Rocko's Modern Life is an American animated series created by Joe Murray. The show aired for four seasons between 1993 and 1996 on Nickelodeon. Rocko's Modern Life is based around the surreal, parodic adventures of an anthropomorphic, Australian-immigrant wallaby named Rocko, and his new life in the city of O-Town. The show explores his American life as well as the lives of his friends: the gluttonous steer Heffer, the neurotic turtle Filburt, and Rocko's faithful dog, Spunky. The show is laden with adult humor, including double entendres, innuendos, and satirical social commentary.
Joe Murray initially created the title character for an unpublished comic book series in the late 1980s, and later reluctantly pitched the series to Nickelodeon, who were looking for edgier cartoonists for their new Nicktoons block. The network gave the staff a large amount of creative freedom, the writers targeting both children and adults. The show's animation stylistically features crooked architecture. In addition, Murray picked many newcomer voice actors, such as Tom Kennt and Carlos Alazraqui, both of whom have found further success since the show ended. The show was the fourth Nicktoon to premiere. Kenny described the show's impact in an interview, saying, "Rocko's Modern Life was just one of those shows that were the first break for a lot of people who went on to do other stuff in the business."
Produced by Games Animation and Joe Murray Productions, the show premiered on September 18, 1993 and ended on November 24, 1996 with reruns until late-2004. After the show's completion, much of the staff regrouped to work on SpongeBob SquarePants, created by producer Stephen Hillenburg. Rocko's Modern Life generally received positive reviews during and after its original broadcast run; it has been praised for sophisticated and subversive humor.
The plot follows the life of a wallaby, Rocko, who has immigrated to the United States from Australia. In the United States, he is faced with various problems and challenges involving his pals who try to teach him what it means to be a good friend.
Many of the locations in the television show Rocko's Modern Life have the letter "O" for example O-Town and Conglom-O. When asked about the use of "O" in his show Murray said,
I always got a big kick out of the businesses that were 'House-O-Paint', or 'Ton-O-Noodles', because their names seemed to homogenize what they sold, and strip the products of true individuality and stress volume ... and we all know, the American dream is volume! So what better company to create volume than 'Conglom-O', and since a majority of the town worked at Conglom-O, it should be called 'O' Town. I also wanted the town to be 'anytown' USA, and I used to love sports players with a big ZERO on their back. It was funny to me.
The plot locations included the following:
- O-Town is the town in which Rocko lives, apparently located near the Great Lakes.
- Chokey Chicken (branded in France as Le Chokey Chicken) is a favorite restaurant/hang-out place for Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. At some point during the fourth season the restaurant was renamed "Chewy Chicken" due to the former name referring to masturbation (i.e., "choking the chicken"), though earlier episodes continued to air with the "Chokey Chicken" name. It's a parody of KFC.
- Conglom-O Corporation is the biggest company in town; it even runs City Hall. Mr. Dupette, who has very peculiar ways to see if the employees are fit to work there, manages Conglom-O. Conglom-O does not seem to have a specific purpose or product—it is a giant company that manufactures many products. Conglom-O's slogan is always shown beneath its name. The slogan is "We own you", revealing in a later musical episode that they own everything in O-Town. When Ed Bighead was shown to work at Conglom-O in 1961, the slogan stated "We Will Own You" (alluding to the future of megacorporations). The illustration that appears with the logo and on top of the official Conglom-O Corp. skyscraper is a marini glass with the earth in place of an olive.
- Heck is where "bad people" go when they die. Run by Peaches, it is where Heffer is doomed to eternal suffering.
- Holl-o-Wood is a town that resembles the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California.
- Kind of a Lot O' Comics is a comic book store where Rocko works. His boss, Mr. Smitty, is a cruel toad who only concentrates on selling comics. Rocko, however, is very nice and giving. For example, when a customer sneezed all over a comic, Rocko gave him a fresh copy and did not charge him for the previous comic.
