Tag Archives: nickelodeon

Dec. 6 – Christmas in Tattertown

Original air date December 21, 1988.

Nickelodeon in the late 1980s was a network on the rise. Cable was expanding to more and more households each and every day and Nick was able to seize the youth market almost from the get-go. Prior to that, broadcast networks dominated children’s programming, but restricted it to certain parts of the broadcast schedule. And they were basically the same from channel to channel as the networks battled over the youth market while confining it to just a small portion of the schedule. Nickelodeon basically ditched all of that as it would aim its programming at children from 6AM to 8PM every single day. The problem though, was there just wasn’t much programming out there that wasn’t already locked into an exclusive deal on broadcast. That’s why, in the early days, Nickelodeon relied a lot on syndicated and outdated shows like Lassie, Dennis the Menace, and Flipper. The network didn’t have the resources to produce it’s own content or compete with the broadcast networks for the latest and greatest, but as it’s profile grew so did its coffers.

In the late 1980s, Nickelodeon explored the idea of doing animation. And when it did so, it decided to go after a guy who knows an awful lot about animation: Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi had established himself as a director of feature-length animation in the 60s and 70s with an adult audience in mind and was probably best known for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film. An X rating back in the 1970s didn’t mean what it does today as Fritz the Cat is actually more like an R-rated film, but that fact didn’t stop some of his detractors from calling him a “pornographer.” He directed several other features and had basically established himself as the anti-Disney of animation.

What you were originally supposed to see alongside a Nicktoons logo.

In the late 80s, Bakshi was overseeing the animated series Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, and it was likely his work there that caught Nickelodeon’s eye. Nickelodeon had been acquired by Viacom in 1986, which itself had been spun-off from CBS as part of a mandate from the FCC banning networks from owning syndication companies, but it’s probably no coincidence that Mighty Mouse was a CBS show and likely helped get Bakshi into talks with Nickelodeon. Bakshi pitched Junktown, later changed to Tattertown, which was an idea he had been sitting on since he was a kid. The network liked it enough to commission a pilot and would from there offer him a deal for 39 more episodes. Then Bakshi got into trouble with Mighty Mouse as a sequence in an episode where Mighty Mouse snorts a flower was accused of being a reference to cocaine use. It made enough noise that it’s alleged Nickelodeon got cold feet and backed out of the deal and the pilot for Tattertown, which was re-titled Christmas in Tattertown, is the only remnant of the deal.

Tattertown was supposed to be about a girl who gets sucked into another world inhabited by garbage that walks and talks.

Tattertown should have been the first Nicktoon and would have launched in either late 1989 or sometime in 1990, which would have been before the eventual launch of Nicktoons in 1991. The irony in all of this, is that the sequence in Mighty Mouse that caused so much trouble can be traced back to a director on Bakshi’s staff: John Kricfalusi. Kricfalusi was adamant the sequence not be cut from the cartoon and Bakshi eventually sided with his decision. That decision obviously backfired, and Mighty Mouse ended up getting cancelled eventually. Kricfalusi would then go on to found Spumco, and his first major project would become one of the original three Nicktoons: The Ren and Stimpy Show. Obviously, Kricfalusi couldn’t have known at the time how lucrative a decision that would be for him to defend that one scene in a cartoon, but it sure did work out pretty well for him in the end. Now lets never speak of him again.

Likely what would have been the show’s logo.

Christmas in Tattertown aired in December of 1988 and was re-broadcast around the holidays into the 90s. Despite Nickelodeon having the broadcast rights to the pilot of its would-be Nicktoon, it doesn’t own the production outright. Bakshi retained ownership of it and either had a deal in place each year with Nick for it to air, or their original agreement provided the rights for a time that likely no longer is in place. Because it is a single, not particularly well-remembered, holiday special, it hasn’t been officially made available. The only way to see it is either via an original tape or via someone’s own recording made with a VCR. Geoffrey Darby, who was a screenwriter at Nick on You Can’t Do That On Television and the original host of Double Dare, has a YouTube channel with just five videos. One of those five though, is Christmas in Tattertown. It sounds like, based on his write-up with the video, he just found a copy of the special in his home or office and put it up for people to see. It has a counter running at the top of the screen for the entire duration and there are even blank spots in the video, presumably for commercials. There is also, on occasion, tracking info from the VCR he likely used to upload this thing which just makes it a really interesting viewing experience. There are other versions on YouTube that are of better quality, some even with commercial bumpers, but there’s a certain time capsule aspect to the one uploaded by Darby.

