Time was the better of the two largely by way of arriving later. It looked better, featured more boss characters, and even gave the Turtles some additional moves to make use of. Surprisingly, it was made even better when it came to Super Nintendo as it looked largely the same while adding new levels and new bosses.

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Slash in the comics vs Slash in the cartoon. One is definitely cooler than the other, though fret not fans of the dim cartoon Slash, he’ll be in stores soon.

One of those new bosses was Slash. Added to the end of the fifth level, Prehistoric Turtlesaurus, Slash attacked the Turtles with his twisted sword while rolling in a ball back and forth. He was depicted in his Mighty Mutanimals attire which is what the Playmates action figure was based on as well as opposed to the cartoon which had its own unique look. Slash was a favorite boss of mine when playing two-player mode (the only way to play the game, really) as two well-positioned players could just bash Slash back and forth between the two of them in a comical scene. Failure to do so actually left players with a formidable foe. I’d even go as far as to say Slash is the most difficult solo boss aside from Super Shredder due to his propensity to block most attacks.

NECA likely saw this version of Slash as a good opportunity to create a figure based on his comic look which could explain why Slash is part of the first wave of Turtles in Time figures which just hit shelves. Slash and all of the other figures in this inaugural wave (Leonardo, Donatello, and a purple Foot Soldier) comes in a box designed to mimic the original arcade cabinet, which is slightly amusing for Slash since he did not appear in the actual arcade game. These figures are largely just updated versions of the arcade figures NECA released as convention exclusives a few years ago. Slash is the only all new of the bunch, though even he is fairly familiar as he uses the same body as the other turtles. The main difference being he has spikes added to his shell and obviously has a new headsculpt. His belt is unique as well, as are the blades on his hands. He comes with his crooked sword as well, his weapon of choice in the game. And for added mayhem, he also has a grenade.

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Our source material.

Like the other figures in this line, Slash has a pixel-like deco applied to his body. This is designed to mimic the video game appearance of the character right down to the resolution. When placed on a shelf, the effect mostly works. It’s not very extreme with Slash which is partly due to his darker skin tone when compared with the Turtles. For those two, I think the effect works a bit better though it actually works really well with the Foot Soldier, based on what I have seen anyways. I chose to only get Slash as I’m rapidly running out of room for all of my TMNT figures and the upcoming figures in the cartoon and film lines are going to do a number on my wallet as is. With Slash being unique to this line, I wanted to grab him. I loved my old Playmates version and I do confess this is what I think of when I hear the name Slash, as opposed to what the cartoon did with the character.

Since Slash has the same body as the other turtle characters, he has the same range of motion as well. None of the additions made to the sculpt impact that at all allowing for Slash to be a pretty expressive character. He has a nice weight to him, though his shell adds additional bulk making him a bit heavy in the rear. He can stand well enough, but it isn’t a bad idea to add an optional stand to the display for more dynamic posing and peace of mind. About the only thing he can’t do is mimic his pose from the game in which he’s doubled-over in pain. My figure was mostly free and easy out of the package, though his right elbow and knee required a bit of hot water to loosen. Even after that, the knee still doesn’t want to bend much so I backed off, not wanting to damage my new toy. He does seem a bit light on the accessory front, considering the other figures all come with giant surfboards, but really what else could he have? An alternate head depicting his pained expression would have been neat, I suppose. More realistically, additional bandana tails might have been fun like NECA does with the movie figures. Slash’s bandana just sticks straight out, but one that jutted out to the side would have been pretty cool. Again though, it’s hardly essential and realistically I would have just picked one and then forgot about the other.

The sculpt for Slash looks quite nice. Since he uses the same body as the Turtles he’s the same height. He appears a little more squat in the game, but that’s nit-picking. His shell looks great and reminds me a lot of the old Playmates toy, but with more extreme spikes. And unlike that old toy, his belt is glued on so you need not worry about it falling off. Slash has a maniacal grin on his face that suits the character. There’s a bit of glue or something stuck above the right cheek on mine, but it’s not very noticeable. Aside from that, the paint application is quite clean, save for the insides of his hands. His claws and toenails also aren’t painted, but that’s also accurate to the game. The blades on his hands are nice and long and look rather wicked. In comparing him closer with the game it’s hard to find fault.

Slash is a great addition to a fun line of TMNT product. I quite like this series and even though I’m mostly sitting it out, don’t confuse that with me disliking any of the figures here. It’s just an issue of resources as I’m really tempted to go all-in and create a separate video game display to go along with my movie and cartoon ones. Maybe an eventual sale will entice me, but if I’m being honest, these TMNT NECA figures are selling far too well to count on a future sale. If you like what you see and have the means, I say go for it. I see a lot of concern from collectors online about mixing video game figures in with their cartoon series, but to that I say “Who cares?” Slash looks great and fits in anywhere. The video game pixel deco is not particularly extreme and I have no qualms about placing him among the other villains from the cartoon.

As for the future of the line, we know wave 2 will comprise of Raph, Mikey, Leatherhead, and Shredder. They’re all basically repaints of existing figures (though in the case of Leatherhead, a soon to be released figure) from the cartoon line. Shredder appears to have some new tooling to give his spikes some added menace and he comes with new effects pieces. He’s in his normal form from the arcade game, but since NECA showed off a Super Shredder for its movie line recently at Toy Fair, don’t be surprised if a video game version follows. Additionally, NECA unveiled multi-colored Foot Soldiers as well which was a given. Other characters that cross-over with the other lines include Tokka, Rahzar, Metalhead, Krang, and Baxter. In the case of Baxter, his cartoon figure wouldn’t be in-scale with his much larger video game depiction so it’s unknown if NECA would do a different sculpt, or if they’d just use a larger mold based on the same figure. Bebop and Rocksteady also appeared in the home version of the game, but in pirate attire that basically would necessitate all new figures from what was already released. Either way, there’s room to grow and other games as well to pick from should they cross-over with the cartoon line so expect at least a few more waves. There’s also a TMNT branded Loot Crate coming this summer with an arcade theme so expect a figure in there as well. These figures can be found at specialty shops, and online at popular toy retail sites, and best of all, you can preorder them without too much hassle!


Dec. 24 – Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas

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Released by Sony Wonder on September 21, 1993

In 2018, it feels like the novelty music genre is mostly dead. Back in the day when radio was the primary vehicle for delivering new music the novelty song had a place. Usually they would be part of commutes or morning shows when producers thought a laugh was in order. I know where I grew up the local rock station had the Free-ride Funnies in the late afternoon when novelty tracks would be played along with stand-up routines and prank calls. Weird Al had a place on MTV along with other novelty acts and songs (remember Green Jelly’s rendition of The Three Little Pigs?) that would be played along with more “legitimate” music. As such, novelty albums were more popular though I feel like the general experience with novelty albums was hearing a funny song on the radio, buying the record, then kind of regretting it. Even some Weird Al albums couldn’t shake that feeling.

It should come as no surprise, or maybe a little surprise, that The Ren & Stimpy Show got in on the novelty Christmas album game when it released Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 1993. This album arrived during the height of Ren and Stimpy’s popularity and after the departure of series creator Jon K. It was the second album attributed to the dog and cat duo following You Eediot! which was released just a month prior. That album contained mostly music from the show, while this one was all new.

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A brief bit from the show called Yak Shaving Day is the originator for all of this extra content.

The album is called Crock O’ Christmas, but it’s not really about Christmas and is instead about the fictional holiday of Yaksmas, which was referenced in a prior episode. Many of the songs are parodies of popular Christmas songs and usually just reading the title will clue you in on what the song is going to parody. As the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, Billy West is called upon to do the heavy-lifting in both singing and speaking roles. Bob Camp illustrated the cover which depicts Stinky Wizzleteats and the Gilded Yak piloting Stinky’s sausage cart while Ren and Stimpy pull it dressed as reindeer. This album is a precursor to the “Scooter for Yaksmas” episode, which we covered last year, and a lot of the lore for the holiday found in that episode originates here. Bob Camp and Jim Gomez provided the lyrics for most of the music while the whole thing was overseen by Vanessa Coffey and Charlie Brissette.

