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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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