Rocko wants to invite you to party like it’s 1993.
It’s funny how many things that were modern almost twenty years ago remain eerily prevalent today. It’s even funnier when they’re presented in an animated format.
Rocko is a wallaby living on his own for the first time. Season One chronicles his adventures as he adjusts to his new existence. Providing assistance (or not, as the case may be) along the way are his best friend Heffer the steer, his dog Spunky, his next door neighbors the Bigheads, and his sometime friend Filburt the turtle.
There was something weird I have to mention. Inside the package is a list of the episodes and a very brief summary of each story. However for episode ten the description of “Cabin Fever” is completely wrong. And it’s not due to editing, rather someone must have been told what to write and did it without having seen the episode. I’ve gone ahead and written my own brief summaries for the episodes below. Spoiler alert in effect for those who don’t want to know any specifics about the episodes.
Episode One: “No Pain, No Gain” Rocko and his pal Heffer are lured to a chic gym where they have to prove themselves cool in order to qualify for membership. “Who Gives a Buck” Heffer convinces Rocko to use his new credit card to buy Spunky a new dog bowl. But once Rocko starts spending he finds it difficult to stop.
Episode Two: “Leap Frogs” Feeling unwanted by her husband, Mrs. Bighead sets her sights on Rocko instead, but she has her work cut out for her as the clueless Rocko just thinks she wants him to do odd jobs. “Bedfellows” Rocko quickly regrets his decision to allow Heffer to move in with him, but he’s the only one. Even Spunky is happy with the arrangement.
Episode Three: “Jetscream” Heffer confronts his fear of flying as he and Rocko take a plane to Vegas. “Dirty Dog” Spunky is getting pretty funky, and thus it’s bath day (a very dangerous day, mind you) at Rocko’s.
Episode Four: “Keeping up with the Bigheads” Tired of Rocko’s messy house Mr. Bighead calls in the city to condemn the place. Rocko and Heffer scramble to get the place looking spiffy before the inspector arrives. “Skidmarks” After being involved in a police chase Rocko has to go to the DMV in order to get his car back.
Episode Five: “Power Trip” Rocko is promoted at work while his boss is away. He hires his friend Filburt to help out, but the power soon goes to Rocko’s head. “To Heck and Back” Heffer dies after choking and is condemned to Heck as a result of his gluttony. While Rocko tries to revive him Heffer learns what his life has meant.
Episode Six: “The Good, the Bad, and the Wallaby” During a trip to Rocko’s uncle’s cattle ranch Heffer must decide whether or not to become part of the herd while Rocko lassoes his own demons. “Trash-O-Madness” The trash strike is over and Rocko races to collect and deposit the filth in his house. Meanwhile Spunky is reluctant to give up the indigestible slime from the refrigerator.
Episode Seven: “Spitballs”After losing his baseball in Mr. Bighead’s yard Rocko and Heffer go to a pro game in hopes of catching a foul ball. “Popcorn Pandemonium” Rocko and Heffer’s night out at the movies is plagued with problems.
Episode Eight: “A Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic” Rocko is lured into buying a product off an infomercial with disastrous results. “Canned” Mr. Bighead uses Rocko’s recent unemployment as a way to get even with him. Or at least that’s the plan.
Episode Nine: “Carnival Knowledge” Rocko and Heffer go to the local carnival where they play games, ride rides, eat food, and learn not everyone is out to get them. “Sand in Your Navel” Rocko and Spunky go to the beach and have a few close calls in their journey to get cooled off.
Episode Ten: “Cabin Fever” The Bigheads are forced to stay with Rocko and Heffer in a mountain cabin. Mrs. Bighead makes the most of the situation while Mr. Bighead…doesn’t. “Rinse and Spit” It’s time for Filburt’s final exam to become a dentist and he needs a volunteer. When Heffer refuses, a reluctant Rocko steps in to help his friend.
Episode Eleven: “Rocko’s Happy Sack” Rocko and Spunky only have fifteen minutes to take advantage of a local store’s 99% off sale or they’ll go hungry for days. “Flu-In-U-Enza” When Rocko falls ill he upchucks some new friends who are determined to help him get better.
Episode Twelve: “Who’s For Dinner?” Family secrets are revealed when Rocko goes to Heffer’s parents’ house for dinner. “Love Spanked” When he learns his crush is seeing someone, Rocko accepts Heffer’s advice and enters the world of dating.
Episode Thirteen: “Clean Lovin'” Spunky falls in love with a mop and Rocko tries to put the kibosh on the affair. “Unbalanced Load” Rocko’s lucky shirt is put to the test when it’s laundry day for Rocko and Spunky.