Miles the sax, voiced by the always awesome Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown begins with an introduction. Keith David is our narrator and he introduces us to Debbie (Sherry Lynn), a little girl who found a strange book in her attic and got sucked into Tattertown along with her stuffed dog and dolly Muffet (Jennifer Darling). This either would have been the intro for all of the Tattertown shows, or it would have been livened up a bit, maybe with a true theme song or something. The origin is told through stills during the opening credits, and if you’re into animation you may see some familiar names in the credits here and at the end. When Debbie gets pulled into her book is when the actual animation kicks in. Tattertown is an animated world full of discarded items. Once an inanimate object is brought to Tattertown, it becomes sentient and personified. Most of the designs have a very classic, animated, style to them. We’re talking noodle limbs, big eyes, and constant motion. The jazzy soundtrack befits that style as well and this is a world where Bosko would fit right in.

Muffet is a character with some unexpected complexity.

Once Debbie arrives in this new place, she is dismayed to find her dolly has run away. Muffet is a baby doll that bizarrely seems to have a five-o-clock shadow. She basically has a Homer Simpson mouth. She’s also the bad guy of our tale as we find out she basically hates everything that has to do with being the doll of a young girl and Tattertown is a world of new beginnings for Muffet. Upon realizing she’s alive, she begins to cry with joy which is a nice touch to add some sympathy to this character who will be a bad guy, in the end. Debbie chases after her, and some puppet characters welcome us to Tattertown as a title card drops down.

After all of that, we officially meet David’s character, Miles, a saxophone. He gives us a rundown on Tattertown and we get to see some of the occupants until Muffet and Debbie go racing by. Muffet wants nothing to do with Debbie now that she’s alive, but Debbie still wants her to be her dolly. Muffet tries to clear a plank fence, but can’t leap over it allowing Debbie to grab her by the ankles. She pulls, causing Muffet’s legs to stretch and the fence to bend until Debbie eventually loses her grip. Since this is a rubbery, cartoon, world, Muffet behaves like a rubber band that was stretched and released and goes soaring through the night sky towards a far off city.

There’s something suggestive about that look Debbie is giving Harvey here. This is a Bakshi cartoon, after all.

Debbie takes a seat on the sidewalk to lament how Muffet “got away again,” which serves to remind us that this was a pilot and we’re probably to assume that Debbie has been in Tattertown awhile. Or has been here before. She scolds her dog companion and then sees her friend Harvey (Adrian Arnold) picking a fight with someone much bigger than he. Harvey is basically one of those non-descript animal characters from the 1920s the Warners from Animaniacs would be based on. Is he a bear? A dog? I don’t know. He’s mostly black with a red nose and big eyes. He also has a busted arm as he shadow boxes until one rips off. Debbie calls him over so she can sew it back on and he chats her up about Muffet. This leads to a story from Debbie about how she got Muffet for Christmas, or it would have gone into a story if Harvey knew what Christmas was. Debbie is shocked to find out this fact as she assumes there must be some Christmas stuff amongst the denizens of Tattertown. With Harvey’s limb re-attached, the trio set out to see if they can round up some old Christmas junk.

This spider probably makes people much younger than me think of Cuphead.

Elsewhere, Muffet is enjoying herself and going a little nuts until a stray alarm clock smashes her in the face. She looks over to a nearby building where a bunch of characters are just throwing stuff around. A spider named Sidney (Charlie Adler) is descending from the ceiling with another dolly in his clutches. Strangely, he only seems to have six limbs, but I bet he’s based on some cartoon from the 30s that looked the same. He apparently intends to eat this other dolly and that’s why the other creatures are throwing stuff. Muffet enters and screams for them to stop and to let the spider do his business. When they ask who she is, Muffet refers to herself as Muffet the Merciless and declares that she’s taking over Tattertown. She’s pretty convincing too as all of the other characters flee, except Sidney who seems to take a liking to Muffet. He drops his prey and follows Muffet out the door, while the dolly that was to be eaten is able to dust herself off and blow a defiant raspberry at his back.

Does Muffet symbolize America or something? Interesting framing device.

