Tuesday, August 27, 2019

'Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling' Will Feature a Prominent Trans Story Arc | Sneak Peek

Rocko's Modern Life Netflix movie will feature prominent trans story arc

Update - Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is available to stream now on Netflix everywhere! If you've seen the movie, remember to vote in the poll and tell me what you thought in the comments!

In July 1996, Nickelodeon aired an episode of Rocko’s Modern Life called “Closet Clown,” featuring a story of Mr. Bighead desperately trying to hide his secret identity as a clown from a town that hates these red-nosed jesters. Series creator Joe Murray confirms this was meant as an allegory for a gay person’s coming-out experience at a time when TV shows couldn’t just come out right and say it. “We were still playing by the rules, so to speak, and still trying to interject those situations [into the cartoon],” he told EW over the phone.

With Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, a new TV special coming to Netflix this Friday, times have changed. In the 45-minute continuation of his original series, Murray is no longer operating with restrictions and is instead inserting a prominent trans story arc for the Bighead family through the character of Rachel, EW has revealed.

Rachel, the child of Mr. and Mrs. Bighead, was known as Ralph in the ’90s cartoon and Rocko needs to find her.

The wallaby and his buddies Heffer and Filburt have been floating around in space since the original series finale. Now they’re back on earth in the events of Static Cling, but everything is different. The trio try to adapt to this new world of smartphones, food trucks, and print kiosks. One thing Rocko can’t deal with is the loss of his favorite show, The Fatheads, which Rachel created.

Mr. and Mrs. Bighead lost touch with their child, who went off on a mission of self-discovery. Thus, Rocko goes on a search to save his show and finds Rachel, now working out of a mobile Fatheads-inspired ice cream truck (as shown in EW’s awesome sneak-peek below!).

“When I started writing [Static Cling], I really started latching onto the idea of change and how society has changed and what’s gone on in the last 20 years and the development of our characters and how they would react to change,” says Murray, who returns to voice Rachel after voicing the original character for years on the show. “It felt natural, because it was not only about change, about somebody finding who they are and making that courageous choice to go through that change.”

The story line marks a strong push for more trans visibility in G-rated entertainment, which continues to grow its inclusion of LGBTQ characters. In its report card on the 2018-2019 TV season, GLAAD specifically pointed out Steven Universe (creator Rebecca Sugar debuted a same-sex wedding on the Cartoon Network series). For trans representation, Amazon’s Danger & Eggs, co-created by trans showrunner Shadi Petosky, featured trans stories and characters. (The show has since been canceled.) Nickelodeon's hit animated series The Loud House and The Legend of Korra also feature prominent LGBTQ characters.

Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of transgender representation who consulted on Static Cling, tells EW over email how important it is to show LGBTQ people existing in the world. “Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling tells a beautiful — and hilarious — story about accepting change,” he writes. “The younger characters accept Rachel immediately; recognizing she’s still their friend. And while Rachel’s father is slow to accept change within his own family, even he realizes that loving your child should be unconditional. This story of inclusion and acceptance is so needed in our current climate.”

A return to Rocko “was the farthest thing” from Murray’s mind when Nickelodeon first approached him. He was proud of the work his team did on the original series and felt a lingering fear of messing that up. “I told them I needed to think about it, and I started thinking of some ideas about stories that we could do and a story that I wanted to do,” he says. Murray soon brought in Martin Olsen, another writer from Rocko‘s heyday who really took to his fresh concept. Murray, however, had one caveat for the network.

“It has to be the story that I want to do and not watered down. I was concerned about that,” he says. “I wanted it to be as strong as the show and as much satire and as much social commentary as we could do in the times that we live in now.”

Adams and GLAAD got involved in 2016 at the suggestion of Nickelodeon. “When I read the story outline, I was happy to see that Rachel’s gender was treated as a non-issue by Rocko and his friends, and that Rachel’s father finally realized that he loves and supports his daughter,” Adams writes. “I worked with the show’s creators to ensure that Rachel was drawn in a respectful way, so that her femininity wasn’t a joke. We also talked about how to portray the moment Rachel reveals her transition to the boys so that it wasn’t sensationalistic. From story outline to storyboards to animatics, to the final show, Nickelodeon kept GLAAD updated every step of the way.”

