If the return of Rocko’s Modern Life isn’t cause for an obligatory “’90s kids, rejoice” lede, I don’t know what is, so … ’90s kids, rejoice! Rocko and friends are back, in an all-new Netflix film called Static Cling.
The word “film” is used loosely here, as the streaming giant’s new release comes in at a brisk 45 minutes and feels more like a pilot than a feature. Those factors might shape your perception going in, but they’re otherwise irrelevant. The important thing is that Rocko’s homecoming isn’t just some soulless nostalgia play; it’s every bit as weird, wild, and worth watching as the original TV series.
Static Cling finds Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Mr. Lawrence), Spunky, and Rocko (both voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) orbiting the earth after accidentally blasting Rocko’s house into outer space with a rocket 20 years ago. They’ve spent the better part of that time watching their favorite show, The Fatheads, on a well-worn VHS tape.
“Isn’t it great how some things never change?” Rocko says, moments before the picture goes wonky and the VCR spits out a destroyed cassette. And like a Greek tragedy, so begins the carotoon wallaby’s existential crisis.
Their entertainment gone, Heffer gazes out the window at Earth, revealing that the rocket remote has been stuck to his butt this whole time. The gang uses it to fly back to their native O-Town, but things aren’t quite how they remember them.
Despite the absurdity that ensues, Static Cling isn’t escapism. There are plenty of fart jokes and sexual innuendo—and the psychedelic animation for which the show is perhaps best remembered—but by positioning change as the film’s central theme and digging at it from contemporary angles, Static Cling proves much deeper than you might expect. The TV show was progressive, but this is Rocko at its most direct.
There are plenty of jabs at Starbucks, urban sprawl, social media, and the like, but what makes Static Cling significant is the story of Fatheads creator Ralph Bighead (Rocko creator Joe Murray). Rocko has trouble adjusting to all these 21st-century changes, so when he learns that The Fatheads has been cancelled, he decides to find Ralph and convince him to revive the show. The thing is: Ralph is now Rachel, having transitioned while Rocko was in space. This causes some issues with Rachel’s father, Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), the guy in charge of producing the show.
Static Cling ’s ultimate thesis is that “Embracing change is the key to happiness,” and while I won’t reveal the finer details, suffice it to say that it handles transgender subject matter, among other concepts, very well. To embrace change seems like a no-brainer in and of itself, but it carries added weight in a political climate where the word “change” is as synonymous with progressive policies as “Make America Great Again” is with regressive ones. Social commentary in “kids’ shows” always rattles the pearl-clutchers, but Rocko’s Modern Life was never made for them anyway. Clearly, neither was Static Cling.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
Director: Joe Murray
Starring: Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler
Theater: Netflix, streaming now