Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling Review

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It was hard to know what to expect from a Rocko’s Modern Life revival special at Netflix, but it definitely wasn’t a sharp commentary on reboot culture and fan entitlement that miraculously captures the core essence of the Nickelodeon cartoon as if two decades haven’t passed.In an era where Buzzfeed quizzes try to determine how much of a ’90s kid you are, no matter what year you were born, the return of a beloved property is less a matter of “if,” and more of a “when.” As if summoned from our collective subconscious as pop culture revivals become ever more prevalent (and fans become more demanding), the 45-minute Static Cling devotes itself to the very nature of its return.

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When the gang finds the remote control to the rocket that sent Rocko’s house hurtling through space (where we left our titular wallaby, Heffer, Filburt, and Spunky in the 1996 series finale) hidden in Heffer’s butt cheeks after two decades, they eagerly return to Earth in the 21st century. If you were curious how they’ve been killing time, turns out they’ve spent 20+ years listening to Heffer sing “99 bottles of root beer on the wall,” and rewatching a VHS of The Fatheads – the fictional show that was all the rage for Rocko in his initial run, which, as they soon discover, has gone off the air in the years since they left.

As the trio attempts to acclimate to a very different, now advanced society, Rocko starts to yearn for some familiar comfort. That manifests in him trying to track down the creator of The Fatheads, the Bigheads’ child, Ralph (who left the Bigheads to embark on a voyage of self-discovery many years ago) to request new episodes of the show.

The most immediately impressive aspect of this special is how easily it slips back into the show’s sense of humor and tone. There’s violent physical comedy that would never air on Nickelodeon today, and an abundance of humor surrounding bodily functions, all served with the series’ signature precision and wit.

If you liked those facets of the show when it was airing, there’s no reason to think they’ll turn you off here. However, the jokes based around all the ways society has changed since Rocko left the planet don’t fare quite as well. Tired gags like the abundance of Starbucks stores and the frequency with which Apple puts out a new iPhone are necessary in establishing what Static Cling wants to explore, but simply aren’t clever or fresh enough to earn a laugh; they are more of a means to an end than anything else.

But that end is unexpected and refreshing. In searching for the Bigheads’ long-absent child, Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt discover that she has transitioned into Rachel in her time away. The Bigheads’ daughter is nervous to return to her parents, as they don’t know about her transition, and is thus even more wary about writing more of The Fatheads and re-entering the public spotlight.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

It’s impossible to imagine a ’90s cartoon presenting such a thoughtful depiction of a transgender character, but that’s where these revivals have an opportunity to expand upon the ambitions of their predecessors (and Rocko’s Modern Life was always subtly subversive for its time, both in its adult humor and tackling stories on social issues like immigration, racism, and sexual orientation when many networks would’ve shied away from them). Static Cling is written by Rocko creator Joe Murray and several of the original scribes from the show, who effortlessly weave a lesson of acceptance into the canon of their creation. In an interview with EW, Murray admitted that the theme of change – both personal and cultural – is at the heart of the 45-minute special.

“When I started writing [Static Cling], I really started latching onto the idea of change and how society has changed and what’s gone on in the last 20 years and the development of our characters and how they would react to change,” he said. “It felt natural, because it was not only about change, about somebody finding who they are and making that courageous choice to go through that change.”

When Rachel does return home, after Rocko’s earnest convincing, her father doesn’t accept her at first. But that only inspires her creative energy, and a new version of The Fatheads is born. Rocko tasks himself with both getting Mr. Bighead to the premiere and getting him to accept his daughter, as well as the swell of positive change she brings. But the most stunning turn in Static Cling occurs when Rocko watches the new Fatheads, and finds that he, the one asking for something new the loudest, is the one who cannot accept its newness, because it changes the formula that he loved.

Static Cling challenges Rocko and Mr. Bighead, who are both struggling to accept change, to embrace the present and find new aspects to appreciate in the things they love, rather than remaining stuck in a repetitive loop, more concerned with recapturing nostalgia than experiencing something fresh.

Static Cling also doesn’t try to argue that all change is good – there’s a smart subplot where the money-grubbing boss of Conglom-O attempts to reboot The Fatheads without its creator because it’ll be cheaper and quicker, resulting in a soulless CGI remake with none of the charm of the real thing – but suggests that when there’s love and care in the process, the end result can be something that is just as satisfying as the original (at least to some people), even if it looks different.

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What Rocko really wants isn’t more of the old Fatheads, it’s to be brought back to a place where he had his footing in the world, with the reassurance of the familiar. Having missed 20 years of life on Earth, he feels out of place, but miraculously, his favorite TV show is offering him an olive branch to join in, and to allow an even wider audience to share in something he loves. He initially rejects it, insisting it’s “too much change.”

While being about as meta as it gets, it’s also a smart critique of the sometimes vitriolic fan reactions to other recent revivals that have attempted to evolve their property’s DNA (we’re sure you can think of a few examples), giving Rocko a brief but incisive arc that offers him the chance to jump on board with the changing tides or risk getting left behind.

The new iteration of The Fatheads can’t erase the joy that the original gave him, but it still takes Rocko a minute to get past his personal expectations and accept the show on its own merits, which might feel relatable for anyone who has fiercely loved a property that has been revived decades later, sometimes with questionable results. Not all reboots are created equal, but Static Cling manages to offer a nuanced examination of the pros and cons of remaining attached to the past.

SOURCE: IGN.com

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