Because Nickelodeon knows its intended audience of children has basically tuned out, Joe Murray’s cult ‘90s cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life is among the many Nick shows from the Clinton era that will return in reboots or revivals. Coming in 2017 as an hour-long TV movie, it’s not confirmed which members of the original Rocko’s cast and crew will appear, but what should certainly return – or else this is all for naught – is the show’s signature adult-oriented humor.
As a stylized cartoon set in the fictitious O-Town, populated by talking animals, Rocko’s Modern Life aired from 1993 to 1996 as a sharp satire of the modern age (hence the title) aimed at kids. Adult jokes in kids cartoons is not revolutionary — see literally any Disney movie — but what made Rocko’s Modern Life sharp weren’t the jokes – like Rocko becoming a phone sex operator or checking into a motel that was a rendez-vous for prostitutes and Johns. It was that it simply had no rules.
When Rocko’s aired I was the target viewer. I thought I was watching silly cartoons do silly things. Little did I realize, I was being hit with heaping doses of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock homages wrapped in anti-capitalist, anti-establishment messages. The time Rocko’s friend Heffer worked the night shift as a security guard and went insane at Conglom-O, the mega-corporation that Murray confirmed secretly owned all of O-Town, haunted me on a level no cartoon really has before – or since. The episode ends with Heffner taking his uniform off and streaking into the night, which is funny when you’re a kid, but as an adult has pretty terrifying implications.
And Murray guarantees that 2016 is ripe for the kind of humor Rocko’s Modern Life specializes in. “What I have found by bringing these characters back is that it’s not so much about nostalgia, but a sense that they still feel relevant and fresh to me,” Murray told Deadline. After 20 years, Murray says “they can’t wait to comment on modern life in the 21st century. They still have a lot to say.”
I’m sure they do, and I hope they do. Right now one of the U.S. Presidential candidates is a racist xenophobe who made his notoriety through bankrupt casinos and bad reality TV; and tomorrow’s kids are going to say their parents met because they swiped right on a phone. It’s crazy, guys. Hopefully we can still just laugh at cartoons.