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That ’90s Show: Rocko’s Modern Life

Welcome to the second installment of THAT ’90s SHOW, a retrospective look at some of the shows you grew up watching (or at least saw) during the  greatest era of our time, the ’90s. Back then VHS ruled supreme, mobile phones were solely used for talking and CGI in blockbuster movies was new and not overdone compared to today’s standards.

Today’s spotlight is on the Nickelodeon classic Rocko’s Modern Life.

Around the early ’90s, there was a new animation brand that came to air. It was different and edgier from what we usually see from Disney and Hanna-Barbera. Unlike most cartoons from the ’80s, this brand wasn’t created (at least, not yet) to sell Hasbro toys for kids. Of course, I’m talking about kids cable network Nickelodeon who started producing their own animated programs under the Nicktoons banner. New to the animation game, Nick has produced three cartoons that became nostalgic classics: Doug, commercial hit Rugrats and the incomparable Ren and Stimpy. However, there is one show that stood out from the rest…and that’s Rocko’s Modern Life.

The show aired on Nickelodeon worldwide and broadcast in Australian free-to-air on ABC Kids.

Created by Joe Murray, this fish out of water series is about a mild-mannered wallaby named Rocko (voiced by comedian and future Reno 911! star, Carlos Alazraqui) who migrated from Australia to wacky American town, O-Town (A nice reference to MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This”).  Similar to real life but only exaggerated, Rocko deals with everyday situations and learn a thing or two about modern living whether its taking out the trash, working at a demanding comic book store, dating or confronting an old school bully. All funny of course. Rocko is a nice guy, but he does get his temper (and sanity) tested. He’s basically a soft-spoken guy in a loud, crazy world.

Rocko and Spunky

Joining Rocko are his best  friends, Heffer and Filbert. When those three characters hang out, Rocko is immediately the straight man as Heffer and Filbert are very eccentric individuals.

Heffer (Tom Kenny who later became SpongeBob Squarepants) is a happy-go-lucky, optimistic cow…I mean steer….who loves eating and having a good time. He’s pretty much a template of the overweight frat boys that you see in Hollywood High School flicks, like Animal House.  Heffer’s back story had him adopted and raised by a domestic family of wolves and pretty much a glutenous slacker. Filbert (voiced by animator Doug Lawrence) on the other hand is the opposite of Heffer. He is a turtle who is more or less the poster boy of all geeks and nerds. Originally a background character who later has an extended role, Filbert is a neurotic hypochondriac quoting his catchphrase “I’m nauseous” and “Oh fishsticks!” Out of all the main characters, Filbert has grown up during the show’s four season run. He married his sweetheart Doctor Hutchinson (A surgeon cat who has a hook for a hand) and a father of three.

(From left to right) Filbet, Rocko and Heffer

Every show has at least one recurring antagonist. In this case we have Mister Ed Bighead (voice veteran Charlie Adler). If you live next to a grumpy neighbour who is obsess with gardening and complains everything that exists on earth, then you know Ed Bighead pretty well.  A pencil pusher of business corporation Conglom-O (Has the tagline “We Own You”), he sees Rocko and his friends as the bane of his existence and takes joy in being the rain of their parade.  Bighead is a type of character you like seeing punished or get his come uppings. He has a wife Bev, who is your original cougar and desperate housewife, and a cartoonist son Ralph (voiced by Joe Murray himself).

Ed and Bev Bighead

When discussing about Rocko’s Modern Life on social networks and message boards, I often call it the “Seinfeld of Nicktoons.” Why you ask? Because it basically is! Rocko’s a satire of modern living and has observational humour of what we usually deal with every week. It’s actually the first cartoon to teach me that public transportation is the scum of the universe in the episode titled Commuted Sentence and the show’s writers couldn’t be more right. Come to think of it, Heffer and Filbert reminds me of Kramer and George respectively. It’s a no-brainer that Bighead is Newman.

Best of all like all successful cartoons from the ’90s, Rocko’s appeals to both kids and adults. In fact, Rocko generally appeals more to young adults than kids as the show ended when Nickelodeon wanted to play safe and cater strickly for kids and sugar-coated tweens.