Streaming platforms have become a haven for LGBTQ representation, as opposed to traditional cable channels. Multiple showrunners behind kids programs seem to hit brick walls when it comes to what they can and can’t show on TV, due to strict Standards and Practices departments. Streaming, with subscription-based platforms, appear to be more freeing in this regard. Murray, however, says when he pitched the story for Static Cling “with Rachel in it” to Nickelodeon, the executives were all for it and meant to air the special on their branded cable channel.

“The original idea was that it was gonna be on Nickelodeon,” Murray recalls. “I don’t want to second guess what was going on through the minds of Nickelodeon, but they did the Hey, Arnold! [The Jungle Movie] special and then the nostalgia aspect, I don’t think they felt like they were hitting as many viewers as they could have with the Hey, Arnold! special [in 2017] and I think that’s when they started saying, ‘I think there’s more viewers out there who maybe don’t watch Nickelodeon anymore. They’re out of the demographic, maybe we can find a way of reaching them.’ And that’s when they reached out to Netflix, and Netflix was excited about it, from what I hear.” A rep for Netflix declined to offer additional comment.

Now, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling will introduce Rachel to the world on Netflix beginning Friday, August 9!

Check out a super preview below!:

From Animation Magazine:

Creator Joe Murray Talks about the Return of Rocko in ‘Static Cling’

t’s been over 22 years since audiences bid farewell to timid Aussie wallaby Rocko and his friends Heffer Wolfe, Filburt and faithful dog Spunky. This week, all the beloved characters are back in Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, a spanking new animated feature, which finds them dealing with life on 21st century Earth after spending a couple of decades in space. We caught up with the show’s brilliant creator Joe Murray to get his take on the return of his hugely popular character:

Animag: First up, congrats on the amazing return of Rocko and the gang to cartoonland. It must have been such an amazing experience to bring back these beloved characters. Can you tell us how the movie came to be?

Joe Murray: Thank you. Basically, Chris Viscardi from Nickelodeon called me and asked me if I would be interested in doing a special. I said, “Does anyone else at Nickelodeon know you are calling me?” I thought he went rogue. But when I found he was serious, I said I had to think about it. I could mess up how Rocko is in the fan’s heart with something like this if it wasn’t done right. After thinking about it, and coming up with a possible story idea, I signed on for it. But I told them it couldn’t be a watered-down version of Rocko. It had to stay true to what the original show was.

How did you feel about bringing back the show and updating everything to our brave, new world?
It excited me to see how these characters would react in the new millennium. It was ripe with possibilities, and the characters were still relevant and had something to say. Being that Rocko was shaken up with the new world after being in space for 20 years, and Heffer and Filburt embraced it, was perfect for them. Their relationship was still viable and their chemistry worked.

What was the toughest part of approaching the script and these characters again?
I sometimes had to consult with the younger crew members who grew up on Rocko for certain details that I couldn’t remember. Tom Smith, one of our storyboard story artists, was such a fan that he knew every incidental character we ever did. There were a lot of call-back gags that you only would know if you watched the original series (Why does Spunky get boxes of mops shipped from Amazon all day long?). So, getting everything historically right was important. But also making sure the characters’ traits in the story were consistent with who they were. But it is 20 years later, right?

What pleased you most about this rewarding venture?
I had a really good time doing it, which I didn’t expect. I was going through some personal trauma when I produced the original series, so it was great to revisit the characters while being in a really good place in my life. And I got close to a new crew of artists which were all amazing. And my co-director, Cosmo Segurson, who was such a meticulous artist with the project.

What is different about the way you did the movie compared to how you approached the original series?
We had a lot more time to finesse the hell out of it than we did on the original series. It was a tighter schedule on the series. With the special, it was slower work of quality.

What did you hope to achieve with this new movie in 2019?
There seemed to always be the question of, “Will there ever be more Rockos?” And my answer was always no. But here we are. I hope it satisfies some of the hunger for more Rocko mayhem, and to see that Rocko, Filburt and Heffer finally made it back from space. To those who know the show, I hope they enjoy it. If someone doesn’t know it, maybe they will discover it.

