Judge Mike Rubino remembers when triangle-shirts were huge.
Heffer: You know, I died once.
The glory days of Nickelodeon cartoons came years before any porous underwater goofballs; it was a time when the channel was still living on the edge, making programming not just for tweens, but for their parents as well. Rocko's Modern Life is Nick at the height of subversive mass appeal: the show chronicles a wallaby's adventures as an adult bachelor constantly weighed down by existential grief and anxiety. Also, he didn't wear pants.
Throughout Rocko's Modern Life: Season Two's 13 episodes, Rocko (Carlos Alazraui, Reno 911!) and his two best friends, Heffer and Filbert (Tom Kenny and Mr. Lawrence, both of Spongebob SquarePants), find themselves in a myriad of sticky situations: they go on a journey to find Mr. Bighead's estranged son; travel through time on an senior citizen cruise in the Bermuda Triangle; deal with Rocko's immigration status through a fake marriage; and start a bowling team called "The Losers."
Rocko's Modern Life remains silly and intelligent. During its second season, the show further refined its voice, confidently ventured into deeper character-based storytelling, and still maintained the temperate surrealism that separated it from the pack. Rocko skillfully balances Ren and Stimpy-era grossness for the kids and themes of anxiety, social pressure, conformity, and existential dread for the adults. Trust me, it's a very funny show.
Rocko twists reality through various lenses, making it feel more and more absurd the more meta the show gets—the cartoons that the characters on the show watch, for example, are nothing more than violent screamfests. Whether it's Mrs. Bighead rising to the top of the bizarre corporate behemoth, Conglom-O, or Filbert dressing up like a woman to keep Rocko from being deported, much of the show is commentary on, well, modern life. It never feels that way when you're watching it, though, thanks largely to creator Joe Murray's wonderful characters.
Rocko continues to be a wide-eyed do-gooder, trying to live by whatever expectations life asks of him. His friends are the ones that grow and get stranger as the season progresses. Filbert, especially, finds himself the center of a number of episodes—one of the best being "The Lounge Singer," where his karaoke lounge singing sends him on gigs across the country. Murray is confident enough to hand over an entire episode to supporting characters and the stories are just as enjoyable as Rocko's. The 13 episodes (many of which contain two 10-minute stories) fly by, and are just as fun, if not moreso, as they were back in the '90s.
Rocko's Modern Life: Season Two is another solid Shout! Factory release. The transfer is bright and colorful—about as good as it can look. Better yet, the two-disc set comes with a handful of great supplements, including the show's original pilot (featuring a yellow-skinned Rocko), and a number of behind-the-scenes videos with Joe Murray. It's a delight to watch him draw Rocko while talking about the show and its development.
For nostalgists, Rocko's Modern Life: Season Two has been greatly anticipated. It's worth the wait; this is one of the best toons Nick has produced.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Pilot Episode
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