Since the format of this advent calendar styled journey through Christmas media is to provide a synopsis and walk the reader through the episode, we might as well just go with a song by song breakdown of this interesting piece of largely forgotten media.

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The reverse cover for the original release.

The first track is “Fleck the Walls,” and it’s to the tune of “Deck the Halls” as Stimpy and Ren introduce the listener to Yaksmas Eve. They talk about flecking the walls with dirty diapers and detail the events of Yaksmas Eve such as filling your uncle’s boots with coleslaw, wearing rubber nipples, and licking up shaving scum left behind by the Gilded Yak. It’s quite gross, but par for the course with The Ren & Stimpy Show which really started to double-down on the gross aspects of the characters during the Games Animation era.

The second track is “Cat Hairballs” which is a parody of “Jingle Bells.” It’s basically Stimpy bragging about the wonders of his hairballs and how useful they are. Ren chimes in he has had enough hairballs which provokes Stimpy into coming up with more uses for them like making cigars and underwear from them. Gross. They then venture to their neighbor’s house to sing for them, and because the guy who lives there owes Ren five bucks. They encounter the husband and wife (Cheryl Chase) and wish them a Merry Cobbday so we apparently have two holidays to celebrate. They then are introduced to a goat, who is the pet I suppose of the neighbors. The husband then confesses he’s depressed because he never gets what he wants for Yaksmas. When Ren asks what it is he wants, he replies “a hairy chest.”

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The album was re-released in 97 with re-arranged artwork.

This takes us into song three, “We Wish You a Hairy Chestwig” (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) as Ren and Stimpy wish a chestwig for their neighbor. Shelly Williams takes over as the wife as the duo sing with Ren and Stimpy (Billy West is the husband) about wishing for a chestwig. It’s the most simple of the parodies so far and not very disgusting, just silly. At the end of the song they find themselves at The West Pole which is where Stinky Wizzleteats lives. They knock on the door and meet the old man, but find he’s not too kind. He demands Ren act like a dog then calls for his wife to get his dog wallopin’ 2×4. When Ren explains they want to sing him a Yaksmas carol, he calls for his dog wallopin’ guitar.

This takes us into the next song, “It’s a Wizzleteats Kind of Christmas” which is an original tune. It explains Stinky’s role in the holiday introducing us to his sausage cart and detailing the traditions of the holiday including falling down the stairs and eating pre-chewed gum. It will be recycled for the Yaksmas episode of the show and it’s amusing enough and it’s nice to have some added visuals in that case. When Stimpy finishes the song, Stinky gives him some praise then goes into a song of his own about a chicken getting eaten by giant worms. It seems to unnerve Stimpy and the two slip away deciding to go to the mall.

That’s where our next song takes place, “We’re Going Shopping” which is another original song, though it’s pretty dialogue heavy. Stimpy has dragged Ren to the mall and is a compulsive shopper. We also get a circus midget joke which is a reference to the fire chief from the show; a joke that hasn’t ages well. Ren doesn’t want to shop and complains about his feet hurting while Stimpy tries to sell him on a glass diaper pale (“You can not only do your duty, you can see it too!”), but he’s not interested. The song ends with them arriving at the Royal Order of Yaks where Stimpy explains how the Gilded Yaks are selected to pilot the enchanted canoes on Yaksmas Eve.

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Back cover of the 97 re-release.

This leads into “Yak Shaving Day,” where the characters sing about, what else, Yak Shaving Day. If you saw the bit in the show then you know what to expect. It might be the most basic song so far and least entertaining. It’s also an original tune. It ends with Ren and Stimpy back home to welcome Stinky (the fart, not to be confused with Stinky Wizzleteats) and his bride Cora from “Son of Stimpy.” Stinky and Stimpy then recount how they spent their first Christmas after thumbing through a photo album which brings us to…

“What is Christmas?” where Stimpy and Stinky basically refresh us on the events from Stinky’s debut episode. The song (another original) is actually rather sweet, even if it’s about a cat’s affection for its fart. Because it’s actually executed quite well as a sentimental track, it’s not very funny. The humor really needs the visuals of Stimpy hugging his fart cloud to work. Interestingly, our characters are now openly singing about celebrating Christmas making this whole holiday season really confusing

That song ends with dialogue about Stimpy introducing All Cobb’s Eve. It apparently coincides with Yaksmas Eve and it’s a custom from Stimpy’s native Gibberland. He then sings “Cobb to the World” (“Joy to the World”) detailing how Wilbur Cobb visits you in the night to pass out on your lawn (a trait that will be given to Stinky Wizzleteats later). The song describes Wilbur Cobb, a character from the show, in all of his gruesome glory. It’s all about how his body parts fall off with some other old man traits described as grossly as possible. The parody nature of the song limits it, but it gets its message across. Meat, corn, and cheese logs are apparently all part of this “holiday’s” celebration.

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Wilbur Cobb is the subject of his own holiday, though it may be one only celebrated by Stimpy.

After that lesson on All Cobb’s Eve, Ren just wants to go to bed, but Stimpy reminds him they have somewhere to be. It’s Muddy Mudskipper’s Holiday Hop, which is the subject of “Happy Holiday Hop,” a fun little rockabilly jam. Ren and Stimpy aren’t on the guest list, but they politely ask to crash the party while singing about Muddy. It’s not a direct parody of anything, but it’s pretty generic 50’s rock in its presentation which makes it probably the most danceable of the album so far. It’s just about a party so there isn’t anything gross. If you wanted to add a track from this album to a generic Christmas mix, this is probably the song you’d go for.

Our next song is “I Hate Christmas” where Ren acts more like the Ren we know from the show as he confesses his disdain for all of this holiday stuff. He does it after Stimpy goes to bed who recounts all of their Yaksmas Eve activities thus far before doing so. He playfully asks Ren if he’ll be joining him in bed, a some-what subtle gay joke. Ren says he’s going to “tickle the ivories” instead which is a metaphor for playing the piano I had never heard before and is rather clever. Ren’s song starts off kind of mopey, then he gets angry, as it turns into more of a lounge type of song. He particularly hates Christmas music, which is deliberately ironic, I presume. It’s the most relatable track so far if you find yourself getting run down by the holiday.

Our penultimate track is the “The Twelve Days of Yaksmas,” and I assume you can figure out what it is a parody of. It begins with Ren getting a package in the mail (“Wow, that’s the biggest package I’ve ever seen!”) from Ignoramia, home to cousin Sven. The song is them going through the package of gifts from Sven which is mostly gross stuff:  jars of spit, used bandages, golden hairballs, etc. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is quite possibly the worst of the traditional Christmas songs and it’s pretty annoying. They manage to run through it in about 4 minutes, so this isn’t too bad, but it still over-stays its welcome.

Our final track is “Decorate Yourself,” another original tune. The title is rather self-explanatory. It’s basically a rock ballad and comes in at over 5 minutes making it the longest song on the album. It has some silly lines, but isn’t very gross and the prior forty minutes of sillier stuff dampen the comedy element of the song. It mostly feels like putting a bow on the whole album. It ends with the duo saying goodbye to the audience as Stimpy tries to wish a happy holiday for every made-up holiday they cited on this album as well as some new ones prompting Ren to just tell him to shut up so they can leave. An appropriate ending for a Ren and Stimpy production.

