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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.

the_bigheads_reunited

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.

hqdefault-18

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

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

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

b-52s

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

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

rocko_pilot

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

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

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


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One

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

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

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

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

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

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

rocko_brain

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.

bev_seduction

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.

heffer_milk_machine

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.


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