If you're going to do weird, you have to do it right. If you manage that, you can do quirky, surreal, intriguing, enthralling, and interesting=. If you do it wrong, though, it's just plain weird.
Rocko's Modern Life is without a doubt one of the weirdest children's cartoons out there. When I say out there, I mean out there as in that remote distance past normalcy and into a realm of the strange usually occupied by giant squids and Japanese gadgetry. With Rocko, creator Joe Murray managed to strike that delicate balance between strange and entertaining that so appeals to children. As kids, our imaginations have yet to be quashed by harsh cynicism, and we're far more willing to accept the absurd at face value. At least I think that's right; I'm not quite sure how else to explain the success of a show like Rocko.
Murray set out to create a show both edgy and funny, which is a lofty ambition for an ordinary show, let alone for a children's show. He and his team reworked one of his earlier animated concepts (My Dog Zero) to produce Rocko, a mild-mannered Australian wallaby transplanted to America. They packed the show with quirky secondary characters and a hearty dose of silliness that earned it a surprisingly large and loyal viewership over its four-season run.
The first episode of Rocko aired by Nickelodeon was No Pain No Gain/Who Gives a Buck, establishing the show's unique sense of humor, satire, and quirkiness. For your viewing pleasure, I present the first aired episode:
Watch Rocko's Modern Life No Pain, No Gain in Animation | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Watch Rocko's Modern Life Who Gives a Buck in Animation | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Let's meet our cast of characters:
Like Madonna or Cher, our title character is without a last name. Unlike Madonna or Cher, he doesn't possess any diva-like qualities. He is the star of the show, sure, but he is determinedly non-confrontational and non-offensive. I guess they wanted him to be a fresh burst of sanity in the sea of crazy people inhabiting his O-town locale. He works at Kind of a Lot O' Comics and in his spare time enjoys recreational jackhammering and not wearing pants. How's that for a personal ad?
Rocko's trusty canine companion, Spunky is an ordinary non-speaking domestic pet in a world of anthropomorphic animals. He also has two awesome parasites, Bloaty and Squirmy. I always liked Squirmy.
Heffer, a steer, is Rocko's dimwitted but well-meaning best friend. As a child, he was adopted by a family of wolves that benevolently deigned not to eat him. Though he tries to deny it, he really is a big fat cow. That guy could put away Chokey Chicken like nobody's business.
Filburt the turtle is about as nebbishy as you can get with his over-sized glasses, self-deprecating attitude, and overall low self-esteem. He has a sort of Woody Allen thing going on, though we wouldn't have known it as at the time as kids. He's frequently getting nauseous, cursing fishsticks, and turning a page/washing his hands/repeating. He later did some serious inter-species mating with a hook-handed cat. Like I said, weird.
Ed and Bev Bighead
Rocko's obnoxious neighbors, Ed and Bev are a toad couple. Ed works at the town's major employer, Conglom-O as manager. He generally abhors the existence of Rocko and Co, though Bev seems to like them okay.
(No photo available. Obviously)
The semi-anonymous never-seen neighbor who serves as Rocko's romantic interest. Oh, and her name's a joke. Get it?
Really Really Big Man
Our resident superhero, RRBM was indeed a really, really big man with super strength. Plus, if you gazed into his Nipples of the Future, you might foresee something exciting. Yep, Nipples of the Future. Really. They spun and everything.
Dr. Paula Hutchinson
Paula eventually becomes Filburt's wife, though we first know her as a one-handed Jill-of-all-trades professional. Rocko legend has it that the good folks at Nickelodeon were none to pleased with the lack of positive female characters and asked for "a professional woman, someone with a good hook." Always ones to get the last laugh, the Rocko team gave Hutchinson a literal hook. It was, to their credit, pretty good. Mission accomplished.
The show was often crude and featured sexual innuendo and adult-style humor that usually eked by the censors. Some scenes, however, were omitted from the rebroadcasts due to their allegedly questionable content deemed inappropriate for juvenile audiences. The scene below was only broadcast once before it was cut from the episode "Road Rash":
The episode "Leap Frogs" was also pulled after its initial airing due to inappropriate content. "Leap Frogs" featured Rocko's neighbor Bev Bighead attempting to seduce our wallaby frontman. It's a wonder some of these episodes ever made it past the censors the first time around. I suppose it was a different time, when sex-crazed cartoons were par for the course.
Watch Rocko's Modern Life - Leap Frogs in Animation | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
You must admit, the show has a certain appeal, even now as an adult viewer. I got sucked into that last clip with as much interest as I had as a kid, probably more because my reaction now is peppered with the shock that this Mrs. Robinson-esque episode is exclusively about sex. In Nickelodeon's defense, I liked it the first time around and it was sly enough not to state outright its complete focus on sex. I just thought she wanted to give him some ice-cold lemonade. What's so wrong with that?
On the other hand, that part where he massages his eyeballs was enough to give me some minor-league nightmares. Part of the show's idiosyncratic charm was its almost repellent slapstick gags. Rocko's Modern Life was tough to pin down. It could be sweet, it could be funny or sardonic, and it could be gross-out disgusting. The show's charm lay in the fact that it was unlike anything we'd ever seen, particularly from a kids' show. It was sharp, it was funny, and best of all a whole lot of it was completely inappropriate.
It was all in good fun, though, and kids and adults ate it up like Pasture Puffies. Though you could certainly offer some heavy critiques to content, the show never took itself too seriously, nor did it ever ask us to take itself seriously. It was meant to be funny, and it was funny. Like I said, they did weird right. It was still weird, sure, but more importantly it was entertaining.