Review: "Rocko's Modern Life": Complete Series: Not a Very Dangerous DVD
(Note: Since this Complete Series package features every episode from seasons 1-4 and I already reviewed seasons 1-3 separately, I will only focus on volume 4 to reduce redundancy.)
Rocko’s Modern Life has been a fun nostalgia trip, but luckily many episodes still manage to hold up for various reasons. Unfortunately, the ratio of good to forgettable episodes isn’t as weighted towards the former in the final season. This is a common trend with TV shows; very few manage to remain fresh all the way through. Similarly, Rocko‘s final season gives the impression that the crew was running low on ideas.
For instance, take the season opener, “With Friends Like These”: While the episode has a few funny moments, it has a clichéd plot (Heffer and Filburt find out Rocko won two tickets to a wrestling match and desperately try to outdo each other in buttering up Rocko so he’ll ask one of them to go along), and many of the jokes are old hat, without much of a twist. Or take “Sailing the 7 Zzz’s”, where a sleepwalking Ed Bighead keeps interrupting Rocko’s night sleep because he thinks he’s a pirate. It should be hilarious, but it falls flat, even in the climax when Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt engage in house-to-house warfare. “Yarnbenders”, which parodies fairy tales, feels tired; Rocky & Bullwinkle regularly skewered fairy tales thirty years earlier. “Seat to Stardom” seems to think that Rocko’s butt is automatically comedy gold, except it isn’t. “Dumbells/Rug Birds” is significant in that it’s probably the only Rocko episode without a single belly laugh, and the unengaging plots (Rocko and a woman play ding dong ditch; Filburt wants a rare wig off a bald eagle) don’t help. And “Turkey Time/Floundering Fathers” (a duo of Thanksgiving-themed episodes that close the series, the first involving Rocko hiding turkeys at his place, and the second a Rashomon-style retelling of who founded O-Town), just left me with an “eh” feeling.
But there’s still a lot of quality here. “Pranksters” is a hilarious episode where Heffer keeps pulling April Fool’s Day pranks on his friends but rightly suspects he’s the target of revenge, and ends with the classic “complicated series of ropes and pulleys through the house” gag. It should have been the season opener. “Teed Off” succeeds due to its stupidity; that is, Heffer coming to (what he thinks is) Ed’s rescue by tossing a golf ball in the hole in a corporate golf game. Except Ed doesn’t actually want Heffer’s help because he’s been instructed to lose the game to his boss. “S.W.A.K.” feels like classic Rocko; that is, satire on a facet of society (in this case, the carelessness of the post office) and a focus mostly on Rocko, who has to venture deep into the post office to retrieve a letter he doesn’t want sent. “Fly Burgers” has yet another appearance of the bug Flecko, who sues Rocko for fraudulent reasons, and losing the court case results in the judge turning Rocko into a fly. It’s a fun change of pace to see Rocko adjust to his new body. “Driving Mrs. Wolfe” creates classic conflict in that Wolfe is driving a car which her husband doesn’t want driven, yet accidentally ends up in a demolition derby where Mr. Wolfe is a spectator. There are plenty of good vehicle-related gags in here, especially during the scenes where Rocko struggles to teach Wolfe to drive. And “Put to Pasture/Future Schlock” is what the series finale should’ve been, with a flashback to Heffer’s past (mostly his time in high school with Rocko and Filburt trying to make a potato light bulb) and a vision of the future with Filburt’s kids now teenaged, respectively. Both offer the kind of goofy, surly humor that got me into the series in the first place.
The only extra on the season 4 discs is a live script reading of “Wacky Delly”, the season 3 episode. At 51 minutes, it’s a little long in the tooth, but it’s a lot of fun seeing the vocal cast (Joe Murray, Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Doug Lawrence) reunited for what is considered one of the greatest Rocko episodes. Plus, the crowd laughter (something missing from the episode proper) is infectious.
The complete series case’s spine is about the size of two DVD cases and the discs are housed in a swinging hinge with eight disc holders; it works well enough. The inside artwork is a nice collage drawn by series creator Joe Murray, and features a ton of characters. Shout! Factory has done the series justice on DVD, even though it’s unfortunate that Nick didn’t provide them with uncut masters to three episodes (there are no cuts on the season 4 episodes, by the way). And I’m definitely grateful that the entire series was finally released to DVD. However, I don’t like the fact that they released seasons 1-3 separately, and then released the complete series, meaning that if you want season 4 you have to buy back what you’ve already purchased. Forgive me for being melodramatic, but this practice is like a slap in the face of the loyal fans who bought every set beforehand. If season 4 is ever released separately, this will be a moot criticism, but for now, it’s a very valid one. At the very least, this series set is relatively inexpensive (considering it’s eight discs and 52 episodes), so that eases the pain.