Watching Rocko’s Modern Life‘s third season, I’m continually impressed with how well the show has held up in the years since it originally aired in the mid ’90s. The characters are still engaging, the artwork is still unique, and most importantly, it’s still quite funny.
Easily the best episode of season 3 is the sublime “Wacky Delly”, where Ralph Bighead (the creator of Rocko’s favorite animated show, “The Fatheads”) is forced to make another show by his demanding bosses. Ralph, desperate to get out of his contract, hires Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt to run the new show, in the hopes that they’ll craft a show so awful and incompetent that it’ll be cancelled in short order. And indeed they do. The catch is, the execs love it and so does the public. Now Ralph tries to sabotage their efforts, but each plan just makes the show more popular. In truth, the episode isn’t that innovative; anyone remotely familiar with “Springtime For Hitler” from The Producers will instantly recognize this plot. But the episode is executed so well, with specific facial expressions, great interplay between the cast (I especially loved the “storyboard pitch” meeting where Heffer dares to suggest that The Cheese, a character Filburt created, isn’t necessary to the show), and classic scenarios where Ralph’s plans are thwarted (my personal favorite being when Ralph purposefully overexposes the film stock, yet the critics love it anyway). For the behind-the-scenes lover, it’s also a fine look at how a cartoon is made, albeit simplified, of course. It’s even a sly commentary on how even the stupidest material can be insanely popular while high class art is shunned, driven home by a parody of Fantasia at the end: that film flopped back in 1940.
I also love the season opener “Bye Bye Birdie”, about Rocko and Heffer taking care of Filburt’s troublesome bird; it packs in a lot of gags on the variety of ways the bird can cause havoc (up to and including destroying Rocko’s house). “Schnit-Heads” parodies religious cults quite skillfully and subtly, years before The Simpsons‘s “The Joy of Sect”. “I See London, I See France” (about Rocko and Heffer on a bus tour in Paris) is a winner just for the tour guide character: He not only points out mundane items instead of the famous landmarks, but goes ballistic at a moment’s notice, especially if someone tries to exit his sacred bus. “Zanzibar”, a musical episode about curtailing pollution, works for the instantly catchy songs and the lampshade-hanging; Rocko wonders how the entire town except him knows all the words to their songs, and Heffer said they had rehearsals every week. “Ed is Dead: A Thriller!”, one of two Halloween shorts, is a Rear Window parody that has an appropriately spooky atmosphere while still being funny. And “Camera Shy” skewers the pretentious short film when Rocko, secretly videotaped as walking downstairs in the buff by Heffer and Filburt, is seen as high art by the whole town, naturally embarrassing Rocko. There are more episodes I like in this batch, but you get the idea.
Truthfully, not all episodes hit the mark. “An Elk For Heffer” is a rather so-so outing about Heffer bringing home an elk for dinner, only he wants to date her instead of feeding her to his family of wolves. “The Fatlands”, about Bloaty and Squirmy heading “west” (due to Spunky getting fat and thus having wider skin) isn’t as good as the first Bloaty and Squirmy short from season 1, despite a couple of funny jokes. And “Rocko’s Happy Vermin”, about Rocko helping out some bugs who have escaped from Ed Bighead’s house, isn’t that memorable and, once again, pales in comparison to season 2’s “Day of the Flecko”, which introduced that bug character. Thankfully, these are in the minority.
The set’s only special feature is a half hour of Joe Murray talking about various episodes over clips of them. It’s sort of like a commentary, except the commentator is on-screen for part of it and they’re not for the full episodes. I can’t say I learned a lot from this feature, and I would’ve rather had full audio commentaries (perhaps with more than just Murray) but it was nice to hear his thoughts on the show years later.
Rocko’s Modern Life continues to be an amusing show in its third season, and may be buying just for “Wacky Delly” alone.