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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.