So you want to get a novelty Christmas album to spin at your party this year? This would probably work out all right if your audience is familiar with The Ren & Stimpy Show. It’s more childish in its humor than other novelty albums, so it might only work on nostalgia really. If you’re counting on it being a memorable part of your holiday then you may be let down. As a little supplement to the show and its other holiday episodes, it’s kind of fun. If my kids ever get into the show I’ll probably try this on them and see what they think, though it is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the show skews a bit older than this probably would.

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An interview disk was distributed with the promo version of the album.

The album was first released by Sony on its Sony Wonder label. The production is actually really well done and there’s a band, choir, and orchestra utilized. Some talented people put some time into the compositions and it shows. The lyrics could be better as there is perhaps too much that is just nonsensical. A 90s trait of Nicktoons was just to make something like cheese funny all by itself, when it never really was in the first place. It’s a tactic that works on kids (just watch the show All That which is almost entirely what I call unhumor that somehow worked on children of the era) but less so on older audiences. The booklet is pretty nice and includes original art on the cover as well as stills from the show inside. It’s festive, and there are lyrics printed inside as well along with transcripts of the character dialogue. West does a nice job with what he’s given and his level of performance is on par with the producers and musicians who participated. The album was re-released by Kid Rhino in 1997. It features some cosmetic differences like re-arranged artwork and a different layout for the booklet, though content wise it’s the same. I’d say the presentation is a bit louder visually, though not necessarily better or worse.

If you want to hear Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 2018 your best bet is to just head to eBay. There the CD version of the album will only set you back a few bucks with the Kid Rhino re-release apparently commanding a bit more money. There is a cassette version as well if you want to go that route. If you consider yourself a big fan of the show and you like Christmas then I think this is probably worth a look considering it’s relatively cheap to acquire. If a Christmas album by Ren and Stimpy sounds like something you would not like then you should probably trust your instincts there. You can hear most of this stuff on YouTube if you’re just curious and not eager to add any physical media to your Ren & Stimpy collection. If you’re expecting this to be the funniest Christmas album you’ve ever heard, then once again you may be let down. It’s just okay, but very much in the spirit of the show which makes it charming for fans.


Dec. 8 – The Adventures of Pete & Pete – “O’ Christmas Pete”

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Original air date:  December 14, 1996

Nickelodeon used to be a weird channel. It was composed mostly of old black and white television shows like Lassie and Dennis the Menace while mixing in old cartoons like re-packaged Looney Tunes blocks. Then there was early morning educational stuff including some anime that wasn’t obviously anime, plus Mr. Wizard. And don’t forget about the Canadian import You Can’t Do That on Television, a sketch-comedy show for kids that was more than a little bizarre. During commercials Nickelodeon would also fill small programming gaps with shorts like Inside Out Boy, the boy who swung over the bar on a swing-set and became inside out. The most successful of their interstitial shorts though ended up being The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

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Remember when everyone had a magazine?

The Adventures of Pete & Pete starred two brothers who were both named Pete for some reason. Big Pete (Michael C. Maronna) was the narrator and the more grounded of the two Petes, while Little Pete (Danny Tamberelli) was more eccentric and weird. Surprisingly, their dad was named Don (Hardy Rawls) and their mom (Judy Grafe), as it was pointed out in every episode, had a metal plate in her head. That plate was like another character, as was Little Pete’s tattoo Petunia. Other characters included Big Pete’s best friend Ellen (Alison Fanelli) and Little Pete’s superhero friend Artie, the Strongest Man in the World (Toby Huss). The shorts were successful enough to spawn a series of holiday inspired episodes, and the success of those eventually lead to a full series order that lead to a further 34 episodes.

“O’ Christmas Pete” was one of the last episodes of the show to air. It originally premiered on December 14, 1996 and would be followed by just two more episodes before the show was shelved. I assume the show was largely cancelled because the actors were all getting older. Plus Nickelodeon was rather cheap with their live-action shows so even well-received ones usually only lasted a season or two as the network didn’t want to pay higher wages for return programming. Instead, they’d just air re-runs of everything for what felt like eternity.

This episode spotlights something close to my own heart. The rush of Christmas, the excitement, the build-up, and then the crash. It ends so quickly and then all signs of it vanish. Well, maybe not quite so fast since I have neighbors who wait until April before they finally take down their lights. Big Pete feels the blow, and dreads it, but it’s Little Pete who decides that this year he’s going to change it.

wrigley family

The Wrigley family:  Big Pete, Dad, Mom, and Little Pete.

Little Pete sits the family down on December 26 to recount what happened the day before, and what state the family is in now. They were happy, for yesterday was Christmas, and now are mired in a funk. He proposes that things don’t have to be with this way – Christmas can be every day! Mom and Big Pete seem to be onboard immediately, but Dad needs a little convincing in the form of fruit cake. The man just might be the only person on earth who welcomes the fruit cake. Convinced this is the way, the family celebrates Christmas all over again complete with Christmas dinner. They setup a Santa greeting station in their garage, and go caroling the next day. As the montage goes on it shows that their caroling party gets bigger and bigger each day so apparently the whole neighborhood is onboard with Little Pete’s proclamation.

pete's nativity

Pete stages a nativity play every day, possibly multiple times per day, proving he’s not just about Santa Claus.

It starts to ware off though, and the first one to cave is Dad. He tries undressing the tree, but is confronted by his youngest son in a hostile manner. Little Pete speaks in threats while Dad tries to convince him the tree is dead and he needs to go back to work. Nothing is working, but Dad reveals his true fear – the garbage man! The house shakes as a little musical number kicks in. It sounds like a spaghetti western parody as a black and white screen shows the images of a foggy garbage truck as it rolls through the neighborhood collecting discarded Christmas trees.

garbageman gifIt arrives at the Wrigley home and the family is out on the lawn to confront the ghastly garbage man (Joseph McKenna). He wants the tree, and while Big Pete and Mom try to cheerily convince him Christmas is still going on, Dad takes a position of fear while Little Pete remains defiant. When the garbage man eventually demands the tree, Little Pete responds with a “Ho, Ho, No!” and demands to know where his Christmas spirit is. Unfortunately for them, the garbage man was vaccinated against Christmas spirit, but he decides to leave assuring this almost certainly isn’t over.

That night, Dad is asleep on the couch when Garbageman enters. He awakens and we find out that Dad arranged for this, but when Garbageman goes to remove the tree an alarm is triggered. Little Pete bursts in to defend his tree. Garbageman tries to take the angel from the top of the tree hostage, but is met with tranquilizer darts fired from strategically positioned nutcrackers. Garbageman fires back with some well constructed Christmas insults, forcing Dad to intervene to defend his son’s honor. When Garbageman outs him, Little Pete questions how his dad could turn on him, but he’s assured that he’s with him now. Mom and Big Pete show up as the music starts to get off-key and the image distorts to reveal the tranquilizer in Garbageman is having an affect. He stumbles out of the house and falls off the porch  as the Wrigley family laughs at him. He hallucinates and sees them as laughing Santas which causes him to snap. As long as they hang onto that tree, no garbage pickup for them!

As the garbage mounts fewer neighbors show up for Pete’s nativity play and fewer are interested in Christmas carols. Even Big Pete is starting to crack as the garbage pile grows higher and higher and kids at school start calling him Garbage Boy. Little Pete remains faithful and decides on an all-out Christmas blitz. He takes over the airwaves with Christmas programming, pipes fake snow into neighbor’s homes, and organizes a Christmas mambo. It seems to be working, but it only angers Garbageman further. He hijacks the airwaves as well and declares that until the Wrigley’s give up their tree, there will be no garbage pick-up in the neighborhood!

gas mask pete

Big Pete is forced to wear a gas mask when piling up the garbage.

Almost immediately, the rest of the neighborhood begins to crack. Neighbors argue about where to put the garbage and soon a mob, organized by neighborhood bully Pit Stain (Eric Kushnick), shows up at the Wrigley house demanding to see Little Pete. He tries to argue with them that they can’t let Garbageman kill Christmas, but Pit Stain assures him it’s the tree, or his life, and he has 24 hours to think it over.

santa boxing

If you beat him you become Santa.