All the characters in the Rocko's Modern Life series are animals. There is a wide range of species, and the vast majority of them are also mentally unstable. Murray said that he matched personalities of his characters to the various animals in the series to form a "social caricature". Rocko, the protagonist, is a wallaby who encounters various dilemmas and situations regarding otherwise mundane aspects of life. His best friend Heffer Wolve is fat and an enthusiastic steer, while Filburt the turtle often feels uncomfortable or disturbed.
- Carlos Alazraqui as the voice of Rocko, Spunky, Leon Chameleon, Squirmy The Ringworm and Granny Rocko.
- Tom Kenny as the voice of Heffer Wolve, Chuck Chameleon, Mr. Smitty, Really Really Big Man, Bloatman "Bloaty" Tick, Peaches, Norbert Shellbach, Rocko's singing voice, Filbert's singing voice, and various males
- Doug Lawrence as the voice of Filburt Shellbach, Gilbert Shellbach, Shelbert Shellbach, and Peter Wolfe
- Linda Wellem as the voice of Dr. Paula Hutchison, Mrs. Virginia Wolfe, Grandma Wolfe, Cindy Wolfe, Tammy the Pig, Missy Turtle, Karen Chicken, Winifred Wolfe, Judge, Nurse Tammy Mouse, Miss Pancreas, Claudette, Elkie, Queen Marie Antoinette, and various females
- Charlie Adler as the voice of Ed and Bev Bighead, Gladys The Hippo Lady, Mr. George Wolfe, Grandpa Wolfe, Mr. Dupette, Mr. and Mrs. Fathead and various males
- Joe Murray as the voice of himself and Ralph Bighead
Originally, the character appeared in an unpublished comic book titled Travis. Murray tried selling the comic book in the late 1980s, between illustrating jobs, and did not find success in getting it into production. Many other characters appeared in various sketchbooks. He described the early 1990s animation atmosphere as "ripe for this kind of project. We took some chances that would be hard to do in these current times (the 1990s)". Murray wanted funding for his independent film My Dog Zero, so he wanted Nickelodeon to pre-buy television rights for the series. He presented a pencil test to Nickelodeon, which afterward became interested in buying and financing the show. Murray had never worked in television before. The industry was coming out of a "rough period" and Murray wanted to "shake things up a bit".
Linda Simensky, then in charge of animation development in Nickelodeon, described the Nicktoons lineup and concept to Murray. He originally felt skepticism towards the concept of creating a Nicktoon as he disliked television cartoons. Simensky told him that Nicktoons differed from other cartoons. He then told her that he believed that My Dog Zero would not work as a cartoon. He then researched Nickelodeon at the library and found that Nickelodeon's "attitude was different than regular TV". The cable network providers were "making their own rules": for example, Murray stated that he "didn't write for children", which the executives were fine with. Murray was unsure at first, but was inspired by independent animation around him, such as Animation Celebration and MTV's Liquid Television, and gave the network a shot. At the time, Nickelodeon was selling itself as a network based as much around edge as around kids' entertainment. It aimed to appeal to college students and parents as much as children.
Murray developed the Rocko character after visiting a zoo in the Bay Area and coming across a wallaby that seemed to be oblivious to the chaos around him. Murray combed through his sketchbooks, developed the Rocko's Modern Life concept, and submitted it to Nickelodeon, believing that the concept would likely be rejected. Murray felt they would not like the pilot, and he would just collect his sum and begin funding his next independent film. According to Murray, around three or four months later he had "forgotten about" the concept and was working on My Dog Zero when Simensky informed him that Nickelodeon wanted a pilot episode. Murray said that he was glad that he would get funding for My Dog Zero. On his website he describes My Dog Zero as "that film that Linda Simensky saw which led me to Rocko." "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic" was originally written as the pilot; the executives decided that Heffer Wolve, one of the characters, would be "a little too weird for test audiences". Murray, instead of removing Heffer from "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic", decided to write "Trash-O-Madness" as the pilot episode.
In the original series pilot, Rocko was colored yellow. His color was changed when a toy merchandising company informed Nick they were interested in marketing dolls but did not want to market Rocko because "they already had a yellow character". Murray changed Rocko's color to beige, and after the pilot aired, the company opted out of producing toys for the series. When the series was in development prior to the release of the first episode, the series had the title The Rocko Show.