There can only be one Rocko’s Modern Life. SpongeBob Squarepants is inspired by Rocko in terms of formula and characters, but doesn’t have the biting satire that Murray has in his show. After all these years, Rocko is the most requested series to be put on DVD (Viacom and Nickelodeon have yet to release a proper disc set) and often bootlegged by its ever-growing fanbase.

So if you see Rocko on Nickelodeon or any TV show, record it because you might not see it on TV again. It’s highly recommended viewing.

Besides Rocko is a HOOT!!!!!

TRIVIA: The catchy theme song is performed by The  B-52s, but originally the producers wanted big time film composers Danny Elfman (Tim Burton’s collaborator and created The Simpsons theme) and Alvin Silvestri (Back To The Future and Predator) to compose the intro music.

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That ’90s Show: Pinky And The Brain

Welcome  to THAT ’90s SHOW, a retrospective look at some of the shows you grew up watching (or at least saw) during the  greatest era of our time, the ’90s.  Here’s a reason why:

Tonight’s first entry is none other than the megalomaniacs themselves Pinky and The Brain.

Chances are some of you are singing the theme song already.

Pinky and The Brain

"Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

LYRICS

They’re Pinky and The Brain
Yes, Pinky and The Brain
One is a genius
The other’s insane.
They’re laboratory mice
Their genes have been spliced
They’re dinky
They’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain.

Before each night is done
Their plan will be unfurled
By the dawning of the sun
They’ll take over the world.

They’re Pinky and The Brain
Yes, Pinky and The Brain
Their twilight campaign
Is easy to explain.
To prove their mousey worth

They’ll overthrow the Earth
They’re dinky
They’re Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
Narf!

For those who don’t know what the hell I’m typing about, Pinky and The Brain is a “fun, fun, silly-willy” animated series produced by Warner Bros and Steven Spielberg’s (Ye-e-ess!!!! THAT Steven Spielberg!) Amblin Entertainment. A spin-off from Animaniacs (another WB/Spielberg animated series and possibly a future That 90s’ Show article), Pinky and The Brain are two mutated lab mice who pretty much do the same thing they do every night…TRY AND TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

The Brain

The Brain

The Brain (voiced by future Futurama actor Maurice LaMarche in his  fitting Orsen Welles impersonation) is your would-be world leader whose ego is big as Napoleon (Both figuratively and literally). With his staircase-shaped tail and his unmistakably large head (hence the name), Brain constantly make plans for world domination ranging from the scientifically complex (Constructing a portable black hole) to the outrageously absurd (Making a parallel earth made out of paper mache-God Bless The Writers!). The most interesting trait about The Brain is although he is a scheming genius, he is not evil nor sinister.  Similar to your  local parking inspector (or a politician you wouldn’t vote for), Brain believes he will make Earth a better place even if he doesn’t mind ruffling society’s feathers a bit. In a way, Brain is a lot like Wile E. Coyote: Two human-like furballs chasing after an impossible dream (World Domination/A Road Runner breakfast).

However, just like Coyote, Brain has at least one proverbial anvil to the head….

Pinky

Pinky

Enter Pinky (voiced by Rob Paulsen who paid homage to Monty Python with his unique cockney accent) is the opposite of Brain: A complete idiot.  He’s the goofball sidekick, but he’s no Igor to Brain’s Dr. Frankenstein. In fact majorty of Brain’s plans were accidentally screwed-up by  Pinky. Throughout the series, Pinky was never really interested in world domination. He simply wants to have fun and looks at the bright side of life. Instead of hypnotising the human race by manufacturing frozen fishsticks, Pinky is a one mouse, pop culture referencing machine (“Oooh, I think so Brain, but I think I’d rather eat the Macarena”).Yep. Pinky and The Brain are your ultimate odd couple. Despite his happy-go-lucky nature, Pinky sometimes be the voice of reason for Brain and serves as a conscience figure. BUT FORGET THAT.  We love hearing him say “Poit”, “Egad” and “NARF!”

sigmund freud

"Sigmund Freud...analyse this!"