Which part of the movie are you most proud of?
Rachel’s story is the part that I am the proudest of, and the most rewarding to do. But I also really liked when crazy Aunt Gretchen got electrocuted.

What is your take on the wild, wild world of animation in 2019?
I’m aching for some new stuff. Fresh new faces and new characters who take us to some new places. There is more opportunity for more content these days than ever before, so there should be some risk in there. Let’s have a new golden age!

Why do you think audiences fell in love with Rocko and the gang originally and continue to love them after all these years?
That’s a hard one. I don’t know. It’s funny, when I was negotiating for the budget of Rocko to go up, I kept saying to them, “You know, this show will still be making you money in 20 years!” I never really thought it would be true, but I’m glad it is. These characters were loved by those making the world they lived in. So, maybe that has something to do with it. It’s a lovefest!

What is the most memorable reaction you have had from fans or celebrities regarding Rocko?
I loved it when Kristen Stewart yelled out that she loved Rocko’s Modern Life at the Kids Choice Awards. And Howie Mandel called to tell me how much he loved the show and he wanted to make a show with me (which didn’t work out). But the fans themselves are always great and the panels and live events are always sell outs. We have over a million followers on the Facebook Rocko page and the way they dress up and participate is just awesome. Couldn’t ask for anything better.

Any brilliant words of advice for animators who want to make it these days?
Be true to yourself and your own voice. Make sure you innovate, not imitate.

And most of all, be prepared to work your ass off, because that is what it’s going to take.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling premieres on Netflix on Friday, August 9.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

Joe Murray

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling




After more than two decades, the cult cartoon classic Rocko's Modern Life is returning in the form of a 45-minute Netflix special, Static Cling. Directed by series creator Joe Murray and Cosmo Serguson, the animated film finds Rocko the wallaby (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) returning to Earth after floating around in space with Heffer the cow (Tom Kenny), Filburt the turtle (Mr. Lawrence), and Spunky the dog (also voiced by Alazraqui) for more than twenty years. For anyone who grew up watching the weird '90s icon, the special is an electric dose of nostalgia, and it feels like the natural continuation of a program that always pushed the boundaries of gross-out humor and adult-oriented concepts.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling below**

"It was the last thing on my mind since I was working on the pilot for a new show I'm doing for PBS. I was really afraid of messing up what we did in the '90s," Murray tells SYFY WIRE, explaining that Nickelodeon's Chris Viscardi called him to pitch the idea of bringing Rocko back to close out the '10s. "We had such an amazing crew, so I felt, we either do a story that pushes things even further, or we don't do it at all. I pitched a story that was a little difficult for Nickelodeon at first, with some poking some fun at themselves and handling some strong topics, but they signed on for the ride, and I'm happy with the result."

The episode picks up over two decades after the 1996 finale of the original series, which saw the main crew blasted out into space by a rocket attached to Rock's home. Upon their return to earth (and O-Town), Rocko, Heffer, Filburt, and Spunky come to realize that a whole has changed during their celestial sabbatical. They can now shell out for the latest smartphone, chug energy drinks with mutagenic effects, or simply watch 10 hours of mops on the internet. It's not all techno-utopia — callback the original show's opening credits sees Rocko pelted with dislike buttons, chased by 1984-esque security cameras, and attacked by a brain-chomping laptop.

"The characters really just naturally jumped into the world," adds Murray. "It was easier since they were out in space for 20 years. We didn't have to account for any character evolution during that time. So, since the story was about change, it all worked out very organically. Heffer can get gas from hamburgers or Kale salad. It works naturally... It was fun to sit down and list all of the things that are different now as they were in the '90s. I remember I ended up getting a very early mobile phone while I was doing Rocko, it was a monstrosity like the size of a WWII walkie-talkie. I remember it rang and I pulled it out, barely hearing the person on the other end, and Steve Hillenburg said 'I'll never have one of those things.' So, modern life just keeps going."

Speaking of Stephen Hillenburg, Rocko's Modern Life was the SpongeBob creator's first job in television. Hillenburg, who passed away last year from ALS, served as a creative director on the show several years before he'd unveil his own iconic Nickelodeon creation. And while Static Cling couldn't really include a homage to Hillenburge since it was finished long before his death, Murray assures us that the special would not have been possible without the contributions of the marine-biologist-turned-animator.