Rocko’s Modern Life is a very simple show that is essentially a loosely tied together stream of sight gags. Each of the thirteen episodes in the first season breaks down into two mini-sodes, and you can actually choose which one to watch via the disc’s menu. It owes much to the Looney Tunes era of cartoons, most notably the nature of the characters’ eyes to extend out of their sockets to great lengths when frightened or in love. There is also the tendency to hear a car horn that sounds like it belongs on a Model-T when a character falls from a great height, and the fallen bodies are often compressed into accordion waves, complete with accordion melodies. There are also the objects swimming around a character’s head when they’ve been dazed and the appearance of miniature angel and devil consciences as well. These touches harken back to that era of animation and lend a familiarity I appreciated.
I enjoyed the simple nature of this show. I didn’t feel like I needed a whole bunch of backstory to understand the characters and their journeys which is fortunate as I got none. All I needed to know was Rocko lives on his own with his dog. Everything else was given to me on a need to know basis which works well. I was surprised this was considered a cartoon for kids because I can’t imagine any kids getting the text, let alone the subtext in a particular episode. There are some pretty adult situations as well, from adultery to voyeurism to nudism. For example the first episode deals with getting in shape and the horrors of credit card debt. How many kids are clamoring for a show about those things?
But the sight gags are silly enough and are usually a chain of one-upmanship that would easily hold a youngster’s attention regardless of their comprehension of the deeper meaning. And each story within an episode runs about ten minutes, which is just enough time to get in, tell the jokes, and get out.
I’m going to go out of order when discussing the actors who provide the voices for the four main characters and start with Mr. Lawrence who voices Filburt Turtle. The mysterious Mr. Lawrence doesn’t even have a photo up on his IMDb page and is not quite as prolific as his brethren. I haven’t seen anything else he’s voiced. I enjoyed his take on Filburt. He made him sound neurotic and wimpy, which is exactly what I thought of Filburt.
Rocko is voiced by Carlos Alazraqui. He is a very prolific voice actor; however I’ve only seen a few of his other projects. Most notable for me are the English audio versions of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. Alazraqui’s Rocko finds the perfect balance between too much of an Australian accent and not enough of one.
Most people will recognize Tom Kenny (who voices Heffer) from his recent work in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as Wheelie and Skids. And again like with Mr. Alazraqui I know of his performance in an English audio version of a Miyazaki film, this time Porco Rosso. I also know him from Roswell and Home Movies where he was in an episode from each. Heffer has a distinct voice and I can appreciate Kenny’s talent the most as I am the most familiar with his different projects.
Charles Adler, who lends his voice to Mr. Bighead, voices Starscream in the Transformers movies, which is the only work I remember. Because while I did in fact see Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer and Jem I have not re-watched them in oh, 20-plus years. He had bit parts in Aladdin and The Little Mermaid as well. On a side note Starscream is my favorite Decepticon and I think he should have been the leader instead of Megatron, who looks too much like Starscream anyway. Adler’s voice is wonderful. Incidentally Mr. Adler is the only one out of the four voice actors who did not go on to SpongeBob SquarePants.
The video on this looks a lot like the other Nickelodeon cartoons of the nineties, specifically Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, and Hey Arnold! The transfer is not the best, and the picture actually went out of focus at more than one point. How does someone not notice that and (more importantly) correct it? There is a low level of digital noise throughout, along with that same vertical banding which seems to plague every 1.33:1 aspect video out nowadays. The audio was all right, nothing to write home about. Probably the crispest portions were the sound effects. I like the theme music, it’s catchy. And anything that uses the phrase “What a hoot!” is money. The package lists the closed captioning icon yet I could not access it if it indeed existed. Both my television and video player gave me “not available” responses.
There are no extras at all which is a shame. It makes me wonder if they are gearing up for a bigger release of all the episodes together on Blu-ray which would presumably have special features included.
I mentioned before about my disbelief this was really intended to be a children’s show. I’d urge caution if you’re considering Rocko’s Modern Life for today’s kids as well, but not because I think they wouldn’t be able to handle it. Rather the sight gags and cultural references are pretty dated and would most likely sail over their heads entirely. How many kids know who Richard Simmons is? When’s the last time Nolan Ryan was referenced in a cartoon?
It also wouldn’t be fair to go without mentioning I didn’t watch this during its run on Nickelodeon. From what I read on the Shout! Factory page, there have been some scenes cut from certain episodes before this compilation. So I’d urge caution as it seems this has in fact been edited from what you might remember.
Buy it if you feel a sense of nostalgia, otherwise I’d recommend a rent at most.