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Rocko’s Modern Life – Season Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The story of Ralph Bighead kicks off the second season.

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

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

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

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

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

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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!


Dec. 10 – Rocko’s Modern Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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Heffer:  The Tree Slayer

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

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The shy little elf from next door.

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

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The cloud struggling to “snow.”

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

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It’s a Christmas miracle!

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

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Ed is forced to embrace Christmas.

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


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