Outside, Sidney expresses interest in Muffet as he’s always wanted to take over Tattertown. Muffet asks for more clarity on just what this place is, and Sidney suggests he take her to The Deadster Zone. Miles chimes in to tell us that the Deadster Zone is a place for war toys and televisions, basically unsafe stuff, and it’s represented as a giant drummer soldier with other toys zipping around it. Sidney introduces Muffet to “the guys” and asks her what she thinks, seemingly proud of himself. She is unimpressed and declares she’s seen gelatin with more backbone than these guys. Most of the stuff appears to be discarded ammo, there are personified rockets or something, as well as Frankenstein-like devices that appear to be a mish-mash of various appliances. Muffet goes into a speech/slash rant about taking over Tattertown and finds herself on a stage in front of an American flag. The other beings are shown cheering for her, some falling apart as they do, while Sidney literally melts onstage he’s so impressed.

Back in Tattertown, Debbie has everyone searching high and low for Christmas stuff. Harvey runs across an individual that looks a lot like a Christmas wreath and is hawking cigars on a street corner. Harvey takes exception to someone selling cigars in his town and is ready to throw down, but Debbie sees the wreath-guy and snatches him up in a hug, accidentally separating Harvey’s head from his body. She runs off overjoyed to have found a Christmas item, while Harvey pops his head back on and does a stylish pose to show everyone he’s okay.

She found some Christmas.

Debbie takes a seat and remembers how at Christmas her family would hang a wreath on the door and how the snow would flutter off of it whenever they opened and closed the door. She gets a little emotional, which confuses Harvey. He then asks her to tell him just what Christmas is and Debbie soon has an audience to listen to her tale. She explains the gist of the holiday, mostly as a kid interprets it, which means she mostly talks about presents. The other characters like this story (who wouldn’t?) causing Debbie to declare that they’ll have a Christmas of their own!

I wish there was more from this pair in this cartoon.

Nearby though, a fly spy for Muffet is watching and he takes off back to the Deadster Zone to inform his new boss of this development. Muffet is shocked and enraged at the idea of Christmas coming to Tattertown and throws a mini temper tantrum over the idea. She then summons two of her lackeys, Tad and Wendell, to spy on Tattertown. Tad is voiced by someone doing a John Wayne impression and he is some sort of device with a machine gun for a nose. Wendell is voiced by Charley Adler doing an effeminate voice. He looks like a blue desk lamp attached to a car battery and he’s plugged into Tad so they have some kind of co-dependent relationship. Is this Nickelodeon’s first unofficial gay relationship? I suppose these things technically lack a gender, but they sure seem like a couple.

This guy may not be much of a tree, but he’s still better than Christopher.

Harvey is shown leading Debbie to a comic and book store in search of some old geezer named Tannenbaum. Once inside, they’re accosted by a book of the 1930s, with NRA emblazoned on the cover, that opens up and a bunch of 30s era gags are allowed to jump out. They soon find Tannenbaum, who is a pathetic looking, potted, evergreen tree with a bowler hat and the voice of an old Jewish man. It’s pretty weird to give such a voice to a Christmas tree, but Bakshi or someone must have though it was a funny thing to do. Debbie wants him to be their Christmas tree, but he wants no part of it, until Debbie mentions there will be no competition so he’ll essentially be the best tree in town. That’s apparently all it takes to get the tree interested, which is a bit odd since he was ranting about needing to run his store. It makes me wonder if she was supposed to whisper something to him about compensation, which would fit the mouth flaps just as well as competition, and someone nixed it since that would be a bad look for this seemingly Jewish character to want to get paid.

Wreath boy here is acting like he doesn’t want in on this, but you know he does.

Tad and Wendell are making their way through Tattertown when Tad is forced to stop abruptly because Wendell stopped to admire a flower. He declares it beautiful, while Tad is annoyed and accuses Wendell of somehow blowing their cover before annihilating the flower with his machine gun nose. Wendell sheds a few quiet tears and then simply places a new flower in its place. They then come upon Debbie instructing the townsfolk on how to decorate a tree. Tad tells Wendell he’s going to waste them right here and now, but Wendell gets one look at Tannenbaum with the wreath guy attached to him and falls in love. He starts running towards the tree while Tad warns him he’s going to overload him since he’s apparently gushing with power now. He does indeed overload, causing the two to go spinning into the tree where they become entangled alongside the wreath. They provide a warm glow though and the townsfolk are transfixed. Meanwhile, the wreath hopes the other tough guys don’t see him like this further implying my suspicion that Tad and Wendell are to be read as gay.

Gross.