"His energy was so influential in the original Rocko, it really couldn't help but pay him homage," Murray says. "I think Rocko gets overlooked often in the huge shadow of SpongeBob, but he really cut his teeth on these episodes... They are some of my favorites."

Bringing Rocko's Modern Life back meant revisiting the original series, but Murray says he didn't always love looking at his old work. Newer, younger members of the Static Cling team who weren't part of the original series added some nice perspective, though.

"Every morning at 10AM, the whole crew would gather for a screening of the original episodes. I grimaced a lot at retakes I should have called," Murray explains. "Then, [we had] a Q&A afterward about stories from the episodes and what we were trying to do with them, and whether we pulled it off. Then, we brought in old backgrounds and cels to show how we did the show to the new crew members. It also helped that a lot of the crew grew up on Rocko, and probably knew [the show] better than I did."

Heffer, Filburt, and Spunky have no problem adjusting to the modern era, but an already-shaken Rocko has a nervous breakdown upon realizing that his favorite TV show, The Fatheads, was canceled years ago. Unable to accept this major change, he sets out on a self-aware and globe-trotting adventure to track down the show's creator, Ralph Bighead (voiced by Murray himself), son of Rocko's irascible next door toad neighbor, Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler). After a fatal clerical error that bankrupts Conglam-O, Ed sanctions the quest to find his only child, lest he get let go by his nose-picking boss, Mr. Dupette (also played by Adler).

"It was like no time had gone by at all," Murray says of working with the original voice cast, each of whom had gigantic careers in the years since Modern Life ended. "They were all the same. They had all gone on to bigger and better things — Tom Kenny as the voice of SpongeBob — but there was no ego, it was all fun. We had to search out Linda Wallem (who does Dr. Hutchinson) and none of us had seen her for 20 years. But hugging her and laughing with her seemed so natural. Except for the massive press presence, it was all the same. They are all insanely brilliant.

"As far as missing something, any time that I create characters that I grow to love, it's hard to see the business realities of just saying 'it's over,'" he continues. "So, it was nice to see and work with them again."

After scouring the globe, Rocko and his friends finally find Ralph, who has left the Fatheads behind to sell delicious ice pops in the desert. More importantly, the audience learns that Ralph now identifies as a woman named Rachel, adding an unexpectedly topical narrative beat to Static Cling. While Rocko & Co. are totally cool and excited about Rachel's comfortable new lifestyle, Ed is not, claiming that he has no child, infusing the story with another unfortunate, yet relevant parallel to the trials and tribulations faced by the LGBTQ community.

"It really seemed like a natural progression for Rachel's character," Murray explains. "It was a change for the better for her, and change for the better in how these communities are represented in modern-day. Since I have no personal knowledge of how it feels to transition, we worked closely with GLAAD to be as authentic and knowledgeable as possible in our storytelling. I was really happy that Nickelodeon agreed to move forward with the story. That would have never happened in the '90s."

Fortunately, Ed eventually comes around to accept Rachel after she decides to make a Fatheads special (another piece of meta-commentary) that calls back to her own childhood. Despite all the zany stuff going on around them, it really is a touching moment. When the special is finally shown to the world, however, Rocko loses his cool, screaming that the introduction of a baby Fathead isn't true to the original series, a development that makes him angry and upset. It's clearly a commentary on today's toxic fan cultures, but Murray insists that it's not a reference to Modern Life's fan base.

"It's really all observation," he says. "Rocko fans are really amazing and deeply committed. But I also know things could change in a minute. [That's] why I was hesitant to do a special. What if it sucked? I feel that social media and the internet are really the reason Rocko gained momentum over the years. My wife is a little afraid of the Rocko fans with some of our encounters, but it's all good fun."

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling premieres on Netflix this coming Friday, August 9.


From ComicBook:

Rocko's Modern Life Creator Explains How the Netflix Special Came to Feature a Prominent Trans Storyline

Rocko's Modern Life is set to return this Friday after more than 20 years, and the upcoming Netflix special called Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling largely deals with changes in popular culture since that time: change in what we do, how we do it, and everything in between from phones to drones and more. While there's a number of these changes that the special pokes fun at, one major change is accepted and treated as a positive: the introduction of Rachel, the daughter of Rocko's neighbors the Bigheads, in a prominent trans storyline.