This may sound cliche, but when I was a kid, I would go straight home from school and immediately turn the TV on 4.30 PM to see Pinky and The Brain. During mid-nineties Australia, Pinky and The Brain was part of the Channel 9 What’s Up Doc line-up hosted by supermodel Kate Fischer (YOU READ RIGHT! A sexy supermodel, who in retrospect was attractive enough to turn boys into men, hosted a flippin’ kids show).  Anyway, the program block also included classic Looney Tunes shorts, Batman: The Animated Series and other WB/Spielberg cartoons (Animaniacs, Freakazoid and Histeria!).  I also recall getting the Pinky and The Brain toy from a McDonald’s happy meal when I was only 4 years old. Should have kept it though. It would have made a great collectible.

I grew up watching Pinky and The Brain and I LOVE THE SHOW EVEN MORE NOW after the series made its unexpected return on digital channel GO! early this year (It took 10 years for Pinky and The Brain to return to Australian free-to-air television). I never realised until now that Pinky and The Brain is adult satire disguised as a kids show. Throughout the four seasons, there were lot of jokes on then  US president Bill Clinton (during his pre-Monica Lewinsky days), rap star has-been Vanilla Ice,  comedian Pauly Shore (who was a big target in the three-part episode epic Brainwashed) and the always deadpan Christopher Walken. In fact, Clinton and Walken were the only recurring human characters (mind you they were voiced by impersonators Frank Welker of Scooby-Doo fame and Johnny Bravo’s Jeff Bennet respectively)  during the show’s run.

(From left to right) Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger

Another big shock was in the episode “Of Mouse and Man” where Brain, disguised as a human employee, sues a re-re-reinsurance company for a million dollars. I am not kidding, there were a  LOT of adult-oriented jokes in that episode ranging from a cross-dressing radiologist (who accepted a pink dress as a bribe to rig Brain’s chances in wining the million dollar lawsuit) to Pinky kissing himself in a mirror while wearing lipstick. Even Brain’s boss (voiced by Jeffery Tambour of Arrested Development fame) said “Sexual harassment” once when discussing company policies. Anyone who doesn’t believe this episode exists, I’ll be happy to post it on YouTube.  However I love this episode and its probably my favourite one. It proves cartoons in the ’90s, besides The Simpsons, are made for adults and kids. Unlike Ren & Stimpy, another iconic ’90s cartoon, Pinky and The Brain had sophistical humour for both age groups rather than relying too much on body function or gross-out jokes. Those jokes worked well for Ren and Stimpy, but Pinky and The Brain are their own thing.

It was also fun hearing the late, great Roddy McDowall (original Planet of The Apes and one of the best celebrity actors to appear in an animated series) as Brain’s rival Snowball.  I’m old enough to  realise Snowball happens to be a shot at Microsoft owner and the world’s richest nerd, Bill Gates in episodes “Snowball” and “Brainwashed.”  After all, he buys out competition and has a company named “Microsponge.” The celebrity parodies never end folks! Snowball. Now that’s a great name for pure evil.

Snowball

Snowball (Right): "Then I will frustrate users with Microsoft Office 2007 "

Finally, let us not forget the iconic catchphases.

Brain: “We must prepare for tomorrow night.”
Pinky: “Why? What are we going to do tomorrow night?”
Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!”
OR OF COURSE…
Brain: “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
Pinky: “I think so Brain but (Insert gag)”

If a show has a memorable theme song, fun-to-say catchphases and a creative plot that follows the Warner Bros tradition of cartoon anti-heroes failing their ambitious goals with hilarious results (i.e. Sylvester, Elmer Fudd and Yosamite Sam), its bound to have a place in pop culture history. Pinky and The Brain are truly ’90s icons.

I would love to see Pinky and The Brain in new adventures (or I should say “plans”) but I hope Hollywood does it right if they adapt this into a movie.

Russell Brand as Pinky and Seth Rogen as The Brain. Now that’s not worth pondering about.

-Anthony.