Muffet is then showing getting ready to enjoy her favorite dish: tobacco pie. She retrieves it from a safe, and it’s disgusting looking. It’s basically a pie slice with brown filling and cigarettes poking out of it. She gets startled by her fly lackey though and drops it near some creature that looks like a pellet stove. He eats the pie, then squirts out a gray liquid, as Muffet looks ready to cry. The fly comes baring bad news, which only fuels Muffet’s rage and sadness. The news is presented in the form of a Christmas card from Tad and Wendell showing them on the tree. Muffet needs a minute to pout and despair about how exhausting it is to be surrounded by all of these “lower lifeforms.”

Muffit Claus.

Sidney sees and hears Muffet’s tantrum and scoffs at it privately. He decides he would be a better ruler of the riff raff and puts on a crown and robe that apparently belongs to Muffet. She sees him, and suddenly he’s not so confident any longer. She shoves him into a bathtub full of…yellow water…and speaks down to him in a threatening manner. She then pulls him aside and slaps a new outfit on him. It’s clearly a reindeer outfit, though Sidney doesn’t know that, and when Muffet disappears behind a sack of clothes she’s reaching into there’s no surprise when she emerges as Santa Claus. Muffet intends to bring destruction to Tattertown disguised as Santa, and Sidney shall be her mount. She rides him off the roof, and thanks to the fly character holding onto his costume, he floats! Then he does not as flies are not known for their strength, and the trio plummet towards the ground as Sidney screams and Muffet appears delirious. She rounds up the other junk and beckons them to join them on their flight to Tattertown, as Sidney seems to fly just fine now, declaring that Muffet Claus is coming to town!

There’s a dark side to Debbie.

In town, Debbie is trying to teach the others about Christmas carols when some lumberjack robot walks up to their tree intending to chop it down. Debbie stops him, much to the relief of the old tree, and laments how they still don’t understand what Christmas is all about. Through tears, she describes Christmas as a day when people basically stop working and being bad, and set everything aside for the good of the day. The robot somehow sheds a few tears himself, and then when Debbie finishes resumes the cutting down of the tree causing her to smash him with a fist!

She may be new to playing Santa, but she knows what’s expected of her.

The townsfolk then see all of the commotion up in the sky. Debbie, naturally, thinks it must be Santa, but Muffet soon corrects her. As Muffet launches her attack, the beings of Tattertown are actually excited and Debbie is so happy to see her dolly coming back to her. This just makes Muffet even angrier, and as she directs her forces to rain destruction upon Tattertown a red blur crosses her path. It’s the real Santa! He doesn’t appear to be showing up with any purpose in mind, except to wish everyone “Merry Christmas,” but Muffet takes it as a challenge. She turns around and instructs her minions to target Santa, but when one dumb missile smashes into another, a plane assumes that Muffet wants them to attack each other! They’re not very bright, so that’s what they do essentially putting on a fireworks show for all of the onlookers. Everyone loves it, including Santa, but he has work to do and tells Muffet he can’t stay and play with her and takes off leaving Muffet alone with Sidney. She decides she doesn’t need any help and plans to resume her assault on Tattertown solo.

I’m not really sure why the big guy showed up.

On the ground, Harvey is really impressed with the dogfighting he just witnessed above. He tells Debbie that Christmas is quite a show, and then asks when they can eat? Debbie, frustrated that she can’t convey what Christmas is all about, channels her inner Charlie Brown when she declares “It’s all wrong!” She marches over to a big phonograph and makes a last ditch effort by playing “White Christmas” as sung by Bing Crosby. It’s a bit shocking they had enough money in the budget to license this recording, but it has the desired effect Debbie was looking for. Characters are shown crying and embracing as Crosby’s gentle croon fills the air. It even gets to Sidney, who puts on the “brakes” causing Muffet to go crashing through the roof of a nearby jail. He pulls out boxes of soap flakes and starts spreading them from up in the sky mimicking snowfall.

It may not be real snow, but it gets the job done.

In the jai cell, Muffet angrily sits. She pulls out a stocking and empties its contents on the ground, it doesn’t appear to have anything good in it, but when she holds it up it soon magically fills with presents. A tear comes to her eye as she appears close to breaking, until Debbie looks in on her from outside the cell and declares she can be her dolly again! This makes the grumpy expression return as we freeze on this moment for a beat. Miles then comes in to wrap things up as a literal curtain closes on the special with Muffet’s curses ringing loudly in the background.

