Oh that dreaded 90s nostalgia, how will we ever curb our desires to live in the days of our youth? People complain that kids today are overstimulated by smart phones, social media and an endless stream of content to take in. There’s the yearning for the good ol’ days when one’s intake of TV and culture were entirely dependent on timing and not the simple downloading of an app. Looking back on the simplicity of the 90s (or any decade past) is a means to make it easier for us to shove more of 2019’s overloaded misery down our throats. But it can’t be all good to live in the past. We remember the positive but block out the bad and the tasteless and the outright obnoxious. At a certain point one has to think, “Do I have to change or does the world do it first?”
It’s an odd and multi-layered question for anyone to answer, let alone a cartoon wallaby who just wants to watch his favorite show of yesteryear. Such is the plight of Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, a new sequel/special of the Nickelodeon 90s hallmark. The show, which ran from 1993 to 1996 over four seasons, featured its title character (Carlos Alazraqui) moving from Australia to the fictional American land of O-Town adjusting to new culture. The last time we saw Rocko, he and his two best pals Heffer (Tom Kenney) and Filburt (Doug Lawrence) were thrust into outer space via a rocket ship that crashed into Rocko’s house (it’s a cartoon, roll with it). After years of rewatching an old VHS tape, they crash back to Earth in the 21st century where phones are smarter, food is fattier and everything else is shoved in Rocko’s face to the point of nausea. But when he discovers his beloved “Fatheads” TV show is no longer on the air, he asks his grouchy neighbor Mr. Bighead (Charlie Adler) to get his son Ralph (Joe Murray) to bring the series back.
Now the term “reboot” doesn’t entirely fit Static Cling‘s direction. It’s more of a pseudo-sequel to the beloved property with the original cast back in its original animation style. If it stayed on its home turf of Nickelodeon instead of Netflix, it likely would’ve been an hour-long special instead of a 45-minute short. Though the commercial breaks might’ve helped break things up considering Static Cling feels like two episodes worth of story meshed together. Maybe three or four episodes would’ve been better considering all the material shoved into the special. In fact, “shoved” is a good verb to described all the action that takes place onscreen. The six writers credited for Static Cling, including series creator Joe Murray, Lawrence, Martin Olson (Phineas and Ferb) and Cosmo Segurson (Camp Lazlo), throw out so many jokes and visual gags so quickly that one loses track of which ones landed. Static Cling definitely fits its billing of a cartoon with its manic energy that gets close to going off the rails a few times. It’s a likely fit for kids of all ages but anyone older might switch it off depending on one’s tolerance for loud silliness and immature jokes.
Fortunately many of the jokes do land, even the manic pacing and the in-your-face delivery matches the tone of the overstimulated modern day. There’s actually a wish for this to be a full-hour of Rocko and co. satirizing 2019 culture, allowing more room for the jokes to breathe and for the plots to flow into each other in a smoother fashion. It goes from Rocko shocked at modern culture to getting “The Fatheads” back on the air to suddenly having a transgender storyline, with Ralph identifying as Rachel and her father rejecting her new identity. All of this is wrapped up far too quickly to have a strong impact, but at least its simple enough for kids to understand the positive message.
They’d also likely enjoy the zippy and colorful animation on display. Though it follows the same hand-drawn style of the original series (while still taking a swipe at computer animation), the colors are brightened and the movement sharper. It makes for more fast-paced action and makes the zippy original show look like a rough draft in comparison. No one in the voice cast skips a beat, snapping right back into their roles with ease. Alazraqui’s performance as Rocko makes him a really endearing character, both a wacky cartoon for younger viewers and a likable avatar for older viewers feeling lost in the modern age as well. It’s unclear as to whether or not Static Cling is just a one-off special or a bid for a full-on series comeback, but there’s enough charm in the technical details to warrant more of Rocko and co. tackling the 21st century.
While Static Cling also adds to the seemingly endless pile of rehashed nostalgia properties, it’s at least a bit smarter than most. The creators saw an opportunity to do something with bringing Rocko back and while it’s a minuscule offering, it still ends up satisfying. As good as it is to look back on the past, there’s better things to see through change.