Are we actually making progress? Rock’s Modern Life: Static Cling asks the bizarrely big questions

(image courtesy IMDb (c) Netflix)

After being in space for 25 years, Rocko and his friends return to a late-2010s era O-Town with modern amenities such as constantly updating touchscreen phones, radioactive energy drinks, food trucks and coffee shops on every corner. Rocko, who does not share Heffer and Filburt’s enthusiasm for the 21st century and finds that his job at Kind-of-a-Lot-O-Comics has been replaced by an instant-print kiosk, attempts to get his favorite television show The Fatheads back on the air, since it is the last remnant of his past; to do so, he goes on a quest to find Rachel Bighead (née Ralph), the show’s creator. He succeeds and becomes a hero and unwilling celebrity in O-Town. (synopsis via Wikipedia)

Ah, nostalgia.

It’s the perfect cosy redoubt into which to retreat when everything around us is changing and the world, once so firmly shaped to our liking and sure in its look and feel, resembles nothing like the one we signed up for.

Looking backwards, especially to events or shows or music rooted deep in a rosy-hued past, becomes far more appealing than looking forwards or even looking around you at an unpalatable present, but as Rocko discovers in his new meta-laden special on Netflix (available now), Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, nostalgia isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Even more annoying when you’ve rocketed back into O-Town, the company of good friends Heffer and Filburt, and loyal mop-obsessed dog Spunky, after 20 years whizzing around the outer reaches of the galaxy in a house with a great big missile through its innards, it’s not sustainable as a long-term living option. (What is amusing is the way this revival special starts with a Star Wars-like screen scrawl and overly-portentous commentary by Really Really Big Man, voiced by Tom Smith, who promises to use his “Nipples of the Future” to tell the story: absolutely off-the-charts hilarious.)

Sooner or later, you have to let change in and accept that everything you once knew, all the ’90s stuff you once knew and loved, is gone forever and not coming back.

Like Rock’s favourite cartoon The Fatheads, created by Ralph, son of his neighbours Ed and Bev Bighead (Charlie Adler), which is now, GASP!, off air.

In the middle of a new 21st century reality, delivered with all the manic comic and visual idiosyncratic weirdness of the original Nickelodeon iteration, and to which Heffer and Filburt take to like proverbial ducks to water, it’s one cross too many to bear for everyone’s favourite’s wallaby (the jokes about what kind of animal he actually is at least remain, proving that some things, regrettably, never change).

And Rocko, rather amusingly despite his great characteristic angst, is dealing with a lot. (“The 21st century is a very dangerous century,” he observes, rather ruefully.)

There are Buzzbucks outlets on every corner, new phone models come out only after minutes after their predecessors, food options are syngerising like crazy – taco tacos anyone? – the hit drink is a radioactive concoction and cinema is painfully interactive.

Even worse, Rocko’s place of employment, the comic book store, is a 3D printing booth.

Heffer and Filburt are unfazed, taking selfies like people possessed, and you know, perhaps they, we, all are, but Rocko is seriously freaked out, and in his usual angsty fashion, which let’s face it is all of us to one degree or another, decides the only solution is to resurrect The Fatheads.

Get that done and all will be well with the world, reasons Rocko.

It won’t, of course, but who wants to admit that the past they love is gone forever and the present is not even remotely cut to order?

So Rocko sets off to find Ralph, to convince him to bring back The Fatheads and make the world somewhat recognisable again.

If you’re paying attention to this storyline, and it can be tough with the riotous visual and verbal touchstones that creator Joe Murray, who wrote the script with Mr. Lawrence and Martin Olson, sends swirling, mischievously and with resulting hand clapping, gleeful pleasure around you, you will notice just how meta Rocko’s reboot is.

In a briskly-delivered 45 minutes, which is both a nostalgia fest and pointedly not, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling parodies with gloriously, manically good humour our century’s near-unhealthy obsession with reviving the past to cope with all too-fast present.

We are party to the faceless corporate hacks who, in Ralph’s absence, set out to recreate The Fatheads by the power of algorithms and motivated by potential big payoffs alone.

“We have computers! We can make anything in a passionless and cheap way!”

It can’t be done, not if you want a show that feels and looks like the originals but the corporate guns for hire care not, and the end result is not what the nostalgia escapism doctor ordered.

Hence, the pressing need to find Ralph, who off his parents for 20 years in a bid to find himself has undergone a major change himself.

He is now – SPOILER ALERT! STOP READING NOW TO AVOID THE SPOILER! THE SPOILER LOOMS! – Rachel, a woman wholly at ease with herself who is, happily for anyone who wants everyone to be true to themselves, bigotry be damned, embraced without question by Rocko, Filburt and Heffer.

Mr Bighead is not quite as eager to embrace this new reality – Mrs Bighead, by way of contrast, is delighted to find shoes in her new daughter’s size, but Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling does a beautiful job of showing how, given time, everyone can come to grips a change as big as the one Ralph undergoes since, as Mr Bighead comes to realise, he’s always been Rachel, always been his daughter and always will be.

It may look like Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is trying too hard to be hip and relevant, and no doubt this is an allegation that will be levied with some venom by rusted-old bigots and conservatives, but Rachel’s presence is yet more proof that change is often a good thing and it just takes an open mind and a willingness to move on, to see it.

In deliciously funny but meaningful meta fashion, the Rocko reboot grapples admirably with what it means to be powered by nostalgia but still have to exist in the present – you cannot stay static for that way lies creative death and audience boredom, whether they realise it or not – and stay relevant to a culture that has moved on well beyond that of your heyday.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling succeeds brilliantly in archly and amusingly commenting on the perils of being a creative property out of time while still being very much in demand and navigating the quagmire of nostalgia which looks bright, shiny and all things perfect but is in fact laden with expectation so murderously onerous that one “wrong” step – “wrong” in the eye of the beholder; that is the fans who want their show back but on their time-frozen terms which doesn’t always work from a creative standpoint – can doom even the most inventive of returns.

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