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Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

When ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE aired in the early 90’s on Nickelodeon, it came at a time when the network was banging out a number of destined-to-classic toons that not only delighted a generation, but also gave adults plenty to laugh at as well. While shows like RUGRATS and DOUG were fairly conventional, and safe, there were others like REN & STIMPY and, one of my personal favorites, ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE that not only provided insightful and surprisingly deft social commentary, but also pushed the boundaries of good taste and acceptability. This opened the door for a number of future franchises, with SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS standing as the most recent, and clear-cut example.

We are currently in era where anything nostalgic is bound to be embraced, and it seems that my generation (those who grew up in the mid-to-late 80’s and early 90’s) is particularly fond of the vintage feels. So, naturally, when I fired up Netflix on August 9, and discovered that ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE: STATIC CLING had been released, I was instantly elated. 23 years after the last episode aired, here was the irreverent wallaby back in my life, looking exactly the same and ready to make me laugh and cringe. Originally produced as a special for Nickelodeon that never found its way air, Netflix picked up STATIC CLING, hoping to capitalize on the nostalgia boom that seems to be taking over the pop-culture landscape.

For the past 20 years, Rocko, Heffer, Filburt, and Spunky have been orbiting earth within the confines of Rocko’s house. A rocket had blasted them into outer space, and for the last two decades, their only source of entertainment has been a VHS copy of their favorite TV Show, THE FATHEADS. When the tape finally breaks, devastation sets in. But, before they crumble completely, they discover that the remote that controlled the rocket was stuck on Heffer’s butt the entire time. With one simple push, they crash back to earth, and quickly discover that the world has moved on without them.

The show is once again set in the fictional city of O-Town, and Rocko, Filburt, and Heffer soon discover that much has changed since they left. The quiet simplicity of their old lives has been replaced by hyperactive inhabitants who are obsessed with cell phones, selfies, virtual reality, and Buzzbucks coffee shops. Worst of all, Rocko discovers, to his horror, that THE FATHEADS has been canceled. Aimless and shattered, Rocko vows to get his favorite show back on the air. In order to do so, he must track down the original writer of the program, Ralph Bighead, who is the son of his neighbors, Ed and Bev Bighead.

From the opening seconds of STATIC CLING, I was overjoyed to be back in this absurd and outlandish world. Much of the debris seen floating in space in these opening seconds were memorable references to some of the more endearing episodes of the series, and the following 40 minutes provided more of the same. Crafted in a way to appeal to die-hards and newbies alike, it struck a balance that was delightfully unexpected and satisfying. As has always been the staple with ROCKO, STATIC CLING made hilariously astute cultural observations, and tackled complex issues such as technology, consumerism, greed, and the embrace of the transgender community. And, while these heavy themes ultimately lead to a great deal of reflection, there is a steady onslaught of sophomoric and lowbrow humor to soften and enliven the production.

Though STATIC CLING doesn’t quite approach the same level of, “did they just do/ say that?!” as some of the more shocking moments in Rocko’s original run (their game of “Spank the Monkey” was particularly jaw-dropping) there is no shortage of clever lines, references, and sight-gags. Inherently meta in nature, THE FATHEADS and Rocko’s journey to get it back on the air is a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE itself, and this makes the fact that creator Joe Murray got almost the entire original cast and crew back together all the more enjoyable and endearing. The fact that they didn’t tinker much with the animation style, and basically made a 1995 cartoon in 2019 is yet another plus in regards to production, and establishes an authenticity that makes is impossible to dislike. Had any of these changes been made to try to indulge a modern audience that have moved on from some of these silly series of yore would have been a disservice to Rocko and his fans, and would have rendered this new installment an utter failure. Instead, Murray and crew clung to what made this MODERN LIFE a classic to begin with, and provided its patient patrons with a resoundingly delightful and nostalgic update to this collection of kooky characters.

ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE: STATIC CLING- A-

(Now streaming on Netflix)

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.