Old is Gold! Right? Well, I’m going to mine some gold here today! This has been a week of digging the past. Earlier this morning, I bumped into Rocko’s Modern Life on YouTube. I couldn’t resist the urge to watch the entire episode and two more after that. I have discovered a lot about the show after watching it through an adult eye.
Rocko’s Modern Life is another excellent show from the ‘90s by Nickelodeon. I find the ‘90s cartoons to be way better than the new generation cartoons. From the beginning of the 20th century, there was a massive explosion in the animation field. Cartoonists of the ‘90s made masterpiece shows that have stood the taste of time.
The show was premiered in 1993 and ran until 1996, showing 52 episodes in four seasons. Netflix, in August 2019, brought it back to life with a unique feature titled Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, a digital release. Strangely the social commentary of the show is even more resonant now than ever.
During the ‘90s, Nickelodeon was a must-watch TV for kids, and in this period, they were good at their original Nicktoons series, which included such epic shows as Rugrats, The Real Monsters, Doug and Hey Arnold. But of all these shows, my favorite was and still is Rocko’s Modern Life. The show was created by and animated by Joe Murray. The show centers around Rocko, a wallaby from Down Under who was living in a fictional town called O-Town. He is joined by his faithful dog spunky and his best friends Heifer a steer with a large appetite who was raised by wolves, and Filbert, a nerdy and seemingly unstable turtle.
The show also has other more peripheral characters, my favorite being the incessantly bickering neighbors called Mr. and Mrs. Bighead and the superhero parody called Really Really Big Man (RRBM) who has super strength, the ability to fly and magical nipples which can show you the future if you gaze at them!
It was full of risqué and absurd humor that made the show popular with both young and old audiences. It has lots of adult humor and innuendo that still cracks my ribs now, the kind that would go over kids' heads. It also managed to satirized the mundane struggles of adult life as Rocko gets into all sorts of frustrating situations with episodes storyline revolving around things like going grocery shopping or doing laundry and going to the movies. It follows the typical Nicktoons style of two short stories per episode, which worked in Nickelodeon's favor.
Rocko is the perfect protagonist with a happy-go-lucky attitude. He has a meek yet positive personality, which adds to his charm, and you find yourself rooting for him. Rockos was voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, who did a fantastic job on the show. The show had a great cast, including talents like Tom Kenny, Mr. Lawrence, and Charlie Adler. The animation of this show is excellent and showcases Joe Murray’s unique style, which blends perfectly to this off-kilter world with a variety of bright Chinese settings to the dirty and gritty environments. It uses its visuals very well to set the tone for each episode.
Nickelodeon also released a made-for-TV movie of the Rocko’s Modern life in 2018. The film was excellent and an exact representation of the original series. Some comics books series were published by boom studios, which were a throwback to the 1994 comic series published by Marvel.
Many of the episodes were targeted for the adult audience. It depicted the tumultuous time when you are out of school. It goes through the experience of living with your parents and working an entry job and trying to understand the ups and downs of adult life. Here, nobody tells you the rules of the game and just assume that you will get it on your own. We see Rocko dealing with trash day or trying to see a baseball game or go camping, things you’ll see on Nickelodeon's typical cartoon. Sometimes it features a sweet story with a nice dose of reality or a harsh dose of reality depending on your age.
Rocko needs to hit sales at the grocery store; however, in this show, if Rocko doesn’t make the sale, he won’t have money to buy food. The show was over-the-top and weird, but some episodes were depressingly down to earth. Rocko is often down on his luck and in a bad situation that is typical of many real-life adults. From losing their job and working on a phone-sex hotline to getting hit on by a sex-starved neighbor. Because of this storyline, I sometimes think the show was never meant for kids.
The characters eat at the Chockey kitchen. Joe Murray and his team were able to put in whatever they wanted in the show. For example, this one time, they tried to add a female character in the show with a hook. So what did they do? They introduced a female character as Filburt doctor, who literally had a hook for a hand. This freedom and attitude made the Rocko’s modern life one of the smartest show ever written that I have ever watched. The title satirizes the contemporary world of the ‘90s.
Even though this show was made in the ‘90s, many of the issues still resonate to this day. There was also an episode that was a metaphor for coming out as gay. And, amazingly, they managed to get away with it in this type of show. This was a time when censors were not kind on any LGBT representation, especially in a show meant for kids.
The people who complained about Rachael being trans in the revival movie that came later did not remember Rocko’s correctly. Or they were talking out of their ass; because Rocko’s Modern Life had always dealt with all topics. It had a lot of gross-out, which are far less forgivable. At times it felt like it’s throwing around boogers and spits just to ensure the kids don’t lose attention. That made Rocko’s Modern Life a show for adults, not so much for kids. Kids might like it ( I did), but some stuff was just not right for kids.
Heifer was Rocko’s thoughtless friend who mooches off Rocko and does not benefit him in any way whatsoever. Whenever Heifer abuses his power as a temporary security guard, for instance, Rockos decides to leave him in jail at the end of the episode because he’s been acting like an a**. Heifer has had some run-ins with hell; he always seems to be giving up his soul for something, whether it be going on a game show or for a soda. Filburt on the flipside is okay. I didn’t like him personally, but neither did I hate him. He never seemed like a third wheel in the group of friends.
When the Spongebob and Patrick get together in many episodes, they tend to explode their antics, and their shenanigans get more and more annoying. Still, when Filburt, Rocko, and Heifer get together, they tend to balance each other out. This was the genesis of modern cartoons.
There is plenty of reasons to watch modern life, and most important is its unique maturity. Even in the ridiculous scenarios, Rocko’s Modern life manages to have some kind of sanity about it and stays mature when it needs to be. Scenes like when Bad Big Head was sexually starved and emotionally cheats on her husband are more of an adult storyline. Also, the relationship with Ralph, who later became Rachel strike me as some of the best adult themed episodes of the series.
What is the take-home from this show?
The show had a constant theme of trying to find yourself in crazy mixed -up and following your passion no matter what the world thinks. And even when you find happiness or contentment, that journey is not over. For instance, when Ralph wanted to be a cartoonist despite his father's wishes, they do succeed in the end and make the most successful cartoon of all time. The Wacky Deli episode satirizes how cartoons were made.
Let me know what cartoon, TV show, Movie, Video game, or series you would like featured here at Geezezone.com. We should not let these feats of cartoon greatness be forgotten. Every generation should have a chance to enjoy the humorous touch of Ed, Edd, and Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, The What a Cartoon! Show, X-men the Animated Series, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and many others.