In response, Pete builds a boxing ring and the neighbors gather round for a fight. He introduces Santa Claus and institutes an open challenge. Pit Stain emerges as the first fighter, but soon finds he can’t bring himself to pummel Santa and instead thanks him for the “choo choo.” No one else is willing to fight Santa, and the crowd soon starts cheering for Christmas again. Proving that they’re a fickle audience, they’re all immediately intrigued when Garbageman emerges to answer the challenge. He wallops Santa and the crowd cheers him on. Little Pete holds out hope that Santa can recover, but Big Pete points out that he’s already lost given the crowd reaction to Garbageman. Finally admitting defeat, Little Pete throws in the towel to spare Santa of being slaughtered. Garbageman reacts with triumph as the crowd disperses.

It’s set for that night. Garbageman is coming for the tree. Big Pete, via his narration, explains the situation and also expresses relief, but also a feeling of letting his brother down. He decides he needs to do something to support Little Pete. Garbageman arrives at their house that night, and the whole neighborhood is there to watch Little Pete drag his beloved tree to the curb. It’s staged like an execution, and when he arrives at Garbageman’s truck he tells him he hopes he’s happy. Garbageman gets serious, and asks if Pete really thinks he enjoys crushing the dreams of children? He answers his own question by declaring he loves it! Laughing, he tosses the tree in the truck and begins the crushing.

garbage xmasBig Pete shouts for him to stop, but Garbageman refuses. Then he calls his parents to action and they plug-in an extension cord that illuminates the Wrigley house’s Christmas lights. Not just the house though, for Big Pete had decorated the mountain of garbage on their sidewalk with lights and now it looks like a giant, smelly, Christmas tree. The crowd is transfixed, and they quickly turn on Garbageman and tell him to spare the kid’s tree. He’s flabbergasted though and insists that it’s all still garbage, and it’s garbage day!

Seeing that the crowd and Garbageman need further convincing, Pete once more shouts to additional accomplices by the nativity scene who activate more lights. Now, the garbage piles at the end of all the driveways light-up like glorious, trash-filled, trees. Everyone is transfixed by the festive display, and Garbageman is at a loss for words. He confesses he feels funny, and he’s assured that what he feels inside isn’t heartburn, but the Christmas Spirit. It’s found a home in Garbageman, and though he seems concerned, he’s not rejecting it. He starts to stumble down the street while the whole crowd follows to take-in the lights. Big Pete lets us know that Christmas eventually came to an end for their neighborhood, but that everyone was a bit nicer from there on out as the snow begins to fall.

pile of garbage“O’ Christmas Pete” is a Christmas special true to the show’s unique and surreal nature. While it was disappointing to see the absence of some of the supporting cast, the story the episode tells is goofy and charming. The show always managed to tell silly stories while remaining very serious. Everyone’s a joke, but none of them are in on it. Joseph McKenna is great as the over-the-top Garbageman and his unique look makes him quite creepy, especially in the night scenes. Hardy Rawls is an unsung hero as Dad while Michael Maronna is the show’s real MVP who always manages to keep things grounded while they get weirder and weirder. Danny Tamberelli was always the star of this show, mostly because his character was easy for the target audience to identify with, in spite of him being the weakest performer. He’s at his best when he gets to angrily shout insults and behave like an anti-hero. His rough around the edges performance actually works to the show’s advantage, giving it even more of quirky, B-movie, vibe.

As a Christmas special, this one is fairly simple in its message that you can’t kill Christmas. Even though it must go away for nearly a year at a time, it always comes back. Pretty much any kid or even adult who loves the holiday can relate to the feeling of not wanting it to go away. And since there are a ton of Christmas specials in the wild, it’s always neat to see one do something different. In the case of this one, it’s have almost the entire episode set after Christmas as only the opening 30 seconds or so takes place during the holiday. The events after span about two weeks. We’ve seen Christmast every day plots before, but they usually involve the protagonist getting exhausted by Christmas and learnig a lesson that it’s special because it’s only one day a year. That’s not the case with this one. Everything about it is pretty silly from the absurd amount of garbage accumulated over a short period of time to its almost absence of a resolution. They must have taken down the garbage trees at some point, but how long did it go on? And did Little Peter ever permit to have his tree crushed? Making a garbage man the enemy of Christmas was a nice twist too and it was rather funny to see a character practically feed off of Christmas’s destruction.

As someone who had not watched an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete in decades, I must say it actually holds up pretty well. It’s low-key approach to silly comedy helps it age well. It definitely stands out from the louder, corny, live-action Nick shows and I would totally be down for watching more. If you want to check this one out this holiday season, actually keep an eye out on Teen Nick’s programming for the month as they will show older Christmas specials during The Splat. It’s a late-night block of programming catering to nostalgic 30-somethings. That’s your best hope as Season 3 remains the only season of the show to not receive a DVD release. Supposedly they were pressed, packaged, and ready to go with commentary tracks all recorded and so forth, but the merger of Dreamworks and Paramount meant they never got shipped to retailers. That was over ten years ago so presumably those copes were destroyed, but maybe they’re still hanging around somewhere. If you look hard enough online though you can stream this and it’s totally worth the effort.


Ranking the Many Versions of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles in TimeWith Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their debut comic. Since then the four have become international superstars and seen their likeness adapted for television, film, a stage tour, and other comics over the years. Across these many mediums we’ve seen the four brothers sport many different looks, display different personality traits, while mostly adhering to the core of being mutated turtles that practice ninjitsu taught to them by their surrogate father – a rat named Splinter.

Whenever a new show based on an old property is unveiled, there’s almost always an immediate backlash by a certain portion of the fan base. It doesn’t even matter if the fanbase is inconsequential or even non-existent, as was seen recently with the She-Ra images unveiled, there will always be those who hate the new and prefer the old. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Hate it all you want, but you’ll always have what came before. I draw the line when folks say “they’re ruining my childhood” because that’s preposterous. Your childhood came and went, it’s history, there’s nothing to ruin. I’d encourage everyone to be open-minded and don’t be a slave to nostalgia because you’ll ultimately find more things in life to enjoy with such a mindset, but to each their own.

For this ranking, I am weighing the general design heavily above all others. This ranking is subjective and largely about how appealing I find the design of the four turtles to be. I am also giving a little added weight to the quality of the medium as well – does it hold up? Is it entertaining for children? All ages? And so on. I’m also just sticking to the comics, television, film, and stage show and not video games or toys. Most of the video games were based on one of those other things or strongly resemble another and the same is true for the toys. I don’t want things to get too unmanageable, so some of this may feel a little condensed, but you’ll see what I mean when we get to each one as I’ll note if there are any deviations. With that said, most of these all have some aesthetic charm to them, with only the very back-end of this ranking being particularly poor. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

TMNT_rock_band

What have we unleashed upon the world?

13. Coming Out of Their Shells Turtles

I ended up with 13 distinct flavors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and by far the most dreadful would be the stage show Turtles from the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. If you weren’t alive in 1990, basically the brand was on fire. No one could really explain it, and still can’t since the premise is so preposterous, but everyone was pretty sure it wouldn’t last much longer. Anyone with a financial interest in the TMNT was rushing product to shelves to capitalize as quickly as possible and someone thought a live show was a worthwhile endeavor. Utilizing two sets of costumes, the Turtles would appear on stage in some radical threads and would sing, dance, and mime fights with the bad guys from the cartoon. There were also backstage segments that were pre-taped featuring more conventional play style sequences for plot points. These costumes weren’t really meant to be seen up close since they were for the stage, and it shows. There’s no nuance to their mechanical mouths which just flap around. They have these crazy wide-eyed expressions and the added clothing items just look dorky, to put it simply. What was crazy though, is that these costumes weren’t confined to a live show. They had them appear on Oprah and in home videos so you could see just how terrible they looked. The home video and Christmas Special probably came out after the money had been made on the actual tour, but the Oprah thing still blows my mind.