And that’s how Christmas came to Tattertown. It’s a special that certainly has style and is very evocative in both looks and sound with classic animation. The actual sound quality isn’t great, but that likely has at least something to do with how this special has been preserved these past 30+ years. It would have been interesting to see how this series would have looked once it moved past the pilot. I imagine it would have had to have become a bit more static than what is presented here, but I assume it would have been able to keep enough of the charm it was going for. I also assume Nick would have made Bakshi drop the tobacco references. They’re a bit weird to see, and even though it’s only the bad guys who glorify it, I doubt the censors at Nick would have left it in. It’s the type of thing they won’t pay to have removed from a pilot, which is likely why it’s here.

Muffet left feeling miserable on Christmas.

The actual story and characters though leave a lot to be desired. The pacing of this thing is just odd. It’s trying to hit conventional Christmas special beats, but with little or no setup or transition. It’s just one thing after another and comes across as very disjointed. Debbie is quite bland and most of the scenes featuring her were pretty dull. There’s a little something to Harvey at least, but his character isn’t explored enough in this one pilot episode to leave a mark. Muffet certainly dominates to both the benefit, and detriment, of the episode. She’s very over-the-top, and Jennifer Darling’s performance is part of that. I think she does a good job developing Muffet, it’s just that there’s too much of her and by the end the character has been stretched way too thin. The character is turned up to 10 too often, so the final few rants have no impact and the character becomes annoying. It’s also just a weirdly imagined character – a doll that doesn’t want to be a toy and just wants its own autonomy. That sounds like a noble cause, but the special needs the character to be a villain so it then just makes her evil thus destroying any sympathy the audience could have felt for her. Muffet should be the protagonist, but Bakshi apparently wanted to just toss a curveball at us for the sake of doing so, or he’s just a bad story teller.

At least we got to listen to Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown is definitely an interesting relic and a fun exercise in “what could have been?” Being the first Nicktoon would have been huge for Tattertown, regardless of how successful the actual series ended up being, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be. As a Christmas special, it’s not very good. It’s interesting to look at, but hardly remarkable. It’s story is nothing new and no one ends up learning anything about Christmas in the end. As mentioned earlier, the only way to see this is to find it on YouTube or in other places online. There’s no official release and there likely never will be at this point. I suppose it’s a shame there isn’t a high quality version readily accessible, but it’s also not a great loss either.


Dec. 24 – The SpongeBob Christmas Special

Original air date December 6, 2000

When I listed out the best Christmas specials over a week ago, I included the stop-motion A SpongeBob Christmas. And I stand by that as that special is pretty great. Before there was A SpongeBob Christmas, there was The SpongeBob Christmas Special. Confused? Well, there are only so many ways to title a Christmas special. To make things a bit easier (or more complicated) it’s also titled “Christmas Who?” This was a milestone episode of sorts for the now long-running SpongeBob SquarePants as it introduced Patchy the Pirate and his parrot Potty and told the story of how Christmas came to Bikini Bottom. It was also the first double-length cartoon for the show as most episodes are split into two segments. It’s probably not quite double-length though due to the live-action segments featuring Patchy, but you get the idea.

Meet the president of the SpongeBob fan club, kids!

SpongeBob Squarepants was created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, who got a lot of coverage on this blog in 2020 since I went back and revisited Rocko’s Modern Life, a show he was intimately involved with. It was due to the success of that show that Nickelodeon took a chance on a cartoon headed up by Hillenburg himself. Other veterans of Rocko joined him on SpongeBob, including Tom Kenny and Doug Lawrence, and his show has largely eclipsed the former in terms of popularity. It’s probably become Nickelodeon’s most recognizable show at this point and I’m not even sure another show could really challenge it for that title at this point.

Do you like alternate titles, because we’ve got one here.

In spite of SpongeBob’s popularity, the show has mostly been a blind spot for me. The show just came at a time when I wasn’t watching the channel, and even though I have kids of my own now, they’ve yet to really latch onto anything on Nickelodeon. Maybe they will in time, though with everything moving towards a streaming format I’m less certain of that. Even though SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t my childhood, I can recognize it for what it is: a pretty solid comedic cartoon. I see a lot of influences from past cartoons in it the few times I watch it, and I’ve never really had much of a reaction to it beyond that.

For today’s special, we’re heading to the home of Patchy the Pirate located in the unfestively warm California (I have a cold weather bias when it comes to Christmas).

