Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling Review: Change Is in the Air

Returning to screens after 20 years is no easy feat, regardless of the genre or exact medium, and while Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling has the benefit of being animated, and therefore ages somewhat gentler, the premise of the show largely belonged in the ‘90s. The special lacks the bite of its predecessor television series, but manages to nail a few key moments to pull off bringing Rocko’s Modern Life into an even more modern era.

The special revolves around the return to Earth of Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt, who have been orbiting the planet thanks to a rocket stuck through Rocko’s house; this was a plot point in one of the final episodes on television, and while some of the details differ, the story is essentially picked up from there. The only thing that kept the crew going while out in the big nothing, apparently, was a VHS tape of their favorite show, The Fatheads.

The VCR eating said tape leads to them crashing back to Earth, and specifically exactly to the same spot they left in O-Town, at which point the group learns just how much has changed since that time. The crux of the special, however, is that in the intervening years, The Fatheads went off the air, and while Rocko can deal with all the other changes, that’s one change too far.

rocko fathead cropped
(Photo: Netflix/Nickelodeon)

Static Cling goes on to poke fun at everything from Apple-like phone upgrades to drones and the changing landscape of media -- RIP Rocko’s former place of work -- but it all revolves around getting a show back on the air, and what that entails, mirroring Static Cling’s own return of a beloved, older property. It isn’t exactly subtle, and sometimes verges on being a little too on the nose, but it works fine if not perfectly.

It ultimately serves a relatively common narrative arc: do we embrace or reject change? This is also the nature of the prominent trans storyline, with the introduction of Rachel (assigned male at birth as Ralph, creator of The Fatheads) and her relationship with her father. Mr. Bighead has to decide whether he’s capable of accepting his daughter, and what that looks like going forward.

And it all comes to a head when Rocko does get what he wants, with new Fatheads in much the same way as there is new Rocko, but not how he wants it. It’s changed, and Rocko has changed too, and not only because what was once a Nickelodeon show has now released a Netflix special. It can’t be the same as it was, because nothing ever can. Change is inevitable, Static Cling seems to say, and it’s all about whether you can deal with that. The world is never going to stop for you.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is good, albeit sometimes clumsy in its execution. The special succeeds in a number of ways, while overall being uneven with some jokes like poorly paid animation staff landing better than others. It’s not the show it was, and it never will be, and that’s OK. It’s been 23 years, and things were bound to change between now and then, and if nothing else, Rachel is a welcome addition in a climate that is too-often hostile to such stories. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, as Heffer so famously uttered, “that was a hoot,” but I will say I was surprised by how often I smiled.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is now available to stream on Netflix.