Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoroughly Modern Rocko: Nickelodeon's 'Rocko' Reboot and Nostalgia Problems

The 90s keep coming back in some way or another...

Nickelodeon has been taking notes of this... The Splat channel, the upcoming Hey Arnold! TV movie, the Invader Zim special, a pitched crossover movie, all kinds of retro stuff for us 90s babies. Well, most of us anyways, I'm not rallying for every single thing from my childhood to come back. I've said before that I think the Hey Arnold! revival makes sense, because there was an overarching story to that show regarding Arnold and his missing parents, and that was supposed to culminate in a "jungle movie." That's what the upcoming TV movie is going to be.

Now, the next show to make a comeback will be Rocko's Modern Life, Joe Murray's surreal 1993 cartoon series that ran for three years. The reboot will unsurprisingly be a TV movie, it will bring back the original cast, and it'll be out sometime next year. The title is Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling, and will be about the gang coming back to Earth after being in outer space since 1996... And they try to cope with modern times.

Rocko has trouble accepting this 21st century modern life, while Heffer and Filburt embrace every aspect of new technology, social media and the endless diversity of food trucks. Rocko whole-heartedly believes that his nostalgia for the past can save him from the tortures of the modern world.

As others have pointed out, this is obviously directed at nostalgic 20-somethings, but what I really like is this... The TV movie has the opportunity to really address over-reliance on nostalgia when trying to deal with what's going on now. In fact, I kind of suggested this for the rumored Nicktoons movie back in January 2016, not to blow my own horn... But I think there's a lot you can do with this idea, and it's an idea that something none other than an older work of animation should exploit.

90s nostalgia, as I pointed out on that older article, can be a strong force. Some people I know are steeped in the decade, overly nostalgic for it, wearing three pairs of rose-colored glasses... to the point where they deride anything new (particularly cartoons and animated films) just because it's new. You know, the "they don't make 'em like they used to!" "It's not the same!" "I grew up with these, therefore my childhood was awesome and better than yours!" "Kids today will never know..."

I would've loved for a 90s Nicktoon reboot to criticize that and to encourage nostalgics to embrace the new, but I think something deeper can be touched here, believe it or not.

Personal story-time incoming...

Ten years ago, I was over-nostalgic myself. I was 15 and nearing the halfway point of high school, and life had taken many rough directions at the time, which also exacerbated the issues I already had. I desperately wanted things to be the way they used to be, and this was a problem that was festering for a while. I was not quite open to most of "the new." Older was better, life was simpler, the whole deal, childhood was paradise. It - combined with many other problems - began to affect my writing overall, my projects, my grades, everything. I became disinterested in a lot of things, as well. What was missing in my life was "the new." I did see a lot of new movies at the time, but I felt I wasn't embracing them properly.

I won't go into specifics, but there was one particular fraction of my childhood that I was trying to recreate. The attempt to re-live that part of the past, an idyllic mid-to-late 90s, was unfulfilling. It felt fake and had quite a depressing undercurrent. I was in the middle of a growing depression, that made it even worse. Later on in life, I learned that nostalgia in small doses is quite fine, but it shouldn't be something to fall back on nor should it be used to determine the quality of any given work. By the time I was out of high school, my mind was made up... Love the best of the old, don't negate the old altogether, do the same for the present and the future. I admittedly love retro stuff, but I'm not trying to force modern times to be like those times. I love the aesthetics, ideas, and imagery, and I work off of that along with multiple other influences.

I'm not trying to swear off nostalgia altogether, or a general love for the past. I also can't be nostalgic about a past I didn't live in, either. Often times, I look to 40s, 60s and 80s stuff for inspiration... Rarely the 90s, the decade I myself grew up in. I love a lot of historic stuff, too, does that make me nostalgic for... Say... 1846? I think there's a fine line between a love for certain elements of the past, and nostalgia. I feel I learned all of that after a year-long depression during my sophomore year of high school.

Really, to me, you have to know the difference between a quality work and the age of it. If you've been here before in the past five years, you'll know that I like a lot of new stuff and I like a lot of old stuff, based on the content. Sometimes, I like an old trinket that's of little value, but that's out of personal like. At the same time, I'll say if something old isn't very good. I'll be honest, some 90s cartoons and shows I revisited just didn't do it for me. Back in 2011, TeenNick ran the "90s Are All That" block at nighttime, I was curious and excited to see the old Nick shows and how they would hold up... Some I was pleasantly surprised by (Doug, Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, and Hey Arnold!), others... Some of them I felt were just alright, good fun standard cartoons/shows, and some were embarrassingly silly. When watching an episode of All That!, supposedly quality TV from ye olden days, I was thinking, "How is this any different from some current Disney Channel sitcom?"

Blasphemy, I know!

So I think the Rocko's Modern Life revival can indeed dig deep into that and send a good message. It could also be helpful for people my age who actually are suffering and having trouble dealing with what's going on in their lives right now. Better that than a cheap revival that just tries to reheat the old hat tricks for a quick jolt of nostalgia. I'm honestly pretty impressed with Nick right now because of this: Finishing up Hey Arnold!'s storyline, bringing back the delightful weirdness of Invader Zim, and now this. Now may I ask for an adult Doug revival? Or is some rights issue at play here?

Anyways, I think this has a lot of potential. What say you on Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling?

1 comment:

  1. I think that Rocko's Modern Life TV movie has the potential to be good. I also agree that over-reliance on Nostalgia and trying to cope with modern times should be focused in one of these revivals. While I like classic movies, TV shows and cartoons, I also embrace new stuff as well.