Even though I’ve seen very little of SpongeBob SquarePants, I still really enjoyed the stop-motion special so I’ve always wanted to check out this one. It just took me going out of my way to make sure I saw it. Thankfully, I have cable still so I didn’t have to go out and buy this thing, and with 2020 just being a tenacious pile of misery, I actually welcomed Nickelodeon’s Christmas in July programming during the summer. That’s how I finally experienced the first SpongeBob Christmas special. Maybe it’s not the authentic, December, experience it was meant to be, but it also meant I got to re-experience it later in the year too thanks to the wonders of DVR!

The bird is the real star.

After a festive rendition of the show’s theme, the special begins at the home of the president of the SpongeBob fan club: Patchy the Pirate. Played by Tom Kenny, Patchy is happily preparing for Christmas in the not idyllic setting of southern California. Even though there’s no snow to speak of, Patchy’s house is pretty well decorated and he’s got his parrot, Potty (voiced by Hillenburg) by his side as well. Patchy is a pretty conventional looking pirate, while Potty is an intentionally obvious puppet. Patchy is welcoming, like a classic holiday special would be, though he has an antagonistic relationship with his parrot. He’s in the process of making cookies, and isn’t eager to share the dough with Potty.

R.I.P. Potty…

The segment is pretty long and probably overstays its welcome. There’s some visual jokes, like a predictable bubble pipe joke, but little truly lands. I did like that Patchy flips his eyepatch up to read a letter, revealing a perfectly functional right eye, and dons a pair of glasses with the right lens blacked out. The setup for the introduction of the cartoon is created when a letter received by Patchy asks about Christmas in Bikini Bottom, prompting Patchy to tell the audience that the dwellers of Bikini Bottom didn’t always celebrate Christmas. Before we can get to the cartoon though, Potty has to consume the cookie dough, and explode. It leads to the very bizarre image of Potty’s dismembered head suspended in the air while Patchy looks on with amusement. Poor Potty, Patchy is the asshole in this segment and yet it’s the bird who gets blown up.

Well Sandy, if you’re going to live underwater you should expect to get wet now and again.

The actual cartoon begins with SpongeBob (Kenny) outside the home of Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence). Sandy is a squirrel living in the outskirts of Bikini Bottom, and being a squirrel, she needs oxygen in gas form to breath, so she lives in a bubble. SpongeBob is looking to infiltrate the bubble to drop some karate moves on her. I assume this is supposed to be a good-natured prank as SpongeBob doesn’t have a mean pore in his body.

Turns out, oak trees make pretty nice Christmas trees!

As SpongeBob prepares to enter the bubble, he notices Sandy lighting up a tree with lights. Mistaking this for fire (he’s not very smart), SpongeBob grabs a bucket of water and races inside only to douse Sandy herself. She’s rightfully annoyed, but soon realizes that SpongeBob has never seen a Christmas tree before. Not only has he never seen one, he’s never even heard of Christmas before. We then receive a montage of Sandy explaining Christmas to SpongeBob. We don’t actually hear what she’s telling him and can only see her pantomiming various parts of her lesson, most of which appear to have nothing to do with a discussion on Christmas (that’s the joke).

I love Squidward’s energy here.

SpongeBob is quite taken with the whole concept of Christmas (and who wouldn’t be?) and races over to The Krusty Krab to inform the others what Sandy has taught him. There he regales Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), and Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) a tale of Christmas with emphasis on Santa Claus. Mr. Krabs thinks it’s pretty great to hear about a guy who will give you whatever you want for Christmas and he’s eager to write a letter to the jolly, fat, man. Patrick is equally excited and sets out to write a letter to Santa as well.

SpongeBob is shockingly literate.

Squidward is the lone holdout. He finds the story preposterous and refuses to participate. SpongeBob tries to talk him into it, but he’s not coming around. All the while, Patrick keeps interrupting their conversation because his piece of paper has split in half. After he requests a new page a few times, we see what’s causing the problem. Patrick is sitting down with the pencil in between his legs pointing up. He then presses the paper down against the pencil in order to write on it. I’m now curious if he often has problems with the written word in other episodes.

Is he an inventor? I’m so confused by the existence of this competent machinery.

After the letter-writing is over, SpongeBob shows Patrick the machine he’s come up with to deliver the letters to Santa. They place each letter in a bottle and the machine fires it up to the surface of the ocean. It (shockingly) works just fine, and SpongeBob starts sending the letters to the surface. For his gift, he just wants to bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, but the others want something more material. Patrick wishes to have more paper, and the message in his bottle is clearly ripped in half, while Mr. Krabs wants a pony…with saddlebags full of money. He gets it!