While we won't spoil anything here, it's been revealed that the upcoming special will feature Rachel, who was assigned male at birth as a character previously introduced in the '90s series as Ralph, as part of Rocko's quest to return his favorite television show, which Rachel created, to air.

ComicBook.com recently had to the chance to catch up with Rocko's Modern Life creator Joe Murray via email, and asked about the process of the special coming together as well as the featuring of a trans storyline.

ComicBook.com: The special is largely about the ways in which the world has changed since Rocko and his pals left -- mirroring, of course, the show also leaving. What made you and the team decide to go in this direction? Was there ever a point where y’all said, “Well, it needs an update if it’s supposed to be modern”?

Joe Murray: When I was deciding whether to do the special or not, my wife Aleide said “There must be a lot of new things you could make fun of”. Then I spoke with Doug Lawrence and Martin Olson who came on later as writers and we riffed about a few ideas. I decided to do a story mirroring what was actually going on. A network bringing back a show after 20 years due to fan demand. In this case, the Fatheads. And the story snowballed after that. The trio coming back to O’town after 20 years and Rocko finding out that his favorites [sic] cartoon was gone. That’s the show I pitched. Doug and Martin helped me flesh it out, and then later Cosmo Segurson, Tom Smith and Dan Becker did some additional writing during the storyboard stage. It all worked together very well.

One particularly huge change in this special is the introduction of Rachel, the daughter of the Bigheads. What sort of process led to you folks featuring a gender transition as one of the most pivotal aspects of the special -- especially with a character you voice -- and was there any pushback on the idea?

Doug, Martin and I were discussing Rachel’s character and how it felt natural that this change would occur during the time away from the show. We also wanted to include the more positive representation this community has in this modern era as an aspect of change. The story was pitched to the then president of Nickelodeon and she signed off on it if we worked closely with GLAAD to do it right, which I was happy to do. Chris Viscardi was the executive for Nick that we working with and he gave his full support to this addition to the story.

Here's how Netflix describes the special:

"After being in space for around 20 years, Rocko and his friends attempt to conform to an even more modern life in O-Town, where coffee shops are on every corner, food trucks offer multi-layered tacos, touch-screen O-Phones are being upgraded on a near-constant basis, an instant-print kiosk has replaced Rocko's old job at Kind-of-a-Lot-O-Comics, and radioactive energy drinks turn their consumers into mutants."

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling is set to release on Netflix this Friday, August 9th. The special features the voices of returning cast members Carlos Alazraqui as Rocko, Tom Kenny as Heffer, Mr. Lawrence as Filburt, Charlie Adler as Mr. Bighead, and more. [...]


From ComicBook:

Rocko's Modern Life Creator on Whether the Show Could Return Again

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling releases this Friday on Netflix thanks to a distribution deal with Nickelodeon, and it brings the eponymous wallaby and friends into the present with some major culture shock. Despite the changes, it's picks up where the television show previously left off, leaving us to wonder: could there be more?

We won't spoil the special here, there's no definitive conclusion to the series or anything at its end, leaving it open to perhaps returning in the future. In fact, if anything, the conclusion sets up a new and interesting status quo for the franchise, with a number of possible storylines that could branch out of Static Cling.

ComicBook.com recently had to the chance to catch up with Rocko's Modern Life creator Joe Murray via email, and asked whether he'd be open to returning to Rocko's Modern Life again after the special, and while he didn't say he wouldn't, he did say he didn't think it would happen.

ComicBook.com: You briefly mentioned in one of your blogs about how your move to Belgium also might coincide with your retirement of sorts, with Let’s Go Luna being “a good show to go out on.” Is this your last swing at Rocko, do you think? Or is there something more there if you get the call that there’s interest in returning to that well?

Joe Murray: Usually when I flirt with retirement, it means that I got frustrated with something within the industry where I said “I’m too old and experienced to have to deal with this crap”. But then something excites me again and I get lured back into the fray. I would definitely talk about it if more Rockos were on the table, but I highly doubt [it.]