Bay TMNT

These guys smell.

12. The Michael Bay Turtles (2014 Film)

I know I look like some old curmudgeon for sticking one of the most recent incarnations in the 12th spot, but I can’t help it – I really hate these guys. It wasn’t a surprise to see the newest films opt for CG over costumes, even if it was still disappointing, nor was it a surprise to see a new look for the gang green. However, could they have made these guys look any uglier? They’re a monstrous mess, just a pile of weapons, belts, and clothing. They embody the same personalities we’ve known for years and yet feel so lifeless. Even only four years after the first film, and a mere two after its sequel, these guys already feel forgotten and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I really have nothing nice to say about them. I guess Bebop and Rocksteady were cool?

tmnt03e

Talk about a downgrade.

11. All Effects Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)

The third film in four years for TMNT was the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. I liked it well enough as a kid I suppose, though it definitely was my least favorite of the trilogy. As an adult I find it mostly unwatchable. I suppose it can be laughed at in a manner befitting only bad movies, but my word do those costumes look awful. The first two films featured costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company and were remarkable for the time. For the third film, Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema contracted All Effects and the results were less than spectacular. The main bodies of each turtle looks fairly similar, but with less texture. They clearly looked like rubber suits. The heads though were awful. The dynamic expressions of the earlier costumes were gone replaced with something more static and soulless. I am not certain, but my guess is All Effects just went with one head design for its costumes as opposed to Henson’s multi-head approach. These ones are a bit more frog-like and just off-putting. Making these worse, the personalities of the Turtles were also less defined. Corey Feldman reprised his role as Donatello from the first film and apparently was considered the star as his character had way more lines. Everyone was kind of jokey and just along for the ride with only Mikey displaying much range. A very unsatisfying end to the trilogy. The feudal costumes at least looked kind of neat.

next mutation

They kind of look like they’re melting.

10. The Saban Turtles (The Next Mutation)

It feels like I’m picking on the live-action costumes in the early going, but I guess it’s to be expected with such outlandish characters that originated in print. And it also has to do with money. The third Turtles film was produced on the cheap, and the stage show certainly was as well relative to a film budget, and if you know much about TV cartoon development in the 90s then you know Saban is notorious for being cheap. Saban is most famous for bringing us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which took film from the Japanese show Super Sentai and dubbed it for American audiences as something different. That’s about as cheap as it gets for show creation. It’s actually a surprise that the company even wanted to do a live-action series of TMNT in 1997 well after the franchise’s peak years. Titled Ninja Turtles:  The Next Mutation, it required all new costumes and sets and must have been rather expensive relative to other Saban entertainment. Even so, there was no way it was going to match the costumes from the film series, and while you could argue these are worse than what All Effects gave us, at least they tried to change things up. This show also famously added a fifth turtle, Venus de Milo, and it sort of followed the continuity of the other live-action heroes. It was pretty hokey and more than a bit cheesy, but I suppose it has its fans.

TMNT 2007

Passable, but also forgettable.

9. Imagi Turtles (TMNT 2007 film)

In what was a bit of a surprise, Warner Bros. tried bringing back the Turtles with a CG sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III 14 years after that film had been released. In truth, audiences didn’t need to know much about those previous movies to see this, just a general knowledge of who the Turtles were since a lot of time had passed in universe as well. The movie was okay, not bad but not exactly good either, and the CG was befitting that of a major studio. The characters mostly embodied the archetypes established in the first film, but the visual style was very different. The Turtles were more rounded with squished faces. Their skin was smooth and mostly free of any texture. They looked slippery and ever more frog-like than what we saw in the third film. It animated well, but the stills are some-what lackluster. It’s not the design I would have picked, but it was fine and not really noteworthy as this film is easily the most forgettable of the first four.

Rise TMNT

I don’t hate this.

8. The Flying Bark Turtles (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

It seems premature to even include the newest version in these rankings, but here we are. I said a lot about them in my write-up for the first episode, but as designs go I don’t hate these. I appreciate the willingness of the producers and the animators at Flying Bark to try something pretty new. There are elements of the older designs in the new ones, but with this show the brothers are, for the first time, different subspecies of turtles. Even though I didn’t much care for the show, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. And if we’re just going by looks, it’s definitely got more personality than what was ranked behind it.

4Kids TMNT

A lot more menacing than that old cartoon.

7. The 4Kids Turtles (2003 Cartoon)

We have arrived at what is perhaps our first controversial ranking. The 2003 series produced by 4Kids Entertainment is well-regarded. It came at a time when the kids who had grown up on the TMNT were willing to embrace something that had grown up with them while a new generation was also willing to dive into a show about mutated ninja turtles. The show was a back to basics, taking a lot of the material from the original Mirage Comics run and adapting it for television in a kid-friendly manner without pandering. The old chunky designs were replaced with sleek, muscular, frames and the skin tones of the old Playmates toy line was essentially made canon as each turtle was a slightly different shade of green. The personalities were a bit of an amalgamation of the old cartoon and comic, with Raph, Leo, and Donatello being pretty close to the source while Mikey was a bit more like the old cartoon character. Where this one sort of stumbles for me is with the decision to go with the blank eyed look from the comics and toys. It makes the characters look pretty cool in a still frame, but when they had to emote it looks awkward. A future series would integrate this better. Don’t mistake this ranking as an endorsement of the 87 cartoon over this one as I’d much prefer to watch this series over that one any day.

TMNT 1987

Regardless of your feelings on this show, you can’t deny this is still what most folks picture when you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. The Fred Wolf Turtles (1987 Cartoon Series)

Here is where we get to the big one, the most recognizable brand of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the one most responsible for the popularity of the franchise. These turtles actually had four some-what distinct looks, but we’ll get to that. In general though, the makers of the cartoon took the designs from Mirage and mostly added color and personality. The Mirage TMNT looked cool, but aside from Raph they didn’t offer much personality. They also looked the same and had those blank eyes which wouldn’t play well on television. To make up for that, the cartoon introduced the colored bandanas and pads unique to each turtle while also giving them actual eyes. Raph was toned down from a hot-tempered malcontent to a sarcastic prankster while Leo mostly retained his super serious persona. Donatello was made a genius, and Mikey a surfer dude. Oh, and they all loved pizza. Like, really loved pizza. It’s stuff you know all about now, and even though the cartoon basically existed to sell toys it at least looked pretty good. The first season, at least. In that one, the Turtles were a more muted shade of green with more musculature and a hint of a beak. Come the second season they were a bit brighter and more rounded. Weapons were de-emphasized and animators saw little need in actually showing their weapons holstered and so forth. By the final season though, they received a fairly radical redesign that introduced more blacks and a more angular shape. It was trying too hard to make the Turtles seem “dark” and “cool” and didn’t really play well. In Japan, a pair of OVAs were released that mostly featured the standard look of this serious, but gave the Turtles crazy transformation powers. You may remember seeing the toys for these on store shelves and wondered where they came from, well there’s your answer. I didn’t think either was really worth devoting a separate ranking to, but felt they were worth mentioning.

TMNT Archie

The storylines in the pages of Archie’s TMNT weren’t much better than the cartoon, but the artwork was a ton of fun.

5. The Archie Turtles (Archie Comics)

Alongside the original cartoon series was the Archie Comics series. This series basically captured the look and feel of the cartoon, but did at least experiment with making things a little more mature. I basically only decided to give the Archie Turtles their own entry because of what they did with Raph. Still keeping him mostly in-line with his cartoon counterpart, he was also made the loner or black sheep of the family and he wore all black for a while. It was confusing for me as a kid and I probably didn’t care for it, but now I look back and give Archie credit for not just adapting episodes of the cartoon into printed form.

