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"Rocko's Modern Life" Season 2: Crikey! It's Even Better!

Rocko’s Modern Life‘s second season is an improvement over the first. Given that the first was already strong, that’s pretty impressive.

In case you came in late, the title character is a wallaby who seems to constantly run into bad luck. He’s simultaneously aided and hampered by his friends: Heffer, a happy-go-lucky, corpulent, gluttonous cow, and Filburt, a timid, glasses-wearing, superstitious, allergy-suffering turtle. Living next door to Rocko are a pair of toads, the Bigheads: Ed, who’s perpetually grouchy and wants Rocko to move, and Bev, who is also fairly grumpy but is more neighborly and keeps Ed in line.

Something I like about the second season is that it explores characters other than Rocko. For example, two plots involve Filburt: “The Lounge Singer”, which involves Filburt living out his dream of being a Frank Sinatra-style crooner, and “Born to Spawn”, where Filburt gets the sudden urge to make a ceremonial trek to a remote breeding island on his 21st birthday. Heffer also gets the spotlight in episodes like “Uniform Behavior”, with Heffer reluctantly getting a night job as a security guard but lets the power go to his head (and which eventually turns into a great Shining parody). Even the Bigheads get a couple plots to themselves, such as “She’s the Toad” (where Bev writes a company speech for Ed, who’s gone through a nervous breakdown), and “Frog’s Best Friend” (where Bev adopts a dangerous dog, Earl, who doesn’t get along with Ed). These two don’t even feature Rocko at all. There are also some fine ensemble pieces, like the sublime “Gutter Balls” (bowling comedy at its finest), “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” (Rocko tries to host a Christmas party when some elves move in across the street), and “I Have No Son!” (more on that below).

Of course, Rocko is still very much the main star. He suffers plumbing troubles in “Pipe Dreams”, is fed up with being short in “Short Story”, has to get glasses in “Eyes Capades”, risks being deported in “Kiss Me, I’m Foreign”, and holds a garage sale to raise enough money to pay the pizza bill in “Junk Junkies”. And there are still amusing satires on everyday life that are exaggerated to extremes, like the boss forcing you to stay late (“Day of the Flecko”), having to fill out tons of paperwork just to be seen by a doctor (“Tickled Pinky”), public transportation and traffic (“Commuted Sentence”), bad hair days (“Hair Licked”), computer errors (“Boob Tubed”), and “deals” that really don’t save you any money at all (“Snowballs”). But it’s safe to say that season 2 broadened its plotlines a bit more, which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to variety.

One surprising aspect of the second season is that while the show is still definitely a comedy, it does work in some drama as well. This is particularly evident in two episodes. “I Have No Son!”, where Ed and Bev Bighead’s son, Ralph Bighead, runs a popular animated series starring two obnoxious expys of his parents. Ed is ashamed that his son sees him this way and disowns him. This isn’t helped by the fact that years ago, Ralph turned down a job guaranteed for him at Ed’s company. Rocko and Filburt’s quest to reunite father and son results in some surprisingly serious moments, but not so serious that it becomes melodramatic or completely abandons the comedy. It’s just enough to take the characters and situations seriously.

Or take “Cruisin'”, an episode which, when it begins, looks like it will be half an hour of jokes at the elderly’s expense. However, thanks to the cruise ship going into the Bermuda Triangle and causing a complete switcheroo (Rocko and Heffer turn old while the senior citizens on the ship revert to their younger selves), Rocko gains empathy from their situation. It also allows Grandpa Wolf to get a second chance at love. This is a plot that anyone can relate to, young or old, and there’s good conflict throughout.

The animation is also a bit more consistent this season. The timing was tightened to make the jokes/reaction shots snappier, and the wild takes got even wackier. This is particularly true of Ralph Bighead’s show-within-a-show “The Fatheads”, which has a lot of creative comic violence and non-sequiturs. Also, in season 2, we got a remixed version of the opening theme, this time by the B-52s. Personally, I much prefer the seasons 2-4 theme; it has more of an “edge” to it, and I like the new orchestration and instrumentation.

As with the first set, the video quality is fairly mediocre, with dot crawl, color bleeding, and varying sharpness among the issues. It doesn’t look terrible, but it also won’t blow you away. However, this set is an improvement over the first season in the special features department (which had nothing): We get the unaired pilot “Trash-o-Madness”, featuring a yellow Rocko and different music/sound effects, among other discrepancies between it and the aired version. Interestingly, the presentation of this pilot is actually superior to the regular episodes! We also get a few videos where Joe Murray draws the characters. I was particularly fascinated with how Heffer is started: His body’s basically a giant hamburger shape and his mouth is a hot dog shape. How appropriate.

Rocko‘s second season takes what made the first season good and adds onto it, particularly when it comes to the supporting characters. Even at age 28, I still got a lot of laughs out of many gags, the comic timing on said gags, and the unapologetically cartoony feel. Unlike some shows from the same era which were written for only one audience (e.g. kids), Rocko’s Modern Life plays to multiple levels and thus still holds up today. It comes recommended.

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