A Look Back on Rocko’s Modern Life and it’s importance
My fellow 90s kids and lovers of classic Nickelodeon, tomorrow is a momentous day. Joe Murray’s classic Nicktoon, Rocko’s Modern Life, shall make it’s return on Netflix. If the trailers are anything to go by, it’s going to have all the slapstick, satire, and adult jokes fans will remember. As a 90s kid, I feel I should be more excited about this, but I have a confession to make. I didn’t like Rocko as much as I could have as a kid.
I was born in the middle of the 1990s, so I was too young to watch the show when it was actually airing. By the time I graduated from Nick Jr. to Nickelodeon proper, all that they had were reruns. When I watched them, though, most of the jokes flew over my head, and by the time I was old enough to understand them, Rocko’s Modern Life had gone off the air.
Despite this, the years have given me a greater appreciation for the show for its satirization of our culture. The show’s setting of O-Town is basically a jab at the commercialization of everything in the 90s. Again, I don’t remember much, so I have to take others word for it. Or do I?
Despite my limited childhood connection to Rocko, much of my appreciation for it comes from another show Murray did, Camp Lazlo.
Premiering on Cartoon Network in summer of 2005, it was a show about three best friends, Lazlo, Raj, and Clam, who spend their summer as Bean Scouts in Camp Kidney. I fell in love with this show as a kid, and, for a time, it was one of my favorite cartoons. I also noticed that it used a lot of the jokes and music from another show I liked, Spongebob Squarepants.
In hindsight, this observation makes sense. After Rocko’s Modern Life got cancelled, a good chunk of its actors and staff moved to work on Spongebob. According to Murray, they kept in touch, and when Lazlo got green lit, they jumped on board.
As a result, Camp Lazlo had a lot of its predecessor in its DNA. The actors, the writing style, the comedy of Rocko’s were all there. In many ways, it was like the second coming of Rocko’s Modern Life. Albeit, it’s one that toned down the adult jokes. It was a fun show, but then Cartoon Network pulled the plug on it in 2008. According to Murray, he ticked the executives off by refusing to appear in a commercial for McDonald’s or something.
Murray’s Uphill Battle
That wasn’t the first time Joe Murray faced issues. According to Vanity Fair, his dad didn’t approve of his desire to be an artist. I’m convinced that this led to him creating Ralph Bighead, the cartoonist and estranged son of Mr. and Mrs. Bighead on the show. He even voiced Ralph himself.
It gets worse. Around the time production of Rocko’s Modern Life got his wife Diane committed suicide. For a time, Murray blamed Rocko for what happened. He eventually got therapy, though, and working on his show helped. Then, when he started Camp Lazlo, he got a divorce from his second wife. Ouch.
Yet despite all the hardship, Murray never let it truly break him. He did everything he could to make sure that his team could have the freedom to do what they wanted. They worked at their own separate studio , and Murray’s contract ensured that none of the executives from Nickelodeon could show up unannounced. As a result, the team behind the show worked in an environment that was essentially controlled, light-hearted anarchy.
After reading all of this, I can’t help but respect Joe Murray, both as a person and a creator. He created the kind of work environment that I would have loved being in. I think because of this, many of the people who worked on Rocko’s Modern Life went on to make a big splash in pop culture.
Impact of Rocko’s Modern Life
As crazy as it may sounds, cartoons as we know them today may not be the same without Rocko’s Modern Life. Many of the team members have gone on to work on several highly successful cartoons, from the adult animation on Fox, to Cartoon Network, and of course, for Nickelodeon. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who got their starts on Rocko, have gone on to create Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphy’s Law. Phineas and Ferb was one of my favorite cartoons on Disney Channel for years, you know!
In terms of cultural impact, Rocko started the careers of two highly successful comedians, Carlos Alazraqui and Tom Kenny. Carlos’ got some pretty high-profile roles and a steady number of minor ones. As for Tom Kenny, there’s not enough time in the day. The guys practically voice acting royalty. He may be best known for playing Spongebob, but he’s got a lot of other big roles under his belt.
Speaking of Spongebob, we wouldn’t have Spongebob without Rocko. Stephen Hillenberg was the creative director of the show, and took most of the reins when Murray wanted to step back. After Rocko got the axe, Stephen went on to pitch Spongebob Squarepants. A lot of Rocko’s team joined him, and the rest is animation history.
That Was a Hoot!
So, while I may not get the level of nostalgia as some fans, that doesn’t mean I don’t see the value of this show. It left a big impact on the animation industry and helped make it what it is today. I’m looking forward to seeing Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling first thing in the morning. You can bet that I’ll be doing a review of it, too! It’s gonna be a hoot!
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