Mirage TMNT

I’m guessing you’ve seen this image before, and probably not on the cover of a comic book.

4. Mirage Comics

All style, no substance. That’s pretty much the Mirage Turtles in a nut-shell, or should I say half-shell? While they did get better, initially the four characters were interchangeable. Chunky, but muscular, they were depicted in black and white and were only distinguishable by their weapons. Eventually, the personality of Raphael would be added and he was given a foil in Leonardo and a kindred spirit in Casey Jones. Leonardo would be made the stoic leader, while Donatello the introverted tech-nerd. Mikey never really morphed into the character we’ve seen elsewhere and he’s kind of hard to get a read on. Eastman and Laird’s artwork also improved along the way and their version of the Turtles from say issue 4 on is pretty damn good. Eventually, other artists were brought in to work on the books and you could do a separate listing on the various different takes they had on the characters, but for the purpose of this ranking I’m basically just going with the Eastman/Laird take. The peak of their art is probably best reflected, and most can recall it from the cover art to the first NES game. It confused the Hell out of me to see all four of the Turtles wearing red, but I sure thought it looked pretty bad ass.

Nick TMNT

The show that made April and Casey adolescents and made it work.

3. The Nick Turtles (2012 TV series)

It took some time, but the 2012 version of the characters seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did eventually grow on me. As far as personality and so forth was concerned, I was pretty much hooked from the start. The same archetypes were followed that we’re used to, but they felt more malleable and sincere. Leonardo wasn’t just some goody-two-shoes, he often struggled with being a surrogate Splinter when out on the town. Raph was a bit of a hot-head, but he didn’t strike me as being confrontational just for the sake of it. Donatello was a brain, but an insecure one. Mikey was still juvenile and mostly care free, but without being too over-exposed. This show pretty much nailed it as far as that goes. From a looks perspective, they basically went with the first movie, but with colored masks. The Turtles also featured three toes for the first time, an odd choice, but largely inconsequential. They wore wraps on their feet too which was different, but it made sense (those other turtles must have had some serious blisters) and added a little personality. About the only thing I didn’t like was the sometimes boxy-looking anatomy. Their shoulder muscles looked practically square, but it became less noticeable the more I was exposed to it. I loved that each turtle had his own body type and you could tell them apart by that alone. I also liked the little touch of making their eyes go blank when in combat. Definitely a move that’s all style and has no practical explanation in-universe, but it’s a cartoon so who cares? Have fun with it! This television series should be the new measuring stick for any future incarnation of the TMNT. That doesn’t mean they all should take the same approach, but strive for the same level of quality.

IDW TMNT

Maybe the coolest looking version of the TMNT yet.

2. The IDW Turtles (IDW Comics)

Alongside the 2012 reboot came a reboot in printed form. Kevin Eastman returned to the franchise alongside IDW Comics and presented a new version of the TMNT. It basically takes the tone of the original Mirage Comics, while also adding in the more developed personalities that would follow. The artwork is largely great, and the Turtles are back to wearing all red (they would eventually gain some color). If you’re an adult fan still mad about the new cartoon, well just head to a comic shop and read this series. This is the version of the TMNT made for those who out-grew the franchise, and from that perspective it’s pretty good. The Turtles will never be high art, and there’s tons of fan-service plots in this series, but in general it’s what most TMNT fans over 30 probably want.

Henson TMNT

I love these guys.

1.The Henson Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Secret of the Ooze)

Could there be anything else? The 1990 movie is still the best adaption of any kind of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking the Mirage look, adding in the colored masks from the cartoon, and also its own creative liberties resulted in a near perfect take on this green team. The four brothers all look different, all act different, and all go through their own ups and downs along the way. They have distinct personalities and challenges to face, and most of all the costumes created for these two movies are fantastic. I prefer the more realistic approach of the first film. That one was less intimidated by showing these characters for what they are, while the second one brightened things up and made them a little more appealing to look at from a practical sense. In other words, the Turtles of the first film looked like they lived in a sewer, while the ones in the second looked like they lived in an upscale apartment in Manhattan (which they did for a time). The first film is also very different in terms of style and tone, but the Jim Henson Company worked on both. The costumes received mostly minor tweaks between films, though Donatello looks almost completely different (he also had the biggest personality change as well, I guess because Feldman left the franchise). Both films entertained me a lot as a kid, but of the two, only the first one actually holds up. The second is basically a live-action version of the cartoon, though Raph still gets to inject a bit of conflict into the group dynamics. That first film is the best though. It hits the sweet spot between the gritty violence of the Mirage source material and the playful banter of the cartoon. It’s unlikely we’ll ever receive a better version of these characters, but maybe someone out there is just waiting to prove me wrong. I hope they’re successful.


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Mystic Mayhem”

rise_of_the_tmntOn July 20th, Nickelodeon offered up a preview of its newest take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dubbed Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new show is the heir-apparent to the one Nick ran from 2012-2017. Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that show was a modern re-telling of the story we’re all familiar with. It was presented in CG and featured the main characters from the comics and older television shows while mostly adhering to the personalities that had been long established throughout the various media. It was the fourth attempt at bringing the Turtles to television, and by all accounts it was pretty successful. Likely no future version of gang green will ever be as impactful as the 1987 series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a success.

The show was well-received and it was one that even I, a 30-something, mostly kept up with. It likely ended for business reasons, though possibly artistic ones as the show-runners may have felt they had told all of the stories they wished to tell. I think it’s more likely the network felt the toy franchise was mostly tapped out and there were probably new contracts that needed to be negotiated. Television shows for older kids are also transitioning away from CG and back to 2D as technological advances have made that medium a lot cheaper, and easier, to work with. Which is likely one of the many reasons we are here today talking about a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arriving just a year after the previous one ended.

riseofthetmnt-skylight-turtles-700x318Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entirely new show with a new cast of characters. In some ways, this is the most ambitious reboot we have ever seen for the franchise. The 1987 series took the most recognizable characters from the Mirage comics and adapted them for television while also stripping out the violence. Each turtle was given his own personality, something they kind of lacked in the comics, and Shredder was made the main villain and given an accomplice in Krang. Ever since that series found success, it would seem each successive iteration tried to incorporate more of the original comic. Starting with the 1990 movie, Raphael would see his prickly and combative nature made his default personality, the tone would be a touch more serious, and Shredder more deadly. The 2003 4Kids series practically adapted the early books, and even Michael Bay’s turtles tried to keep some of that spirit, while also bringing the turtles closer to their cartoon counterparts.

The 2012 series did the same while also making sure to make everything appear modern. It’s biggest change was making April O’Neil and Casey Jones adolescents, but it mostly took the comic and cartoons that arrived before it and melded them together. It was a show that really wanted to appeal to adults who grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and likely hoped these adults would get their kids hooked. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is attempting to no such thing. For the first time since that 87 series debuted, this is a version of the Turtles made to appeal to kids first and foremost. It doesn’t care if you’re familiar with the property. It doesn’t even need to be a TMNT show, but the brand recognition is certainly easier to sell than a new IP.

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April and Splinter are two of the more radical redesigns, but also two of the most effective.

Of course, some things will naturally never change. The Turtles are still Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. They live in the sewer with their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and reside in New York City. Their only human friend is a girl named April. What’s different is both radical and superficial. For the first time, each turtle is actually a different sub-species of turtle. Most notably is the large and spiky Raphael who is a snapping turtle and kind of looks like the old Slash. Donatello is a soft-shell turtle, and as a result, he creates backpack-like shells to wear to protect himself. Leonardo is now a wise-cracking turtle and Raph is an ineffective leader, as the two have sort-of swapped personalities from the 87 show. When the episode opens they all have their signature weapons, but that will change by episode’s end. Splinter is not the stoic Ninja Master we’re used to, and instead is a chubby little rat who likes to fall asleep in front of the television. April is once again a kid, though just how young is hard to gauge. She’s also African American and sports a pair of oversized glasses. In some respects, she reminds me of Irma from the old cartoon.

