Existential Review: Rocko’s Modern Life – Static Cling.
This revived show about needlessly revived shows is itself needless.
I think with Netflix‘s revival of Rocko’s Modern Life, I can confidently say we’ve passed the point of no return. Television studios have been falling all over themselves to bring back anything that has the slightest whiff of nostalgia value. Very few of these projects have had lasting appeal. Indeed several have been spectacular implosions. Rocko’s Modern Life – Static Cling could only aspire to the heights of spectacular failure. Instead, it’s a tired and tiresome product that seems to know how inadequate it is at every turn.
Rocko’s Modern Life – Static Cling (2019).
Rocko, the neurotic wallaby and his closest friends – Heffer, an impulse control challenged cow; Filburt the gloomy turtle; Spunky, Rocko’s ADHD dog – float through space, after having their house blown into orbit by a rocket. Twenty years go by before they realize that Heffer has had the rocket’s remote stuck to his keister the whole time. Returning to Earth, they discover that O-Town is much different than they remember. Worst of all, their favorite show has been off the air for decades and Rocko vows to get it back on TV.
Where Has the Time Gone?
Static Cling is temporally challenged in two ways. First, at 45 minutes long it hardly has any time to develop its themes or jokes. It really feels like a glorified episode of the show…in fact, a glorified version of one episode in particular. Much like Rocko and Co. we crash land back into this show’s universe with very little in the way of explanation. I hope you’d just finished re-watching the series (also on Netflix, naturally) so you know what’s what. Check that. I hope you didn’t just finish the DVD set, because then you’d realize how little new or interesting Static Cling is bringing to the party.
The second timing problem is that a lot of the hot takes feel dated. The I-Phone (here, O-Phone) coming out with a new model every day, ubiquitous drones, and Starbucks analogues on every corner don’t feel very specifically 2019. They feel pretty 2010. Sure, they still exist, but I’d hardly call them the defining bit of today’s culture. A few references land, such as food truck mania gripping the town. Others feel like Rocko shouldn’t bat an eye at them. We had cell phones in 1996, remote control planes were a craze I remember from middle school, and Hollywood trots out silly 3D gimmicks every decade. Watching our hero literally lose his mind over this stuff comes off as forced.
The paucity of really incisive cultural commentary begs the question of why this show needed to exist. The creator’s answer is some half-hearted meta-commentary on our current craze of rebooting and reviving old stuff. Rocko’s mono-maniacal focus on reviving his favorite show as the only way he’ll accept modern life supposedly shields the show from being lumped into that fad. But it totally doesn’t.
I found a lot of the meta-commentary to be mealy mouthed and disingenuous. Taking shots at revivals in a revival isn’t brave. Taking shots at Big Corporation when you’re premiering on Netflix is not brave. If Mike Judge had sold the marketing rights to Idiocracy to 7-11 to put on their Big Gulps and nachos, I certainly wouldn’t laud him for his bravery in later pointing out how stupid those products are.
The show constantly tries to have it both ways. The big, overarching idea of the show is “change is good,” but then the show turns around and backhands CG animation in favor of gold old fashioned hand drawn cartoons. If change is so fricking great, why are you sniping at pop culture? That’s change, right? Is it because you need some positive message to make this show not feel like just another cynical revival with no business being around?
One Nice Thing. Sorta.
A lot of ink has been spilled about the inclusion of a transgender character. I think its a fantastic idea, and from production notes its apparent that the team behind Static Cling went above and beyond to make sure their presentation of Rachel Bighead was positive and respectful. On that front, they did great, and finally managed a cogent example that supported their theme and stood up to scrutiny. Unfortunately (you knew there had to be a but!) Rachel’s character highlights just how half-hearted everything else about the show is.
The whole arc of finding Rachel, getting her to meet her family, having her rejected by Ed Bighead, and then both characters reconciling sounds awful familiar. Oh, yeah, cause that’s pretty much exactly the story from season 2’s episode “I Have No Son!” Here, pre-transition Ralph/Rachel is estranged from Ed because he won’t go into the soulless family corporate job, and instead wants to be a cartoonist. The rest of the story plays out identically to Rachel’s arc. Besides getting woke brownie points, they’re just recycling old material.
To add to that, it leads to the limpest resolution to what should be a really moving story. Ed and Rachel have a meaningful reconciliation where they see past their choices to remember they’re still the family member they knew and loved once upon a time. As soon as that happens, Rocko has a freakout because Rachel changed his favorite show in order to speak that truth. He throws a peevish hissy fit, letting the cat out of the bag that he doesn’t give a crap about Rachel or Ed, HE WANTS HIS COMFORT SHOW. To that, his friends trot out the message of the day and Rocko just kinda goes “yeah, I guess, why not?” What a giant wet fart ending to a show that barely had the courage of any convictions to begin with.
I didn’t really have a dog in this fight when I fired up the special. I was aware of Rocko’s Modern Life, but wasn’t a fan. It did some things well, but felt like Ren & Stimpy without the teeth or SpongeBob without the heart. It was around the time that Nickelodeon was trying to capture an older audience and decided that an adult oriented cartoon meant just be batshit crazy with a sprinkling of pop culture snark and risqué jokes. Even then, Static Cling left me completely deflated.
23 years later and one 45 minute special later, Rocko et al. have barely changed at all. The art is still spastic and unengaging. The story lines are still surface level cultural commentary of the most facile variety. The characters are mind numbingly one-note. Coupled with the special constantly trying to immunize itself from criticism with winks and nods, and you get 45 minutes that I wish I had back.