This is probably going to ruin the life of some castaway.

The other townsfolk get involved too and soon the surface of the water above Bikini Bottom is full of letters. Squidward is still holding out, and SpongeBob and Patrick get set to making the town look merry for Christmas via song. It’s called “The Very First Christmas,” and it’s plenty catchy. It’s not as good as “Don’t Be a Jerk,” but it’s fine. During the song, we see SpongeBob and Patrick chop down Squidward’s coral “tree” to set it up in town and decorate it with glowing jellyfish. Patrick is a natural fit for the top of the tree as the star.

Time for an image blitz because there’s a lot going on. First, SpongeBob and Patrick chopping down Squidward’s…tree?
At least they made it look nice.
Mr. Krabs coming in with the high notes.

When the song is over, Squidward is relieved that he can now peacefully go to bed. Only he can’t, because the entire town is outside his house to sing another song welcoming Santa. It’s basically “Jingle Bells” only with the words changed to reflect their Santa-eagerness. Time passes though, and as Squidward sleeps peacefully the folks outside sing all night to no avail. When the morning comes, everyone is still there, but there’s been no sign of Santa. The crowd angrily turns on SpongeBob, who shrinks before their gaze.

So who told them they should all stand outside and wait for Santa? Maybe that’s why things start to go wrong from here.
I admire that one fish in the front row still looking pretty hopeful.
This is how I felt right around noon of every Christmas Day for much of my youth.

Squidward rises to the misery, and is delighted! When the crowd leaves, he races outside to taunt SpongeBob about how wrong he was about Santa. SpongeBob doesn’t put up a defense and just stands there looking miserable. Squidward snaps a photo to remember this moment, and for some reason he gets off by putting his ass in SpongeBob’s face and slapping it. The cartoon literally tells us he’s being a jackass by superimposing an image of a donkey over him.

Squidward, feeling pretty god damn fabulous!
I don’t think SpongeBob can possibly be drawn any sadder.
Whoa Squidward! This is trending towards harassment here.
You’re lucky SpongeBob didn’t give you any advice on where to shove that thing. Don’t you feel like an ass now, Squidward?!

With Squidward’s antics mostly over, SpongeBob hands over the gift he made for him. SpongeBob was concerned that Squidward would be the only member of Bikini Bottom to not receive a present since he didn’t write a letter to Santa so he made him one instead. SpongeBob drags himself away leaving a stunned Squidward to stand there alone holding his gift. He opens it to find a clarinet that SpongeBob had made himself and instantly feels bad. Meanwhile, SpongeBob is miserable as he begins to take down the Christmas decorations he put on his own house as well as Squidward’s.

Raining underwater? It’s a Christmas miracle!
Looks like someone’s been hiding a secret Santa fetish…

Uncharacteristically, Squidward decides he needs to make things right. He goes home and puts on a Santa costume. I have no idea why he had such a costume in his house, but hey, it’s needed for the plot! He calls out to SpongeBob from his roof, before falling, leaving SpongeBob stunned with silent glee.

What’s with that look, Squidward? What did you think would happen?

Squidward gets SpongeBob to snap out of his trance long enough to tell him he’s here to thank SpongeBob for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom. He has to endure a pair of hugs from SpongeBob, but the exchange goes well for Squidward as SpongeBob heads back to his house. Feeling pretty good about himself, Squidward turns to enter his own home, but a little girl is standing in his way. She asks for her gift, and SpongeBob then reappears to encourage “Santa” to bestow a gift on this deserving young girl. Not knowing what else to do, Squidward ducks into his house for a present and ends up giving away a monkey wrench.

Squidward was not prepared for this contingency.
And he especially was not prepared for this!
Everyone seems to take their crappy gifts in stride, like this woman who wanted a new hairstyle, but instead was gifted a bowl of mashed potatoes.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve Santa Squid’s problem. A line of citizens has formed outside of his house and they all want a present. He goes in and out of his house getting items and gifting them to the people outside. They’re never what is asked of Santa, but the fish receiving them make do with what they have. They all seem to leave pretty happy, but they also leave behind an empty house for Squidward.

More or less how I feel every year when Christmas is over. Only there’s more stuff, a lot more stuff, in my house thanks to my kids.