The episode opens with some light crime taking place in New York and the Turtles on the prowl. We’re supposed to think they’re patrolling the city as usual, but they’re actually just looking to discreetly take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. It will become clear soon enough that these turtles are not proper ninjas. They don’t really know what they’re doing or appear to have any designs on fighting crime or anything. April is kind of just there and we’re not sure what the relationship is, but at least they appear to be having fun. The palette of the show is incredibly bright and vibrant, but the animation is not smooth in the least bit. Everything feels loud as characters move suddenly and quickly as if frames of animation are skipped. I don’t think this is a cost-cutting decision, but an artistic one to make the show feel heightened and manic and strikes me as an example of the show going for kids.

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On the right, new villain Baron Draxum, and on the left a big, white, blank, space.

The Turtles will encounter a weird teleporting dog/cat creature that takes an instant shine to April. It’s being pursued by some sketchy looking individuals and the Turtles feel compelled to help. This will result in them taking a trip through an inter-dimensional portal where they’ll meet the big baddie of the series, Baron Draxum, and also acquire new weapons. All except Donatello that is, who prefers to stick with his techy-looking bo staff. From here on out, Raph will wield twin tonfa in battle while Leo downgrades to one sword. Michelangelo will wield a kusari-fundo and all of their weapons have some mystical property that they’ll likely need to learn more about as the series moves along. Baron Draxum is a large, some-what Shredder-like figure, who is apparently behind the mutation of the Turtles. He has scores of underlings presumably, and some odd mosquito things that carry mutagen. The episode is an establishing one, and it’s likely the Ninja Turtles will need to get a touch more serious following this episode if they want to challenge Draxum in the future, since their fighting prowess is severely lacking.

It bares repeating that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a show very much aimed at today’s children. It’s not a show made for me, and that’s fine as the children of 2018 deserve their own TMNT. As a show, it feels very similar to Cartoon Networks Teen Titans Go! It shares a similar look and the show wants to make kids laugh and is less concerned with wowing them via action sequences. The characters take nothing seriously, and I suspect they’ll have some failures along the way. The structure of the show is also to be two 11 minute cartoons for each episode, so the scale of each plot is obviously small.

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I couldn’t get much of a read on Michelangelo in this debut episode, but he definitely doesn’t seem as goofy as other iterations.

The voice cast struck me as fine. Ben Schwartz is Leonardo and he’s essentially just playing Dewey Duck from DuckTales. I thought it would be odd seeing Leonardo act in such a manner, but it was fine. Omar Benson Miller is Raph and he’s obviously being tasked to play a very different Raphael. He’s a leader, which just feels off, and he’s a bad one too, but not because of the usual Raph traits. He’s more indecisive and uncertain as opposed to abrasive and headstrong. Donatello is played by Josh Brener and he’s more or less the same Donatello we’re used to, with maybe a touch of dryness. Michelangelo is played by Brandon Mychal Smith and is the character I felt the least impressed by. I just didn’t get much of a sense for his personality, though he did refer to himself as an artist. The press material labels him a prankster, but we didn’t really see that side of him in this episode. This episode was probably too concerned with establishing Leonardo as the new Mikey type at the expense of the other turtles.

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Looks like there will be no shortage of interesting villain designs.

Splinter is voiced by Eric Bauza, who had previously voiced Tiger Claw for the last TMNT series, doing a stereotypical Japanese master voice. It almost feels out of place with so much of the other personalities mixed-up, though his personality is obviously different as well. He’s rather funny looking, and I presume he will have to actually train his sons eventually. We didn’t see much of the lair, but it appears to follow in the same mold as the other cartoons in that it’s lavishly outfitted with Donnie’s tech. April is voiced by Kat Graham, and she’s another character I didn’t get much of a read on. She seems more heroic than the actual turtles, and obviously felt an instant connection with the little dog/cat creature she acquires in the episode. WWE’s John Cena is Baron Draxum and I forgot he had been cast in this series. Draxum looks like a high resolution Xavier Renegade Angel, which isn’t a compliment, but his personality seems interesting. He doesn’t want to be a foe to the Turtles, though he obviously will be, and he came across as less cartoonish than the villains from the 87 show, which surprised me. He may prove to be a worthy foe after all.

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And don’t forget the toy-line! Meat Sweats is also an awesome name for a mutant pig.

I can see what Nickelodeon and executive producers Andy Suarino and Ant Ward are going for with this show. I also know that very little of it appeals to me. I welcome the change back to 2D, but I’m not crazy about the design of the characters. They’re a bit too similar to the Bay Turtles, which I found gross, but I concede they have a marketable look. I just feel it’s a bit too similar to other shows out there and it doesn’t strike me as unique. I did not enjoy the janky animation techniques and I hope they tone that down. The pivot to humor is fine, and it does feel like Teen Titains Go!, but it’s not naturally funny like that show. I didn’t watch it with any children present, so maybe they’ll disagree with me, which is what matters most. This isn’t a show I’ll seek out and watch as I did the 2012 show, but as a parent it won’t bother me if my kids start watching it. I like seeing the TMNT brand relevant, so for that reason I hope it’s a success.

“Mystic Mayhem” is just the debut for the show. Additional episodes are available right now online via Nickelodeon’s website and app. The actual series premier is scheduled for September 17, and the ever important toy line is expected to launch in October. Each episode will consist of two segments, but this first episode was one long segment. If you’re an adult fan of the brand I would still say give this one a peek just to check it out. Maybe you’ll like it, most likely you won’t. In a world where a lot of cartoons are hitting wider audiences (OK K.O.!, Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, etc.) it’s a little disappointing that this one does not, but not everything has to. Sometimes it’s fun for kids to have something that’s just for them.


Dec. 19 – The Ren & Stimpy Show: A Scooter for Yaksmas

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Original air date December 16, 1996

The Ren & Stimpy Show seemed to delight in being absurd and perverse. It’s then no surprise that it’s two Christmas specials center around farts and a drunk who delivers pre-chewed gum and sausage. “A Scooter for Yaksmas” is from the Bob Camp era of the show and is the final episode to premiere on Nickelodeon. As the title implies, this is a parody of Christmas and not a true Christmas episode, but it counts for the purposes of this countdown. It’s also a call-back to an earlier filler short of Yak Shaving Day from the show in which a yak pilots a canoe through the night air and enters the home of children to shave. And it’s also a re-debut of sorts for Stinky Whizzleteats, the singer of “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.” As we shall see in this episode, the concept of Yaksmas has been expanded to more closely resemble Christmas.

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The object of Stimpy’s desires.

The episode opens with Stimpy working at the Cobbco factory making tongue depressors, or popsicle sticks if you prefer. He uses an absurd amount of wood to create just one stick, then discards it when it contains a crack into a comically high pile of rejected sticks. When the whistle blows he happily races to payroll where he is paid in popsicle sticks and gets a bonus half a stick (in addition to his usual one) for Yaksmas. As he giddily leaves work he admires the Yaksmas decor and seasonal traits:  soot in the air, children building soot-men, a street vendor selling roasted rubber bands. I’m not sure if this is supposed to just be seen as weird and the opposite of Christmas or if it’s a commentary on factory life in middle America and how those once wrecked the local ecosystem. It’s probably the first one.

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He really wants that scooter.

