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Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling: A Hilarious, Unexpectedly Touching Return for the Iconic Wallaby

It’s fascinating how the best revivals, sequels, and reboots of this current era come from the most unexpected places: Hannibal transformed the schlocky adventures of the infamous cannibal into operatic horror, Cobra Kai found a way to channel its energy to a new generation, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is just better than the original film – and now, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, a beautifully scripted, poignant sequel to the most important animated series of the 90’s.

Though its been 23 years, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling hasn’t lost a step, both an carefully crafted love letter to its fans, and a beautiful, poignant epilogue to complete its story.

Rocko’s Modern Life, the best show of Nickelodeon’s 90’s heyday, was a series constructed around Gen X anxiety towards the end of the 20th century. During its four season run, it tackled topics like environmentalism, society’s technology and celebrity fetishes, corporate greed, and creative agency – which, while not a completely revolutionary idea, still feels subversive in its sheer depth and repetition across its 52 episode run (the amount of sexual innuendo and underhanded cultural references remains impressive).

The idea of reviving Rocko’s Modern Life, even for just a film, seemed a ridiculous proposition, even when it was first announced in August 2016. Bringing back a short-lived kid’s show whose fans were now in their early 30’s seemed an inconspicuous play for a quick buck – one that appeared to fail, when it missed its late 2018 premiere date, and it was quietly announced the distribution rights were sold to Netflix during an earnings call.

And somehow, someway, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is worth the wait, a poignant, metatextual reflection on change, memory, family, and legacy. While it is definitely a 45-minute film full of fart jokes and time-traveling nipples, it is also a film full of heartwarming reunions, effortless callbacks – and most importantly, the same strange balance of humor, satire, and socioeconomic commentary the original series quietly built its legacy on.

Picking up right after the “true” series finale, “Future Schlock,” Static Cling begins with Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt still in space, a rocket jammed through the living room of our titular wallabe’s house. It’s been 20 years, and they’ve been watching the same VHS of The Fatheads the entire time – until they discover the rocket’s remote has been in Heffer’s ass for two decades, and plummet down to modern-day O-Town… now a bustling urban center of noise and technology, all brought to you by the ever-present Conglom-O corporation.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is really two halves of a story: the first half is fantastic nostalgia porn, packing in reference after reference to the most iconic moments of the original series (my favorite is when Rocko’s house lands on a creature singing the recycling song, which has been stuck in my head for 20 years).

Exploring the dichotomy to how little our protagonists have changed (including the Bigheads, whose lives seemingly haven’t changed at all) to how much the world around them has transformed, Static Cling initially grounds itself in the panic of trying to revive itself in 2019, when there’s little room or attention for a strange, experimental kid’s show to finds its voice, and make an impact.

But when Mr. Bighead accidentally bankrupts Conglom-O (“We have nothing,” their sign now reads), our space-traveling threesome reunite to hunt down his son Ralph, the original creator of The Fatheads, to bring him back and make a reunion special to save the company. It’s here where text meets reality for Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling – and also where the film smartly begins to expand its scope beyond being a nostalgic check list, and challenges its characters, and audiences, to embrace the potential of new opportunities.

Their search eventually leads them to Mr. Bighead’s estranged child – who is no longer his son, but his daughter, Rachel, giving up the life of an animator to sell ice cream in the desert. In their quest to “reboot” The Fatheads, Rocko finds himself trying to reunite Mr. Bighead with his daughter, who hasn’t seen her since she left to “find herself” years earlier.

Originally introduced as Mr. Bighead’s son Ralph back in season two, Rachel becomes the conduit for Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling‘s ideas about identity and purpose, and the importance of embracing change in our lives. Though it is a simple message, Static Cling delivers it with the passionate, surrealist flair it always delivered its stories, never feeling self-important or explotaititve of Rachel, the first transgender character of the series.

In fact, Rachel’s the most important character of the special, one whose regret for returning to The Fatheads channels its ideas about the past: about its powerful and dangerous abilities to affect our world view and self perception. Through the special, Rocko and Ed bond over their shared anxiety for all the changes around them; but the thread hits strongest with Ed, who believes all his memories are shattered, a fiction he’s become disconnected to.

It all builds to a tearjerking conclusion: channeling her feelings through The Fatheads revival, Rachel’s able to convey to her father how much their relationship, and their shared memories, still mean to her – and how just because she’s changed, those memories don’t have to. It bridges the gap between them, and Static Cling‘s relationship with its own existence, which it channels equally through Rocko’s desperation to find something comfortable and familiar, and the not-so-subtle pokes it takes at computer animation during its second act.

Though its been 23 years, Rocko’s Modern Life hasn’t lost a step with Static Cling, which feels both like an appropriate love letter to its fans, and a beautiful, poignant epilogue to complete its story. Filburt finds his family, Rachel takes her parents on her road trip across the world, and Rocko finally accepts that change is ok; it may not be easy to accept or understand – but there’s no point in wasting time complaining about it, because no matter what, it’s going to happen, and all we’re doing is missing life by excluding ourselves from it.

A touching, simple message, and one the final minutes rush through a bit quickly – but for a kid’s show making an unexpected return 23 years since its cancellation, it strikes a powerful final note, and left this grizzled reviewer in tears at the end. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is, in its own strange way, the perfect revival: able to comment on its own legacy, while still keep its eyes focused squarely on the present and future, and the importance of human connection among the depressing distractions of modern living.

Equally progressive and reflective, Static Cling manages to exceed expectations by simply remaining itself: subversive, hilarious, and irreverent in equal fashion. Add in the astonishingly touching arc of the Bighead family (again, an unexpected place for Rocko’s Modern Life to find the heart of its story), and you’ve got one of the most impressive revivals in modern memory, hands down.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Happy to report that Spunky is still a very good boy; he spends most of the special getting horny over the return of mops to his life – both the most overused callback of the special, and the funniest.
  • “awww… she damaged my retina”… the real question is, why is all this dust in my eyes???
  • If this final needed anything more, it was an expanded story for Heffer and Filburt. Filburt just kind of gets his family back, including the one-handed doctor with the weird neck tics.
  • “hey everyone – whose stuck in a nostalgia hole? We are!!!”
  • I could make a thousand-word list of all the callbacks, references, and meta jokes – but they’re worth discovering on your own. Plus I’m lazy.
  • Heffer can’t handle the VR: “It’s too real… the details!!!”
  • All cards on the table: Rocko’s Modern Life was my favorite show as a child, and I’m so, so happy this revival was good.

Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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