Here's how Netflix describes the special:

"After being in space for around 20 years, Rocko and his friends attempt to conform to an even more modern life in O-Town, where coffee shops are on every corner, food trucks offer multi-layered tacos, touch-screen O-Phones are being upgraded on a near-constant basis, an instant-print kiosk has replaced Rocko's old job at Kind-of-a-Lot-O-Comics, and radioactive energy drinks turn their consumers into mutants."

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling is set to release on Netflix this Friday, August 9th. The special features the voices of returning cast members Carlos Alazraqui as Rocko, Tom Kenny as Heffer, Mr. Lawrence as Filburt, Charlie Adler as Mr. Bighead, and more. [...]


From ComicBook:

Rocko's Modern Life Creator Explains Why the Special Is Called "Static Cling"

Netflix officially brings Rocko's Modern Life, the '90s animated television show on Nickelodeon, back this Friday with a special called Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling. The special picks up 20 years after the conclusion of the television series, and sees Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt deal with all things new in their world. And while there are any number of possible questions that might invite, one particular one has been somewhat frequently heard: why, exactly, is it called "Static Cling"? Is it some deep-cut reference to the show, or something else entirely? We set out to find out.

ComicBook.com recently interviewed Rocko's Modern Life creator Joe Murray via email, and while we interrogated him about a variety of subjects, we had to ask about the name of the special. So, why is it called "Static Cling"? According to Murray, it's playing on the many meanings of "static."

"I’m sure a lot of people thought it was going to be about laundry," Murray admitted. "But my thinking is that when something is Static, it doesn’t go anywhere. And also, old TV has a lot of static. That TV itself is arranged static. So, clinging to that was what Rocko was doing. It seems like a ways to go but that was my thinking behind "

Here's how Netflix describes the special:

"After being in space for around 20 years, Rocko and his friends attempt to conform to an even more modern life in O-Town, where coffee shops are on every corner, food trucks offer multi-layered tacos, touch-screen O-Phones are being upgraded on a near-constant basis, an instant-print kiosk has replaced Rocko's old job at Kind-of-a-Lot-O-Comics, and radioactive energy drinks turn their consumers into mutants."

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling is set to release on Netflix this Friday, August 9th. The special features the voices of returning cast members Carlos Alazraqui as Rocko, Tom Kenny as Heffer, Mr. Lawrence as Filburt, Charlie Adler as Mr. Bighead, and more. [...]


From NBC News:

Netflix's 'Rocko's Modern Life' special features transgender storyline

The Netflix reboot of the Nickelodeon cartoon features the transgender coming out story of Rachel Bighead, the daughter of Ed and Bev Bighead, Rocko's neighors.

When Nickelodeon debuted “Rocko’s Modern Life” in 1993, the world met an immigrant Australian wallaby who found life in O-Town, a modern American city, overwhelming and confusing. In O-Town, everything is owned by the corporation Conglom-O, whose motto is “We Own You.”

Like some other early 1990s Nickelodeon cartoons like "The Ren & Stimpy Show," "Rocko’s Modern Life" was noted for its veiled social commentary, anti-corporate themes, and adult-oriented jokes that sometimes veered into the indecent.

When the 45-minute special “Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling” drops on Netflix on August 9, the show will feature an even more modern storyline — a coming out tale of a transgender character.

The character who in the '90s show was called Ralph Bighead — child of Rocko's toad neighbors, Bev and Ed Bighead — is now named Rachel.

Nick Adams, Director of Transgender Media & Representation at the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, consulted on the show and spoke to NBC news about the process. Adams said he first began to work on the show in 2016 when producers reached out about a plan to include a transgender character.

“What I really liked about the story was that the transgender character Rachel, and the storyline about her, was not turning this episode into 'a very special episode' about trans equality,” Adams said. “The Rachel storyline was woven very well into the overall message of the special, which is that we all have to accept change, that there’s really nothing constant in the world except change.”

Adams, who is transgender, said he offered feedback on the moment in the story when Rocko and his pals find out about Rachel, and worked with the showrunners to make sure Rachel was drawn in a respectful way and “didn’t in any way make a joke about her presenting as a woman.”