Before heading home, Stimpy stops at a store window to gaze longingly at a scooter. He promises the scooter that they will soon be together before heading home. There he covers the house in obvious hints for his pal Ren that he wants a scooter for Yaksmas. He lays a note across the toilet seat, puts up neon signs, and even wears a giant one on his head when he sits across from Ren at dinner. Ren doesn’t acknowledge the “hints” and even emerges from the bathroom with the sign stuck to his butt. Stimpy does not appear phased or disheartened in the least, being the eternal optimist. He tells Ren they need to get ready for bed or else Stinky Whizzleteats won’t visit their house and leave them sausage and pre-chewed gum. Getting ready includes making the house valuables easily accessible, leaving a place for Stinky to pass out on the front lawn, and decorating the Yaksmas stump and hanging long underwear. Ren admonishes Stimpy for being childish, but still lets Stimpy dress him in the appropriate sleeping attire – a bunny costume (Stimpy sleeps beside him in a tuxedo).

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The traditional Yaksmas stump.

During the night, Stimpy’s faith is rewarded as the Yak, piloting a magical sausage cart, brings Stinky to the house. Stinky is clearly drunk and vomits more than once. They clear out the fridge of mayonnaise, pickles, and other stuff that shouldn’t be combined with those before passing out on the lawn. Stinky and the Yak deliver though and fill the pair’s underwear with cooked sausage and pre-chewed gum. When morning arrives, Ren and Stimpy giddily bounce down the stairs, landing on their heads as the song commands (this whole sequence is set to music), and enjoy a heaping helping of their goodies. Stimpy suggests they exchange gifts and Ren agrees. For Yaksmas, Stimpy gives Ren exactly what he wanted (which he threatened with death) – a jewel-encrusted golden statue of the Queen of England. Ren is delighted and Stimpy is ever eager for his gift. Before Ren can produce it, Stimpy runs off-camera to grab his helmet and straps it on. As he trembles with anticipation Ren produces a box much too small to house a scooter. Stimpy’s demeanor immediately changes, but he’s much too polite to actually say anything mean to Ren. Instead he shakes violently as he opens the box and every soft curve of his body is now a squiggle. Inside the box is another box of popsicle sticks. Stimpy remarks it’s a thoughtful gift, as the background reveals an entire wall in their home lined with the things. He says he needs to step out for some gum, and disappears, Ren is completely oblivious to his friend’s distress. This entire sequence is easily the episode’s highlight in terms of animation as Stimpy’s disappointment, rage, and conscience wage war across his body.

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The yak and Stinky hard at work.

Stimpy returns to the store window to apologize to the scooter that they are not together. He’s illustrated in a real rough manner and even has nipples and man-boobs briefly. He loses his cool and pounds on the glass in despair, only for it to break and the scooter land in his arms. An elderly woman nearby sees it and immediately accuses Stimpy of thievery. A cop shows up and Stimpy panics, choosing to flee via scooter. The cop and old lady chase after him with the cop remarking that Stimpy will be taken dead or alive for stealing a $39 scooter. This feels depressingly topical right now.

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Stimpy on the run from the law.

Stimpy is able to escape the lawman and hides out under a bridge with his ill-gotten scooter. He falls asleep and has a nightmare about being caught and forced to sit in an interrogation room. There he’s accused and humiliated by the police, Ren, Stinky, and others. A cop says he stole the scooter he was going to buy for his sick daughter, and commands Stimpy “and now look at her,” and a decrepit looking marionette falls into view. I wonder if this was supposed to be a corpse or something and the censors wouldn’t allow it as it’s pretty weird as-is. I do appreciate how child-like Stimpy is portrayed, and his internal fears seem to be exactly what a kid would fear if in this otherwise implausible situation. Stimpy awakes from his dream in distress, and decides to go seek help from Ren as he’ll know what to do.

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Ren being Ren.

When Stimpy returns home he sees a news crew and they’re interviewing Ren. Predictably, Ren has turned on his best pal in order for his five minutes of fame in front of the camera. Stimpy is forced to run before anyone sees him and decides he needs to disguise himself if he’s to be a fugitive and dresses in a leopard-print vest and a wig that resembles Moe of the Three Stooges. Now disguised, Stimpy asserts that only one person can help him now:  Stinky Whizzleteats.

While on the run, Stimpy crashes into an oaf. Fearing he killed the poor guy, Stimpy weeps only for the large lad to declare he’s fine. They strike up a quick friendship in which Stimpy convinces the lad he’s a CIA agent that needs to deliver the scooter to Stinky. As the oaf, riding on the handlebars despite his monstrous size, gazes back at Stimpy a wanted poster collides with Stimpy’s face and the image on the poster perfectly aligns with Stimpy’s actual face. He screams and runs off shouting for the police and Stimpy is forced to forge on ahead – alone. As he races on, the front tire blows out on his scooter and Stimpy loses control crashing into a pole. Stimpy arises from the wreck only to see he has crashed into The West Pole Motel! Joy! This is the apparent home of Stinky Whizzleteats, but Stimpy’s joy is turned dark when he sees his beloved stolen scooter in shambles.

Stimpy lovingly gathers the poor scooter into his arms and heads into the motel to find Stinky and his yak passed out inside. He then spies a gift in the corner. Upon closer inspection it bares a tag reading “To: Stimpy, From: Ren.” Stimpy immediately tears the paper off to reveal a brand new scooter! Ren didn’t ignore the pleas of his friend, Stinky simply forgot to deliver it! Then Stimpy turns to his stolen scooter, and assuring it Stinky can fix him, he giddily climbs atop his new scooter and rides off. Just as he leaves, the police show up at the motel smashing into it and find Stinky asleep inside with the stolen scooter.

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All’s well that ends well.

Stimpy and Ren are then shown happily enjoying a scooter ride with Ren’s gigantic statue of the queen. Stimpy remarks he has his new scooter and his good name back and wishes everyone a merry Yaksmas. The yak and Stinky then go screaming past on their busted up scooter and the holes through their bodies imply some police brutality as our special comes to an end.

“A Scooter for Yaksmas” is an incredibly silly parody of Christmas with a little dash of A Christmas Story tossed in for good measure. Stimpy, being a pure-hearted soul, is actually a good protagonist for a Christmas special and even though he spends half of it on the run from the law it’s still nice to see him a bit happier than he was in the previous Christmas special, “Son of Stimpy.” Ren is barely in it, but when he is he serves his role of just being a mostly unkind jerk who takes his friend for granted, but he is some-what redeemed by the end even though he wasn’t at all concerned with the missing gift on Yaksmas morning. The sequence with the oaf feels like padding, I guess the only purpose he serves is to show us that the cops are still on Stimpy’s trail? He knew where Stimpy was heading, not that this show really needs to explain how the cops show up at the motel in the end. The musical number depicting Yaksmas is probably the episode’s highlight. While it isn’t on the same level as “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” it’s still pretty entertaining. Speaking of that song, I did appreciate them using Stinky Whizzleteats in the Santa role, as I don’t recall seeing him in-between the debut of his now classic song and this episode. As for low points, the backgrounds in this episode are particularly bare. The show often went minimalist with the backgrounds as a matter of style, but here it seems like they went way too far with that.

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Oh, God what is that?!

Overall, I’m not sure which of the two Christmas specials I prefer when it comes to The Ren & Stimpy Show. This one is better than I remembered as it aired when I had kind of lost track of the show, though I did see it when it was originally broadcast. “Son of Stimpy” basically plays the story straight with the humor coming from the fact that we’re talking about a lost fart (also named Stinky) trying to get back to the cat that dealt it. This episode is just silly, which might make it more entertaining. If you want to watch either this holiday season, you may have better luck tracking down the DVDs or streaming them. Nickelodeon’s retro block The Splat seems to rarely play The Ren & Stimpy Show, perhaps feeling it’s just too controversial (which seems ridiculous for a late night block that happily plays Rocko’s Modern Life, even if it chooses to censor some of the episodes) so it unfortunately can’t be counted on to play the christmas specials from this show.


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