With the crowd gone, Squidward removes his costume and wonders why in the world he just got rid of all of his personal belongings just to make SpongeBob happy. Oh Squidward, you just got caught by the Spirit of Christmas! A knock on the door comes from SpongeBob, who excitedly tells Squidward all about Santa, apparently oblivious to the fact that it was Squidward he encountered and not the real Santa. He mostly keeps repeating that Santa has a really big nose, though Squidward seems to take this all in stride.

Apparently someone was watching.

When SpongeBob finally returns home, Squidward notices a letter has been left outside his door. It’s from Santa! It thanks Squidward for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom, though makes no excuse for why Santa passed them by. Squidward can hardly believe it, but sure enough, up in the…sky?…is Santa in his sleigh. He’s portrayed with a live-action actor, played by Michael Patrick Bell, and he does a lot of “Ho ho ho’s” and waves. Squidward thinks he’s going insane and returns to his empty house. He breaks out his lone material possession, the clarinet SpongeBob gifted him, and seems to enjoy insanity. Above, we see Santa fly in front of a setting sun.

Santa, surprisingly being played by someone not named John Goodman or Ed Asner.
Squidward’s just taking it all in stride.
Hey look! A twist on the old moon shot!

At Patchy’s house, the special is over. He’s acting out some sea wreck thing and we interrupt him. He finds a present from a reassembled Potty has been left on his head, a nest full of wrapped eggs. Patchy doesn’t seem too interested and is more focused on the mistletoe hanging in his home. He stands under it hoping a woman will magically appear and give him a kiss, but instead Potty comes soaring in to do the honors. The episode ends with Patchy basically running from the sex-crazed puppet. The special ends on an external shot of Patchy’s ranch with a “Happy Holidays” message spelled over it.

A last bit of chaos at Patchy’s house lets us know we’re done.

The SpongeBob Christmas Special is a pretty satisfying piece of Christmas comedy. It starts with a solid premise, and then does a good job of playing with the viewer’s expectations. Squidward was setup to be a Scrooge, and I even found his choice of pajamas to be very Scrooge-like. I thought for sure we were going full parody when he went to sleep on Christmas Eve, but instead we got something very different. Squidward had to learn on his own that wishing misery upon others really doesn’t bring about good feelings in himself. It was sweet to see him affected by SpongeBob’s sadness, and he actually had to learn about Christmas the hard way when he gave all of his stuff away to maintain his ruse. I liked that he wasn’t rewarded with anything material in the end, he just did what was necessary (albeit, in a comedically exaggerated fashion), and found the true meaning of Christmas within himself.

When I saw this outfit I thought we were going full Scrooge. I’m glad I was mistaken.

The odd part of the special is the fact that Santa apparently planned all of this? Did he decide to fulfill SpongeBob’s wish through Squidward? Or maybe we’re supposed to assume that SpongeBob’s unorthodox way of getting everyone’s letters to Santa was simply a flop? SpongeBob did wait until the last minute to get those letters out and Santa is only capable of so many miracles.

The part of the special that didn’t add much for me was the live-action component. I just don’t find Patchy all that funny. I’m also not 7, so maybe it’s just not for me. The cartoon was entertaining, just that component felt a bit long. It doesn’t ruin it or anything, I could just do without.

The Christmas card ending; a tried and true classic.

This Christmas special isn’t as good as the one that follows, but it’s plenty entertaining for an annual viewing. And I feel confident in saying that anyone who likes SpongeBob probably enjoys this episode too. If you have cable, this one should be very to easy to view even this late in the game. It’s possibly available for streaming on Nickelodeon’s website, and it may even air today! It’s also available on various holiday themed DVDs and as part of the second season of the show. It’s also available digitally because it’s SpongeBob, one of the most accessible shows around. If you have yet to view it this year then find 20 minutes today and rectify that.


Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.

The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.

Alternatively known as Static Cling: The Rocko Special.

The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.

Some of the jokes the special makes are rather easy, but they’re also the type of jokes that pretty much have to be made.

Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.

The re-done opening credits gag will likely be a favorite part for many fans.

The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.

The Chokey Chicken has undergone a makeover.

Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).

Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.

It shouldn’t be glossed over that the inclusion of Rachel is a pretty eventful change, and one that should be celebrated.

Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.


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

rocko_season2

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.

rocko_filbert_wedding

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.

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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.

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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.

yak shaving day canoe

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.

crock sony reverse

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.”

kid rhino crock

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.

kid rhino crock reverse

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.

wilbur cobb

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.

crock o promo

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”

OChristmasPete

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.

nick magazine christmas pete

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.


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