Adams said that Hollywood’s record here is not great. “You run the risk of being offensive,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the moment Rocko and his friends find out Rachel is now a woman didn’t play into any of the cliches or stereotypes.”

“It’s just a matter-of-fact moment when the boys learn that she’s now Rachel,” Adams said.

Adams praised the move because, even as Hollywood moves to include ever more lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters, “there’s been less transgender programming, so this decision by 'Rocko’s Modern Life' to include a trans character is wonderful.”

Similar efforts to include LGBTQ content in children’s and family programming have encountered backlash. In May, Alabama public television refused to air an episode of "Arthur" in which teacher Mr. Ratburn marries a man.

“Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling” will premiere on Netflix on Friday, August 9.



The Trans Character in the 'Rocko's Modern Life' Reboot Is a Huge Step Forward

Netflix's film reboot of the Nickelodeon show is sending a signal to the rest of the industry about what modern life should really look like.

In Netflix's new movie, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, the cast of the hit 90s Nickelodeon cartoon comes back to earth from outer space in 2019. A lot has changed since they left in 1996, like the frenzy over new “O-phone” releases and the advent of hyper-realistic 4D movies. But as series creator Joe Murray explained to Entertainment Weekly, the reboot has moved into the future in other ways, too—it now prominently features a transgender character.

Murray explains that Mr. and Mrs. Bighead's daughter—a character formerly known as Ralph— now goes by Rachel. In the movie, Rachel has disappeared on a journey to find herself, and Rocko’s trio goes looking for her. When they eventually find her working at a food truck, they quickly adjust to and accept her gender transition, opening the doors for her reluctant father to eventually do the same.

Historically, cartoons have often hinted at LGBTQ characters with coded references only parseable by adults. For example, on another Nickelodeon show from the 90s, Rugrats, Phil and Lil’s mother, Betty DeVille, had a stereotypically butch demeanor and sported a female symbol on her sweatshirt, hinting that she might be queer. Disney has also been called out for giving so many of its evil characters a "queeny" gay flair, from Scar ( The Lion King) to Jafar ( Aladdin). This phenomenon has been so widely discussed that it’s inspired podcast and book investigations into where the trope came from.

But until recent years, cartoons had to create allegories and metaphors about queer experiences instead of representing them explicitly. Back in 1996, the original Rocko’s Modern Life series dabbled in this tradition, creating an allegory for coming out in an episode called “Closet Clown.” In the episode, Mr. Bighead hides the fact that he’s a clown from people who dislike clowns. It was an imperfect strategy by today’s standards, considering audiences could easily miss the correlation. But it was what they could get away with at the time. “We were still playing by the rules, so to speak, and still trying to interject those situations [into the cartoon],” Murray told Entertainment Weekly.

But things are changing, albeit slowly. The 2013 Cartoon Network series Steven Universe had a same-sex wedding in 2018, and this year, the PBS kids' series Arthur gave its character Mr. Ratburn a gay wedding, albeit not without controversy. Rachel’s plotline is a big step forward because it addresses her transition openly as a key story arc of a show for kids. And it’s a positive depiction, because she’s quickly accepted by her old friends as they fall back into their usual dynamic.

Overall, openly trans characters still lack representation on TV. (In 2018, GLAAD calculated trans characters were only 6% of all the LGBTQ characters on TV.) But queer stories have been especially difficult to weave into children’s programming as they’ve been treated as inappropriate for young audiences. With Rocko’s Modern Life, Netflix is using its leeway as a streaming platform to make its own rules and push the needle toward more visibility. In doing so, the masterminds behind the reboot are sending a signal to the rest of their industry about what modern life should really look like.


From Forbes:

'Static Cling' Composer Reveals His Musical Approach To That Big Rachel Reveal

After nearly three decades off of the air, Rocko's Modern Life returned to the world of television with a special Netflix movie titled Static Cling. Dealing with concepts like modernity, change, nostalgic television revivals, and toxic fandoms, the 45-minute film is now famous for its depiction of a transgender character in the form of Rachel Bighead (voiced by series creator, Joe Murray), the sole child of Rocko's neighbors, Ralph and Bev (both of whom are voiced by Charlie Adler).

