It’s been over 20 years since Rocko’s Modern Life, created by Joe Murray, ended in 1996. When we left Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt they blasted into space. Now in Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, the trio has been floating through space, eating couch snacks, and watching the same tape of The Fatheads for all that time. But, when they find the remote to the rocket, they come back to O-Town and have to adapt to an even more modern life.
When Static Cling was announced, I was skeptical. While I love Rocko, I’ve grown tired or revival specials, reboots, and remakes that have saturated media and specifically Netflix. But Static Cling is aware of that reboot culture fatigue and uses it to craft a story about learning to accept change and driving home that so long as the new material coming from an old IP is respected, it can become something for fans new and old.
In bringing Rocko’s Modern Life to the 21st century, creator Murray updates O-Town with coffee shops on every corner, food trucks offering multi-layered bastardized tacos, touch-screen O-Phones that are being upgraded on a near-constant basis, an instant-print kiosk that has replaced Rocko’s old job at Kind-of-a-Lot-O-Comics, and radioactive energy drinks that turn their consumers into mutants.
The world is new and with Murray returning to write, direct, and produce the special, it is imbued with the same 90s humor from the Nickelodeon staple. Crass, more-adult than child-focused, and ultimately hilarious, Static Cling offers what made the original series special while offering new commentary and satire of the 2019 world. It ultimately is a critique of fan culture, which pushes for more content while wanting their medium of choice to remain stagnant, capsulized in the time it came out instead of adapting.
When Rocko can’t adapt like the now vlogging Filburt and excitable Heffer, or even the mop-video loving Spunky, he attempts to bring his favorite cartoon back, The Fatheads. Rocko’s main characteristic is that he leans on The Fatheads to cope with the world changing around him. The plot of the special sees Rocko’s mission to get a special made, leading him to seek out series creator and animator Ralph Bighead who left O-Town in search of himself years ago.
When Rocko finds him, it’s revealed that Ralph is transgender, identifying as Rachel now and living her best life selling Fathead pops in a weird and out of place ice cream truck in the middle of a non-specific desert. While Rocko has had a hard time handling change, he doesn’t when it comes to Rachel. Instead, Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt are respectful and aim to bring Rachel back to O-Town to help her parents by bringing back The Fatheads and making a load of money for Conglomo.
Naturally, Rachel’s father Mr. Bighead, the city grump and all-around horrible person – well anthropomorphic frog – has a problem. Because of this, the Static Cling aims to tackle large and small issues with accepting others and respecting and normalizing a piece of the trans experience while also tackling the conversations around reboot culture and fandom toxicity.
But when it comes to critiquing reboot culture, Murray doesn’t just take shots at angry and toxic fans who get upset over progressive changes, he also takes aim at studios’ need to pump out and update an existing IP with a focus on cash rather than quality or story. In Static Cling, when Rocko heads out to find Rachel he does so while the head of Conglomo hires a team of chameleons and worms to bring back The Fatheads. In this, you see Murray take issue with computer animation, calling it passionless in one scene, and expressing the issues of crunch in animation.
While it’s understandable and honestly a large issue with unsuccessful revivals, there is a clear bias towards hand-drawn animation which comes off disparaging of computer animation. That said, the computer animation of recent Netflix revivals and reboots like Saint Seiya came to mind and I couldn’t help but chuckle before pulling myself out of the moment to remember that all animation is valid.
In addition to solidly bringing Rocko’s Modern Life to 2019, Static Cling also stays true to the original in the best ways. The critique of our current media culture is astute and progressive while also being hilarious. The gags that revolve around tech like selfie filters, vlogging, internet porn, and the invasive way our lives have been overtaken by gadgets is spot-on and well-executed. In addition to the unique brand of comedy with dark adult themes as well as social commentary that can work for all ages, even if the time-traveling nipples – you read that right – don’t, the animation is just as it was back when we were kids.
The colors, the art style, it all works, as if this episode came on the day after the cancelation in 1996 and not over 20 years later. This may also be due in large part to the fact that Rocko has maintained a fanbase outside of the show in the years that followed it’s run on Nickelodeon. Through comic books, most currently Rocko’s Modern Afterlife published by BOOM! Studios, Rocko has gotten to continue his adventures and ultimately has secured his spot on the nostalgia list for 90’s kids.
Thankfully, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling offers more than just a push for viewers looking to cash in on nostalgia. In its commentary, it shines a light on issues in fandom, the importance of treating transgender folks with respect, and even pushes for being more connected in real life versus virtual. This special is more than the nostalgia bait it critiques and opens the door for fans new and old to celebrate the world Murray created in O-Town.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is now streaming on Netflix.
Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling offers more than just a push for viewers looking to cash in on nostalgia. In its commentary, it shines a light on issues in fandom, the importance of treating transgender folks with respect, and even pushes for being more connected in real life versus virtual. This special is more than the nostalgia bait it critiques and opens the door for fans new and old to celebrate the world Murray created in O-Town.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.