In November 1992, two months prior to the production of season 1 of Rocko's Modern Life, Murray's first wife committed suicide. Murray had often blamed his wife's suicide on the show being picked up. He said "It was always an awful connection because I look at Rocko as such a positive in my life." Murray felt that he had emotional and physical "unresolved issues" when he moved to Los Angeles. He describes the experience as like participating in "marathon with my pants around my ankles". Murray initially believed that he would create one season, move back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and "clean up the loose ends I had left hanging". Murray said that he felt surprised when Nickelodeon approved new seasons; Nickelodeon renewed the series for its second season in December 1993.
After season 3 he decided to hand the project to Stephen Hillenburg, who performed most work for season 4; Murray continued to manage the cartoon. He said that he would completely leave the production after season 4. He said also that he encouraged the network to continue production, but Nickelodeon eventually decided to cancel the series. He described all fifty-two episodes as "top notch", and in his view the quality of a television show may decline as production continues "when you are dealing with volume". On his website he said that, "In some ways it succeeded and in some ways failed. All I know it developed its own flavor and an equally original legion of fans." In a 1997 interview Murray said that he at times wondered if he could restart the series; he feels the task would be difficult.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||DVD release date|
|Season premiere||Season finale||Region 1|
|1||13||September 18, 1993||December 5, 1993||June 21, 2011|
|2||13||September 25, 1994||March 12, 1995||February 7, 2012|
|3||13||October 22, 1995||April 21, 1996||July 3, 2012|
|4||13||July 8, 1996||November 24, 1996||October 15, 2013|
|Total||52||1993–96||February 26, 2013|
Rocko's Modern Life aired on Nickelodeon from 1993 until 1996. The show was briefly syndicated to local stations by Nickelodeon during 1995 and 1996. The show then reran until 2000 when it was last seen on SpongeBob's Nicktoon Summer Splash. It was replaced by another Nicktoon, CatDog.
In the summer of 2006, Rocko's Modern Life came back to Nickelodeon as part of the Nick Rewind block. Reruns of Rocko's Modern Life aired on Nicktoons until 2011. Reruns have aired on Nickelodeon Canada since 2009. In New Zealand Rocko's Modern Life is still aired on Nickelodeon and has been in the past and current by TV2, TV3 & Four.
MTV picked up Rocko's Modern Life from sister station Nickelodeon in early 1994. In Malaysia, Rocko's Modern Life aired on MetroVision around 1997.
In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon Japan marketed the show along with The Ren & Stimpy Show.
In Australia, it was shown on Nickelodeon in the late 1990s; there have been reruns of episodes late at night throughout the years. The show was also shown on ABC Kids during the early 2000s.
The first season was screened in the United Kingdom during the summer of 1994, it aired every Tuesday night at 18:00 on Channel 4 until the slot was taken by the fourth series of the now defunct GamesMaster. Later seasons of the show were broadcast at weekend mornings, and the show was repeated by the channel until 2001.
The show also aired on Nickelodeon UK from 1994 to 2001; however, it returned briefly in 2004 on weekend mornings with an on-screen interpreter signing in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. After this, Rocko's Modern Life never returned to the channel. It is currently repeated on Nicktoons on weeknights at 10.30pm.
It was also shown on Ukrainian channel ICTV. Rocko's Modern Life was one of the seminal premieres on Nickelodeon Canada, the network's Canadian extension launched in November 2009 and YTV.
Rocko's Modern Life aired again during Nickelodeon's The '90s Are All That revival block on TeenNick in the US from September 5 to September 23, 2011, and from February 11 to March 1, 2013. On the night leading into April Fools' Day 2013, TeenNick aired a prank "lost episode" of the series consisting solely of a still picture of a mayonnaise jar. This is a reference to the two-part episode "Wacky Delly", in which the characters attempt to sabotage the show-within-a-show, Wacky Delly.