"When we first see Rachel step off the ice cream truck in the middle of the desert, it's one of the coolest scenes ever," Static Cling composer Pat Irwin, who hadn't been involved with the show since it was canceled by Nickelodeon in 1996, told me during a phone interview. "The first image is a high heel shoe and then silence. There’s a little clarinet line in there, maybe. I think Heffer is the first character to say, ‘Well, cool!’ I just didn’t want to fill that up with anything; I didn’t want that to be anything other than the fact that it was cool. Rachel is happy. Then it occurred to me that when they go back to O-Town, I should reprise the opening title music, which I did. It’s joyful."

Rachel is brought into the mix when Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filburt (Mr. Lawrence) set out on a globe-trotting quest to bring The Fatheads back to television. Reviving the series won't just satiate a culture-shocked Rocko (he's been floating around in space for over 20 years), but it'll also save Ralph's job after a clerical error puts Conglom-O out of business. When Rachel agrees to produce a Fatheads special, she's initially shunned by her father, who refuses the accept his child's new and comfortable lifestyle. Luckily, he comes around when Rachel reminds him of the good times they had together when she was growing up.

"In terms of the relationships, I would say I had to really find a line between making sure we stayed in the character of the show and at the same time acknowledge the emotional moments," added Irwin, a former member of The B-52's. "I didn’t want it to be too sentimental. I had to work on that a little bit more than the other moments and there was even a revision or two that I made after we looked at it. We wanted to make a little more of the Bighead family reunion. For me, it just a natural part of the story. Rachel is truly the ‘Modern’ part of Rocko’s Modern Life."

Despite the fact that he hadn't been involved with Rocko since the mid-to-late '90s, Irwin had no trouble getting back into the old rhythm alongside many familiar faces that helped him score the original series.

"I was able to get everybody back that played on the original series, so that kind of drove the feeling," he said. "It was like a reunion; it wasn’t hard to call up the vibe, the feeling, because I knew who I was writing for. I was writing for not only the cartoon characters, but the musicians in the band ... I missed the band and I missed creating music for Rocko, Filbert, and Heffer. Now that I’m saying it out loud, the two were kind of intertwined. It was a pretty unique bunch of musicians and Rocko, Filbert, and Heffer are pretty unique characters. We threw it all in a blender. I missed the energy of it. It’s a unique show and the score isn’t typical background music."

Since Nickelodeon didn't keep any tape recordings of his initial compositions for the cartoon, Pat had to dig into his own archive in order to recall the "chaos" and "overload" Murray had once requested of him for the score of Rocko's Modern Life.

"They had copies of the cartoon itself, but they didn’t have any copies of the score, so I had to go back to my original master tapes," he added. "It was all created on obsolete technology and it was all done live to tape. That brought me back, listening to some of the original stuff. It was like discovering a hidden treasure when I went back to those original tapes ... For the most part, we stayed within the sound of the original cartoon. We stayed within the flavor, in the character, of the original show and updated parts of the sound for the Static Cling storyline. It wasn’t like the movie was trying to update the show, which I think is part of the success of it. These guys have been lost in space for 20-some years and now they’re back in O-Town. It seemed very natural to go for the sound that we had before."

With a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, Static Cling is a reminder that no show is ever dead, so long as it can come back in the right way with a message that speaks to a modern audience. Nostalgia means diddly squat if you don't add something new and self-reflective into the narrative. So, does this mean we'll see more Rocko in the near future, whether it be new episodes or another movie?

"No, except it seems like when I talk to somebody who has seen the movie they say that the show should come back," finished Irwin. "Who knows what that would entail? I have no idea. It’s such a huge [thing]. It might be best to leave it alone. I don’t really know, but the movie seemed to come back at just the right time … To me, it’s really something. It might not have been the most watched show at that time and Nickelodeon was fairly new, but it’s pretty wonderful to be a part of something that has touched so many people."

Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling is now streaming on Netflix. Irwin's other musical credits include shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Nurse Jackie, and Good Cop.


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More Nick: Netflix to Premiere 'Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus' on Friday, August 16th, 2019!

Originally published: Wednesday, August 07, 2019.

H/T: Special thanks to @WalterSalmon13 for the news!
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