I never really watched Rocko’s Modern Lifeas a kid. I definitely saw an episode here and there, but I don’t remember much about it. I wasn’t a fan of the random humor that was a staple in the show and I think it confused it.
As such I never really knew how much of a cultural phenomenon until I started becoming more well-versed in animation culture. And it also meant that when they announced there was going to be a 2019 Netflix special, I didn’t think much of it.
Sure it had the potential of being a “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie,” like phenomenon, but the show was much less plot-driven than Hey Arnold, that I wasn’t sure what could be done to make it relevant to 2019.
But as it turns out, the whole thing is a meta-commentary on the nature of cartoon reboots, nostalgia and change.
As somebody who knows next to nothing about the show, I enjoyed the message. I liked the humor just fine, but it still isn’t my taste. The special also reveals that one of the reoccurring characters is transgender, and doesn’t turn her gender identity into a joke.
I think a good reason as to why the main themes of nostalgia and accepting change work so well, is because the main trio hasn’t been on Earth for two decades.
They’ve been in space, and after finding the rocket remote on Heffer’s butt, they’re able to return home. And things have changed. Not only has 20 years passed, but their return accidentally triggered Conglom-O to go into bankruptcy.
While Filburt and Heffer adjust pretty quickly all Rocko wants to do is watch his favorite show, The Fatheads. The videotape was the only thing keeping him going for 20 years and it finally broke right before they made it back to Earth. I can’t blame him for that. But the show is no longer airing on TV and presumably isn’t available on DVD or streaming services.
So Rocko convinces Ed Bighead that bringing back The Fatheads will save the town and two make an appeal to Mr. Dupette, Bighead’s boss. But the revival is headed by the Chameleon brothers who are turning into an awful, soulless, CGI remake.
Rocko is rightfully horrified and goes on a hunt for the show’s creator and Mr. Bighead’s son, Ralph. Rocko, Filburt and Heffer travel the world searching for Ralph, but are unsuccessful until they crash in a desert.
It turns out, part of the reason they were unsuccessful (at least in my interpretation) is because they were looking for the wrong person. Ralph, figured some things out and is now out as a transgender woman named Rachel.
She agrees to come back to O-Town to reunite with her family.
And of course, things don’t go quite according to plan. Mr. Bighead doesn’t accept his child’s transition. Mrs. Bighead takes the whole thing much more in stride using the right name and pronouns seemingly off the bat and begins stocking up a new wardrobe for Rachel. But, Rachel also continues working on the special (with Mr. Dupette’s blessing.)
Despite all the hard work she’s put in, Rocko hates the special due to the addition of a new character. Rachel added a baby Fathead, representing herself. Everybody else loves it, including Mr. Bighead, who recognizes some of the influence he had on his child and that even though Ralph is now Rachel, she’s still his child, and they love each other.
He’s actually the one who helps Rocko recognize and accept the change in his life, and (most) everybody lives happily ever after.
It’s all very meta textual; a 20-year-old cartoon is revived and focuses on a plot about a character wanting to bring back a 20-year-old cartoon. The show is obviously against the concept of cheap, passionless projects like that of the Chameleon twins, and believes things should remain faithful to its themes, but that some changes are okay.
The fact the show purposely put the ideas of a show changing and revealing one of the characters is trans makes it the plot work. It doesn’t come off as too preachy or forced. It’s part of the narrative that Joe Murray had spent so long trying to make.
I know that Murray originally intended to reveal Rachel as trans in the original run of the show, and that would have been amazing. TV could be in a very different place now if that happened, but like I said, it seems very fitting for the reveal to be put in here. It’s obvious a lot of work and love went into this special.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2019
Length: 45 minutes
Executive Producer: Joe Murray
Producer: Lizbeth Velasco, Raymie Muzquiz (supervising producer)
Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Serguson
Voice Actors: Carlos Alazarqui, Tom Kenny, Mr. Lawrence, Charlie Adler